Extension Helps Agribusiness Flourish
Story by Susan Collins-Smith • Photos by Kevin Hudson
When Beth and Michael Foose decided to open Little Bluestem Farm in 2016, they knew they needed training to help them manage the business side of the farm.
“I know how to grow flowers, but I quickly realized that running a farm is a completely different matter. The learning curve has been steep, but the Mississippi State University Extension Service has certainly been there to help.” — Beth Foose
Beth first attended the Extension-facilitated Women in Agriculture Workshop Annie’s Project, a course that teaches problem-solving, record-keeping, and decision-making skills for agriculture-related businesses.
At the workshop, she learned about Extension floral specialist Dr. Jim DelPrince and the hands-on flower-arrangement classes he offers to floral enthusiasts and professionals.
Originally, Beth, Michael, and their daughters, Mary Margaret Saulters and Hannah Saulters, planned to offer a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program on their Carthage farm and sell at the farmers’ market.
“We had talked about expanding our services to include wedding work, but we didn’t think we had the necessary skills,” Beth says. “I got an email about the Wedding Floral Workshop and decided to attend, although I went with some trepidation about being a grower in the midst of designers.”
But afterward, they believed they could do it.
“Every minute of the 2-day class offered opportunities to learn and try new skills,” Beth says. “I left the class feeling empowered to explore the world of wedding floristry, thanks to the support, instruction, and wisdom of Dr. DelPrince.”
Little Bluestem Farm designed its first wedding this summer and has three more scheduled.
While flower farming has been around for a while on the east and west coasts, it’s a new idea in Mississippi. However, it is a great way to address the changing floral industry, DelPrince says.
“Mississippi is a garden that can grow flowers for markets in Memphis, Birmingham, Jackson, New Orleans, and beyond, and we do,” he says. “The challenge is finding lucrative markets. It’s a good idea to start off by vending cut flowers at a farmers’ market, but better revenue streams may be found in other opportunities, such as selling directly to retailers, selling in quantity to wholesale florists, becoming farmer florists, and combining flower farming with agritourism.”
Extension offers great resources to help growers develop their design and business skills.
“Our Extension workshops are great for busy professionals because most of them do not involve a semester-long commitment,” DelPrince says. “In the 2-day wedding workshop, I help people build their design skills, but I also spend a good deal of time helping people understand how to work with clients.”
For more information about Extension floral workshops, visit http://www.coastal.msstate.edu.