The Crop Report

Lessons Learned From 2024 Mum Shipping

Lessons Learned From 2024 Mum Shipping

This crop report is one I have had a hard time coming around to write. But after such a bumpy spring season it's time to recap mum shipping. If you have ever visited the farm or talked to me and my sister, we are quick to say the worst time in our career was when we had to furlough the team at the beginning of COVID.  This spring shipping season, however, comes in at a CLOSE second.  

No, we didn't lose the farm, the team, or you, but we put a big ol dent in our morale and our confidence.  We aren't quitters so we aren't letting this beat us to death but we are suffering severe indigestion after eating so much humble pie. So how did this happen? It sure felt like a perfect storm so let's rehash...

It actually began last fall with our mother crop who suffered a horrible end-of-season battle with mealy bugs. We brought in help from other growers and used a slue of different chemicals (which, if you know us, was painful) to kill off the insects. While it helped, it wasn't enough. With the season quickly coming to an end, we decided to start clean with fresh mother stock going into the winter. NOT ideal. While we knew we could baby the cuttings and create a new set of clean motherstock we were uncertain of the amount of production we would get off of these new moms. Even though we cut back our projections, we were a bit too optimistic when speculating how fast (or slow) some of the new mothers would throw cuttings. Even with a decade of propagation experience, we were faced with the bitter reminder that each variety of plant is unique and will grow on Mother Nature’s timeline - not ours. 

I feel like it’s important to include how our process works. To produce all of the cuttings we needed during the coldest months of the year, we partnered with a large local produce farming family to help us tackle the project. They had lots of heated space sitting empty right when we needed propagation space and we worked together to stick and nurture over 20,000 plants.

We spent January and February working tirelessly to take as many cuttings as we could from the new mothers only to realize these plants alone wouldn't be able to produce in the time that we needed. So we decided to move some of the first round of propagations back to the farm and continue to take cuttings off of some of the tallest plants...cuttings from kids so to speak. While I still think this would have absolutely worked, the night after we tucked our baby mums into their new home the heat failed in that house. I found what was a lush greenhouse the day before now tinged with brown from freezing temps on new babies. This was the straw that started the real domino effect. We decided to start pushing delivery weeks bumping the first full month to allow the plants to bounce back.  

We had them turning around, growing out of the freeze damage, and then Mother Nature cracked a smile and sent a gust of wind that almost tore the house off the mum plants (mind you, we already had a winter storm take out Tunnel 4 AND our entire ranunculus crop). The plastic did hold, but the entire house was lifted, damaging quite a few of the plants within. I was just as broken as the greenhouse at that point. The team rallied and helped fix the greenhouse and all the toppled-over mums.

Once it came time to ship we thought the worst was behind us but BOY WERE WE WRONG!  You see in addition to revamping the way that we sold the plants we also changed all of the packaging. Ever wonder why you shouldn't change more than one thing at a time? Keep reading. We moved to clamshells and paper for a more sustainable packaging solution.  While I loved that concept, the way we executed turned into a *massive* time suck and didn’t provide the plants as much protection as we’d hoped. We worked through it this year but boy was it a doozy. 

As we continued to wrap our brains around the best way to move forward, we started to inform folks of delays and substitutions. In hindsight, we should have started giving updates much earlier in the process, but we were simply heads-down and determined to make it perfect. One thing that we’ve learned from all of you is that grace is quickly followed by communication. This one we will take to heart.

Ultimately, we ended up smooshing 10 shipping weeks into 4, and with the buzz of spring on the farm and Mother’s Day stirring up around us, all the hands available to us were juggling other, equally important balls. Steph and I packed boxes from early morning to well past dinner for those weeks. The kids came home, visited, ate dinner, and were in bed before they saw me most nights. Showers felt like a rare luxury, and sleep defied me just from the stress and fear of letting folks down.

This season, we shot for the stars. We completely changed the way we sell mum because we heard the cries for more variety. We completely changed the way we shipped because we wanted to improve our sustainability and box experience. And even though we did ultimately deliver, it wasn’t at all in the way we wanted. While I firmly believe that all of these things were moves worth making, it makes more realistic sense not to try it all in one season. Yet another very valuable lesson learned.

I want to change the world with flowers but I now know I can't do it overnight or in one growing year. That’s really hard to swallow for a dreamer like me but I'm going to keep trying.  I have said it a million times but I will say it again- thank you to everyone who had grace this season on this journey with us. It takes a village and I’m so proud of mine. With your support and belief that we can change the world for the better, I will never quit doing that with my beloved chrysanthemums.

XOXO, Jess

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