Couple makes business selling locally grown flowers
STARBUCK -- Minnesota may not seem like the best place to make a living as a local flower farmer - especially after winters like this last one.
But that's exactly what Doug and Robin Trott, owners of Prairie Garden Farm, have done. This will be their fourth year growing flowers on 2 acres of their Starbuck farm. This season, they will be planting more than 250 different varieties of flowers, from the standard snapdragons and perennials to more unusual varieties, such as pumpkin on a stick.
"We've selected many flowers this year that we've never grown before," Doug Trott said. "There's certainly a learning curve, especially on the timing of when to pick the flowers. For some of the flowers we're growing this year, there are no written resources available."
Robin Trott has always had a garden, and both she and her husband enjoy being outside and working with their hands. Over the last few years, it became evident that growing flowers was one of their shared passions.
"We had wanted to live rurally for a lot of years," Doug Trott said. "Besides producing our own food, we wanted to do something productive with our farm. Over the years we explored a few different things. Almost out of the blue, we said, 'Yeah, let's do flowers.'"
They mainly sell their flowers to florists, both in the area, including Glenwood and Starbuck, and in the Twin Cities. During the summer and early fall, they deliver flowers at least three days a week in a refrigerated van.
"Most of our florist customers are looking for something a bit unusual or different from the commodity flowers they can get from wholesalers," Robin Trott said. "Our niche is really to be growing unusual flowers, with unusual colors and a good scent."
Locally grown flowers have several qualities that give them an advantage over flowers sold by wholesalers, the Trotts said: They tend to smell better, look fresher and last longer than flowers that have been shipped to the United States, usually from South America.
"There's a growing local flower movement, just like local foods," Doug Trott said. "People want to have flowers in their house that haven't been sprayed and haven't been transported halfway around the world. We can give people higher quality flowers."
Because flower farming is fairly unusual, Doug and Robin belong to the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, an international group that acts as a resource to other local flower farmers. It helps to have a network for questions and ideas, they said.
They've learned from their own experiences along the way, too. Even in Minnesota, the flower season, while busiest in the summer months, extends nearly all year long. In December, the Trotts start selecting their flowers for the next year. They begin planting in January and continue through March.
The Trotts have built three high tunnels to house their plants until they're ready to plant in the field in spring. These tunnels give them an extra month of growing season in the spring and two extra months in the fall. At any time, they can grow between 1,000 and 2,000 individual plants in each of the high tunnels.
Over the last month, they've become a bit antsy, ready to begin planting outside. Still, they don't believe the prolonged winter will set them back too much.
"The late spring shouldn't affect us too much," Doug Trott said. "We usually don't have much to sell until mid-June. In this business, you need to have the expectation that you might lose some. You have to be prepared to lose some things at the beginning and the end of the year."
While it comes with its challenges and difficulties, the Trotts say they're committed to their flower farm.
"It's tough to have this kind of business in Minnesota because of the short growing season, but we love it and have a passion for it," Robin Trott said. "There are no hard and fast rules in gardening. It's just fun. As long as my body holds out, I'll keep doing this."