Don Lareau raises about four acres of certified organic flowers at Zephyros Farm and Garden in Paonia, Colorado (in addition to an acre of vegetables, plus fruit trees and pasture). He and his wife, Daphne Yannakakis, emphasize quality flowers and exquisite design to cater to florists and farmers markets in the resort communities of Telluride and Aspen.
Don digs into how Zephyros gets excellent visual quality and shelf-life without the preservatives that most flower growers use, as well as how they market their certified organic flowers. Don shares some tips and techniques for maximizing sales to florists, as well as the nuts and bolts of how they set up and run their farmers market stand to generate a buzz that really helps them move their blooms.
We get into the challenges and advantages of producing flowers in the desert western slope of the Colorado Rockies.
Don and Daphne have a strong emphasis on design, and Don describes the ways they have worked to maximize the results they get from their design work, from training employees in the art of flower design to the business structures and marketing processes they’ve implemented.
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Quotes from the Show
We love the farmer’s markets but it’s a lot of work for the same amount of money that we can get by doing a day’s worth of deliveries to the florists and designers.
You smell a red rose and you give it to your girlfriend and she sniffs it up and that’s not really loving.
We do get calls, brides want certified organic flowers for their wedding cake, that sort of thing. We’re a little further away from people saying, I want organic flowers because that way I know that someone in Ecuador isn’t spraying nasty stuff on the planet.
We put on a show at the farmer's market because we charge a premium.
We don’t just charge forty dollars for a bouquet because it’s a bunch of flowers plopped together… it’s a real design and it’s done with really high quality flowers.
Anyone can take a bunch of flowers and flop them together if you’ve got a little sense of color and style, but to do it really well and do it quickly so that you can put out one a hundred-plus bouquets in day, it takes some skill, so it’s definitely something that we pay for.
The challenge of having set an expectation of a certain level of design in our product is that it’s not like you can just hire someone like you can with vegetables because they can put a tomato on a scale or count up how many bunches of beets you bought and add it up and tell you what it costs.
You just have to be confident when you say, “This is twenty-five dollars’ worth of sunflowers.”
People don’t really want to pay a farmer to do design. They think of a farmer as a good way to get cheap flowers.
Don works very closely with the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, which he says is the best $200 you can spend if you are even thinking about growing flowers.
Specialty Cut Flowers, by Allen Armitage, is a basic text to provide a background on a wide spectrum of crops and varieties.
Slow Money provided a zero interest loan to Zephyros Farm and Garden to purchase a refrigerated delivery truck, which has improved their ability to make sales to florists.
Zephyros Farm uses horizontal trellis on crucial crops.
Zephyros has been using 30% shade cloth; as those wear out, they are replacing the traditional shade cloths with Aluminet.
Zephyros Farm and Garden is selling certified organic dahlia tubers online, available on their website.
Don is president of the board of directors at the Organic Farming Research Foundation, where he’s served on the board for six years.
Don’s favorite tool is his ARS snips (I can attest to the value of these snips, which were a key herb and flower harvest tool at my Rock Spring Farm).