At Red Twig Farms in New Albany, Ohio, old-fashioned farming has met the Instagram age.
But it didn’t start out that way at this Certified American Grown flower farm. In 2010, the McCullough family opened the farm as a place to grow willow and dogwood branches for the family’s landscaping business. But that was a one-season crop and there was unused acreage.
The next year, the family added peonies, which were a hot commodity at that time. When the peonies were mature in 2014, the family sold to florists and wholesalers as well as at local farmers markets. But the peonies didn’t fare well at farmers markets where the warm temperatures caused them to open up and rendered any leftover inventory unsellable.
That’s when the family decided to create a farm store on its property and try to get people to come to the peonies rather than taking peonies to the people. That way, the flowers could be kept in a controlled environment at optimal temperatures.
The missing part of the equation was how to get people to the farm. That’s where social media came in. And it was the second generation of the McCullough family running the farm – son Josh and his wife Lindsey – who spearheaded the push. Lindsey handles the farm’s marketing while Josh attends to the growing operation.
The farm kicked off the opening of its farm store in 2016 with an event to mark the opening of peony season. Lindsey, who has a degree in marketing and e-commerce, took to Facebook to promote the event. That first year, 168 people came out.
“We just kept marketing it through social media,” Lindsey said. “Josh did a couple articles locally and Midwest Living (magazine) found us through Instagram and they wanted to be a part of it. In 2017, that season opener we had more than 1,400 adults come through. And it all came through social media.”
The event has continued to grow. More than 2,000 people attended in 2018.
“We’ve started advertising for what we’re calling Peony Fest 2019 for the opening day and we’re nearing 14,000 people interested,” she said. “We’re obviously going to have to make it a couple-day event.”
The season opener was just the first of the farm’s successes that got an assist through social media.
In March, the farm started a subscription service where people could sign up for weekly deliveries of peonies during the season for two to five weeks. The goal, Lindsey said, was to get flowers to customers in nearby Columbus who had expressed via Facebook messages that they wanted peonies but didn’t have time to get to the farm. The service started with a goal of 50 customers; the farm had to stop taking new customers after 94 people signed up.
The farm’s VIP Peony Harvest Experience has also been a hit. The event, limited to 40 people, takes participants into the fields that are usually closed to the public, and Josh explains the ins and outs of growing peonies. Those on the tour are then allowed to harvest two dozen peonies themselves. The first year the event sold out in two hours.
“They do everything we do and they have a blast doing it,” Lindsey said.
Social media also has played in recruiting workers. When the farm needed staff for its farm store, the word when out via Facebook. It was customers who responded and were ultimately hired. For Lindsey, who better to sell the farm’s product than happy customers.
As much as modern marketing methods have played a role in its success, one of the farm’s goals is to remind people of the natural rhythms of agricultural life.
“We just want to keep educating everybody and bring back some farming that people might have forgotten or are just so busy doing social media that you forget what it’s like to be out there,” Lindsey said. “We want to show people the other side of cut flowers. Yes, it’s the pretty pictures on Instagram but there’s also a lot of hard work that goes into it and long hours. There’s trial and error in everything you do. Just because it works this year doesn’t mean it’s going to grow next year. We want to showcase that, the real side to it.”
The farm, which has grown from harvesting 8,000 peonies in 2015 to 30,000 in 2018, aims to continue expanding its offerings. The goal is to build up the subscription service with new flowers, which would allow the service to operate in March and April in addition to the peony season in June. Daffodils, tulips and ranunculus are among the possibilities. Flowers will be planted this fall for early spring harvest.
“There’s a whole list of flowers that we’re looking at and saying to ourselves, ‘Can we do this?’” she said.
Of course they will! We can’t wait to see what Red Twig Farm will do next.