“This is 100% about creating an experience for the customer. Agritourism is farming entertainment. Your job from the uptick is to entertain,” said Lyndsay Biehl. Biehl discussed the details of her U-pick flower operation at the Thriving Farmer Flower Summit.

In 2016, after two decades in the horticulture industry, Biehl stepped away from her career and launched Wildroot Flower Co. on family land in Marietta, Ohio. Currently, she cultivates flowers on two acres and in three high tunnels with the help of two part-time and three full-time employees.

The 2024 growing season will mark Biehl’s third year of offering on-farm U-pick flowers, and she hopes to increase gross sales from the U-pick from its current 20% to about 30%. This increase will make up for the wedding arrangements she plans to drop.

In addition to the U-pick, she sells flowers at one farmers market, through a CSA and offers an assortment of workshops – for example, a lavender wand workshop – throughout the growing season.

One of Biehl’s main goals with the U-pick is to create a seamless customer experience and to offer a place of solace for her customers. According to Biehl, her U-pick customers are looking for an experience rather than picking up specific skills, so she aims to create a comfortable, safe and entertaining experience.

The U-pick flower beds are four feet wide and either 25 or 50 feet long with seven-foot grass paths between. For customer safety, they use bent conduit pipes to support the flowers in the U-pick rather than the T-posts and rebar they use for their commercial flowers.

“We’re making sure traffic flow is good when looking at the field layout,” Biehl said. “At our sunset U-picks, sometimes we have 200 people on our property at a time.”

The U-pick is open from the end of June through September. Most of the flower beds are direct seeded to minimize costs, and they constantly rotate in new plantings to ensure there are always new flowers coming into bloom. Biehl likes to plant pollinator mixes and branching flowers such as zinnias rather than single stems. She also includes specialty flowers such as dahlias.

“Oftentimes, you can use less expensive seed because it goes back to the customer not really caring about what type of flower it is, whereas if you have a floral market or you’re trying to keep up with floral trends, then you have to plant the most expensive seed. Customers just want to come cut the flowers,” she said.

At Wildroot’s sunset U-picks, they sometimes see have 200 people on the property at a time. Photo courtesy of Alex Davis Photography

Wildroot offers two price points for the U-pick – a cup for $30 and a bucket for $75. The first year, Biehl tried to price specialty flowers like dahlias and lisianthus (prairie gentian) separately but found it too confusing for the customer.

The cups, about the size of a Mason quart jar, hold about 25 to 30 stems. If the customer returns to the U-pick with the cup, they receive $5 off their next purchase. The buckets hold 60 to 70 stems, but Biehl requests that customers bring their own bucket to transfer the flowers into after cutting. Customers are also asked to bring their own scissors or pruners for cutting.

The U-pick is always staffed with at least one employee. They wear branded uniforms, always the same color, so customers always know where to look for help.

“They teach about harvesting. They show them how to strip the leaves. They give tips for keeping the flowers fresh,” Biehl said. Biehl also encourages employees to communicate with customers about their email mailing list, which according to Biehl is the marketing tool with the largest return per input.

In addition to the knowledgeable staff, Biehl aims to provide other customer comforts. There is clear signage on the road and at the farm instructing customers where to go. Parking is located close to U-pick field so that anyone can access the field, including people with strollers or wheelchairs. There are picnic tables where customers can take breaks, and in 2024 they plan to add a restroom as well as a shade structure so people can have respite from the sun.

Since many customers come with children, they also plan to add a children’s area with some activities such as rock painting.

Despite Biehl’s attention to customer service, she said there will always be the 2% of customers that pose a challenge and operating an on-farm U-pick requires the owner to give up a certain amount of control.

“This means letting go of the 2% that might damage some of your irrigation lines with a reckless kid that they’re not watching. So, just know yourself and really think about what it’s like to have someone on your property,” she said.

Having customers on the farm also comes with increased liability insurance costs. The vagaries of the weather, such as a downpour on a Saturday afternoon, can also have an unpredictable economic impact on the U-pick.

Biehl, however, has discovered that the benefits of running the U-pick far outweigh the challenges. Not only is the U-pick as a standalone business element proving to be economically viable, but she also finds the venture creates reciprocity with her other marketing channels. For instance, a customer will often visit the U-pick and then visit Wildroot at the local farmers market or attend a workshop.

The benefits of the U-pick extend beyond economics; Biehl also values the connections she creates within the community and the experience she and her staff provide.

On Wildroot’s website, Biehl wrote, “My hope for you is that you can find a place within our farm to feel renewed and refreshed because you deserve it. I’ll say that a little louder for the folks in the back; you deserve it.”

by Sonja Heyck-Merlin