April 1, 2021
New farmer growing cut flowers into a business
Photo/Don Del Rosso
Rebecca Bracewell’s family bought a farm that included a 7,000-square-foot greenhouse and an insulated barn, cutting her startup costs.
I think it can work. But, I’m very cautious on it, because it’s just me with my kids. If I quit my day job and this business fails, we’re kind of in a lot of trouble.
— Rebecca Bracewell
All Things Farm
Cut-flower farm and business.
Green Meadows Road, near Warrenton.
Rebecca Bracewell and Wendy Williams.
• Flowers available:
About two dozen spring, summer and fall varieties.
• Website: allthingsfarm1888.com
• Facebook: Click here
Four years ago, the Warrenton area women’s husband died of liver cancer, leaving her to care for their three young children.
Rebecca and Ian Bracewell, 49, lived in Tacoma, Wash., at the time of his death.
“I was trying to figure out what I was going to do and was thinking about moving back to Virginia,” said Mrs. Bracewell, 39. “I had lived here for a little while when I was younger.”
Jokingly, Mrs. Bracewell told her father, Dave Williams, 64, that if he bought her a farm, she would return to Virginia.
“So he did,” she recalled with a laugh. “Then it was, ‘OK, now what are we going to do with it’?”
Weighing the land’s potential business uses, Mrs. Bracewell concluded that the 26 acres along Green Meadows Road just south of Warrenton wouldn’t be large enough to support a cattle operation and that she had no interest in growing vegetables.
“So, I said I love flowers. I know that the flower industry is kind of a ‘thing’.”
A federal government contractor, Mr. Williams told his daughter to put together a business plan.
Mrs. Bracewell and her mother Wendy Williams, 64, did just that.
In late 2018, they launched All Things Farm’s flower operation, which offers more than two dozen spring, summer and fall varieties through its website, Facebook page and Instagram, two area CSAs and a co-operative that supplies mostly designers and florists.
While her father quietly had doubts about a flower business, “it’s actually been pretty successful,” Mrs. Bracewell said.
Though in foreclosure for five years and neglected, the farm came with valuable “infrastructure” — an insulated 4,000-square-foot barn that she uses to grow flowers from seed and a 7,000-square-foot greenhouse — that saved the family time and additional expense.
In 2019, Mrs. Bracewell estimated the flower business’s first-year cost at $5,000 — mostly for plugs, seeds, compost and fertilizer. The farm uses “certified naturally gown” practices.
That year, she and her mother — who do most of the hand labor — installed almost 2,000 plants.
In 2020, they planted about 4,000 and the flower operation broke even. Last year, it generated about $4,000 in revenue, Mrs. Bracewell said.
Up to 10,000 plants will be installed this year, which so far this year has shown profit.
In a few years, Mrs. Bracewell hopes the business will generate enough income so that she can quit her day with a large law firm supervising a team of colleagues who maintain attorneys’ docket schedules.
“I think it can work,” she said. “But, I’m very cautious on it, because it’s just me with my kids (ages 16, 9 and 6). If I quit my day job and this business fails, we’re kind of in a lot of trouble. So I want to play it safe and have it profitable for several years before I say, OK, this is going to be the full-time thing that I do.”
Telecommuting allows her to usually devote two hours a day, three days a week to the farm and 15 hours on weekends.
Learning the cut-flower business on her own, Mrs. Bracewell took online courses and talked with experienced flower growers who generously gave their time.
“I feel like it cut off probably a good three years of trial and error on our part, to do this from scratch,” she said.
Her education online and through others in the business continues.
“I’m gleaning it from everybody who knows what they’re doing,” Mrs. Bracewell said.
Besides helping to plant, water and weed, her mother does whatever she can to help.
“It’s really hers,” Mrs. Williams, a retired insurance sales person, said of the business. “She wanted to do it. I thought it was great. And I just wanted to do anything I could for her. So far, so good.”
Optimistic about the operation’s prospects, she added: “With hard work and a good product, we’ll be able to do it, Lord willing.”
Fauquier Horticulture Extension Agent Tim Ohlwiler has visited the farm and advised Mrs. Bracewell and her family.
“They’re experimenting with different growing techniques and different flowers to grow, in different times of the year,” Mr. Ohlwiler said. “The easier piece is to teach people how and what to grow, and figure out the irrigation and soil and all that.”
Marketing often proves the bigger challenge for small farms, he said.
“How are you going to connect to your consumer? How are you going to sell what you actually grow?”
Mrs. Bracewell seems to have figured that out, the extension agent said.
“They’ve got a website up, and that seems to be going well. I’m impressed with their marketing.”
Along the way, Mrs. Bracewell has learned valuable lessons about the work that she gladly shares with anybody who might want to start a cut-flower business.
Work or volunteer at a farm to see if it suits you.
“Get a feel for it,” Mrs. Bracewell said. “You see the pretty pictures and read what people have written. But get out there when it’s 90 degrees and you have to weed. It’s not that much fun.”
Also, start small.
“You can produce a lot on a 10-by-10 square, depending on the flower you’re growing.”
And, keep good records, “so you know what is making you money.”
Despite the occasional mistake or setback, she has no qualms about starting the business.
“Every year it seems like God has brought something and just handed it to us. This year the (Old Dominion Flower Cooperative) was not something I was looking for. I didn’t feel like we were big enough for that, or real enough flower farmers for that.
“But, I always tell myself don’t tell anybody no. Somebody brings you an opportunity, give it your best, be honest if you’re new at this. And so far, it’s working out great.”
The farm’s name comes from Romans 8:28 — her husband’s favorite Bible verse — that in part reads: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
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