Welcome to my "Friday Feature" blog series highlighting female creative small business owners! I hope these posts will give you insight into what these women do and what their lives look like. I also hope you'll find these posts helpful if you're in the creative industry, you run a small business, or you're thinking about starting a small business. You can catch up on the "Friday Feature" series here:
Please introduce yourself and your business.
My name is Megan Leiss and I am a native of Hillsborough, NC. I own and operate Spring Forth Farm with my husband, Jonathan. Spring Forth Farm is a small flower farm in Hurdle Mills, NC and we grow fresh, seasonal flowers for florists, businesses and weddings and events. Our farmer/florist business model is “purely seasonal,” meaning we only use material in our event work that we grow and harvest off the farm. Our flowers are top quality and as fresh as possible. I love the artistic process of walking through the fields to see what is blooming before starting on arranging for an event. This inspires me to envision the various combinations of color, flowers and greenery and the different ways they might all come together in a vibrant and rich manner. Though we are not certified organic, we farm using organic and sustainable principles so that in our business venture we are also caring for creation, increasing soil health and supporting biodiversity of wildlife on the farm.
Why did you start your creative small business?
I started Spring Forth Farm for many different reasons. The first is that I absolutely love flowers and the beauty that they bring into this world. The second is that I wanted a small farm business that would allow Jonathan and I to create a self-sustaining homestead where we grow our own food and make our own electricity through solar energy. The third is that I wanted the flower business to make enough money to allow us to grow vegetables for a local food pantry. I believe that everyone should have access to fresh and healthy produce and I am glad that I can help make that happen in a small way. Our farm also donates 5% of our gross income to a local food bank.
What does an average day look like for you? What things/responsibilities are you juggling?
I love that no two days are the same! While we are getting our flower farm off the ground, Jonathan and I are also building a small, passive solar and energy efficient home from scratch. Yes, we are doing 90% of the work ourselves and are learning as we go. Jonathan is also a Durham City Firefighter and I am a preschool teacher. Any given day I start my school day at 7am and get home to the farm around 3pm. Then I work the rest of the day on the farm or on our house. Farm tasks range from planting flower transplants, starting seeds, harvesting and arranging flowers, troubleshooting a struggling or failing crop (with lots of tears and worry), and communicating with brides or other clients ordering flowers for events. During the winter months, farm tasks could include farm planning, building hoop houses and maintaining our perennial flower patch. I am constantly juggling all of these different things in my life. While they are all such rich and beautiful things, I struggle with feeling torn between giving both the farm and our home building enough attention. Afterall, our move-in date for our home totally depends on how much time we can devote to building the house. But we are moving forward, slowly and surely.
What has been a struggle for you as a creative small business owner?
The biggest struggle for me as a small business owner is figuring out when to “leave” work. It is all too easy to talk about farm business too late at night or over dinner. We started giving ourselves a time frame for turning the business talk “off.” This will be an ongoing struggle to keep the business from infiltrating every aspect of our private lives.
What has been a joy for you as a creative small business owner?
Flowers make people happy! They make us happy too and there is nothing quite like seeing someone’s face light up when they see our fresh flowers. I love bringing that kind of joy and beauty to people. It has been a delightful surprise for me to see how Spring Forth Farm flowers have been so well received in our business community.
What productivity tips do you have for my readers?
Get a good night’s sleep and eat regular and healthy meals! I know it sounds a little obvious, but it is truly what keeps me full of steam (and boy do I need a lot of energy each day).
What resources or tools have helped you in your business?
The most invaluable resource that I have found is having a mentor. I interned with Linda Chapman at her established farm, Harvest Moon Flower Farm. She is always willing to listen to my woes, answer my questions and encourage creativity in my flower arranging style. Spring Forth Farm would not have gotten off the ground so successfully without her guidance, support and the information I learned from interning on her farm. The other resource I depend on heavily is being a member in a flower farmer organization called the Association of Specialty Cut Flowers. Growers share information about growing practices. We help each other trouble shoot issues, give advice on pricing and much more. The community in this growers group is so supportive and enriching. We have also found books written by other flower farmers to be incredibly helpful.
What tips do you have for readers who have (or want to start) a creative small business?
Start small. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to start small and slowly grow your business. Spring Forth Farm has started small because of the house building. This turned out to be a big blessing to have 2-3 years of figuring out our business model while not being overwhelmed by the business. For example, we started out thinking we were going to have a farmer’s market business. When we started up 2 years ago, we applied to 5-6 different farmer’s markets and didn’t get one call back. At first we were devastated but then we decided to change our business model to fit where the demand was for our flowers. So we decided to go the wholesale route. This has been an amazing change in our business because we pre-sell all the flowers before doing our weekly deliveries. At the farmer’s market we would have no guarantee of any sales and would spend 4-6 hrs of time between set up, market hours, and take down. Also, our quality of life is richer since we adopted a wholesale model. Farmer’s markets are time consuming and exhausting and take up the weekend. We do have a direct marketing aspect to our business through wedding flowers and a small business bouquet subscription program.
What advice would you give to brides?
Our advice to brides when it comes to wedding flowers is “be flexible!” When using local farms for your wedding flowers it helps to have a more flexible approach to the colors and flower types for your wedding day. Brides that work with Spring Forth Farm for their wedding flowers understand that we are at the whim of mother nature. They trust that our flowers will be beautiful no matter what and are happy with whatever flowers are blooming the days right before their wedding. This means that if you have a September wedding, you won't be able to get peonies from our farm since they bloom in May, but dahlias will be blooming like crazy. Our May brides can’t get dahlias, but they can have peonies since that is what blooms in May. Working with farms takes a flexible mindset. I also recommend booking in advance. It is a common misconception that farms will always have availability. This is not true, we book our wedding weekends pretty fast and are usually unable to accommodate last minute wedding orders because we already have a wedding and have our florist orders to fill.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?
I think that it is very important to not count on your new business supporting you for the first few years. My goal was to teach preschool until the farm was established enough to support me full time. I am currently in my final year of teaching, yay!!!!!!!!! Jonathan will not leave his job at the fire department. Having a steady source of outside income, with additional benefits like health insurance, lessens the stress of the farm and improves our quality of life.
We’ll end on a light note: What is your favorite clothing store?
I don’t really shop. But when I have to replace clothing, I go to My Secret Closet in Hillsborough. However in order to keep from accumulating too much stuff (I am kind of a minimalist when it comes to stuff) I have a “one in, one out” policy, meaning that for each piece of clothing I buy, I have to get rid of a different piece of clothing.