Imagine what it would be like to grow your spring crop of annuals and perennials and then close for the season by the end of June every year. While it may not be a typical greenhouse business model, it spells success for the Loppnow family at Wayne’s Daughters Farm and Greenhouses.
Located in southeastern Wisconsin’s Village of Raymond, the ninth-generation family farm was homesteaded in 1839, raising livestock and growing traditional grain crops.
By the time Wayne and Sandy Loppnow were married in the late ‘60s, they were raising vegetables for on-farm U-pick and farmers market sales. When Sandy suggested that Wayne grow annual flowers for farmers markets, they were surprised to find that flowers sold out before produce.
Vegetable fields were replaced with greenhouse production in 1983 and Loppnow Farm became Wayne’s Daughters Farm and Greenhouses. They were officially in the flower business.
The 50-acre farm includes more than 30 greenhouse structures with 85,000 square feet under cover. Over 1,000 varieties of flowers and 25,000 floral hanging baskets are grown each spring.
“We’re a family place where people can afford to buy flowers,” Sandy said. “We do a lot of combination planting in planters and baskets here with both mounding and trailing plants for the perfect balance. We do our shady baskets with different colors, textures and trailing plants instead of just impatiens and begonias.”
It’s their “monster baskets” that are the greenhouse showstoppers, though, grown in 18- and 20-inch hanging baskets. Bubblegum petunia is their most popular, a vigorous grower that trails as much as five feet with a diameter extending three to four feet across.
Farming has always been a family affair for the Loppnows. Now adults, daughters Jennifer, Katie, Kari and Casey helped in the vegetable fields and at farmers markets in the early years. Sandy worked as a cosmetology instructor and also helped on the farm.
Today you’ll find “the girls,” as Sandy calls them, working alongside their parents seven days a week throughout the growing season. The daughters all have their areas of expertise, with one helping Wayne with the seeding program and another managing greenhouse staff.
Designing unique floral patio planter and basket combinations is another daughter’s specialty, and you’ll find them all serving as virtual tour guides in their social media greenhouse videos.
The youngest daughter, a professional photographer, can be found behind the camera and helps with video production. Transplanting and day-to-day greenhouse tasks are a team effort.
“Whether it’s seeding, planting or watering, we can all do about the same things in the greenhouse, so that if one is gone, another can fill in,” Sandy explained.
Vegetables & Herbs
Like other greenhouses across the country, they have seen increased interest in vegetable gardening. They have also seen more sales in herbs.
“Years ago, most people just wanted more basic ones like parsley and basil. Today they want different kinds of things like stevia and chamomile,” Sandy said.
If a customer doesn’t have much garden space, they offer vegetable plants in larger size patio planters. “A lot of people don’t even have a garden, but they want a patio planter tomato,” she added.
As for selection, after growing 100 acres of vegetable crops over the years, Wayne has the experience to select the best for their region. Shoppers can browse through more than 80 varieties of herb and vegetable plants. Customer favorites include SunSugar and Patio tomatoes and LadyBell and Lunchbox peppers.
Cost of Doing Business
With about half of their crop started from seed, Wayne starts heating the first greenhouses in early January. They hire a staff of 16 at the beginning of the growing season and additional staff is brought on for retail. “We really are blessed with good workers. Some have been with us for 30 years,” Sandy said.
The Loppnows are experiencing, however, the same increase in input costs as the rest of agriculture this past year. “Everything is getting expensive. It’s been hard. It’s unbelievable what you need to run a season. Fuel’s up, wages are up, everything is up,” she said.
Increased prices in plastics and timed-release fertilizer used on all planters and baskets are other concerns. To help keep heating costs down, part of their range is double-cropped during warmer temperatures in late spring.
The Loppnows have developed a loyal following over the past 40 years with customers visiting each spring from as far away as metro Milwaukee and the Chicago area. In early spring a direct mail piece that promotes their April season grand opening helped bring in more than 1,000 people. Emails, social media and the business’s website tell their story with colorful images and virtual greenhouse tours.
It’s the website design and key social media posts that are their marketing program’s “secret sauce.” The website’s crisp, vibrant image gallery draws in the viewer. Shared videos feature the entire family working together, from Wayne seeding and fixing heating systems to Sandy and their daughters and grandchildren planting side by side in the greenhouse.
There may be snow on the ground, but weekly behind-the-scenes video updates posted as early as February start getting customers excited about spring. Cooking videos with Sandy and the grandchildren are added later, featuring Sandy’s favorite recipes using fresh vegetables from their garden.
Besides farming, the family believes in giving back to their community through public service. Wayne is a former Village Board president; one of his daughters serves their community in that position today. Another is a member of the local school board.
A close-knit family, they have all built homes on the farm and the seven grandchildren stop by the greenhouse after school every day for Sandy’s baked cookies and snacks. When asked what advice she might have for families that work together every day, it was simple. “Laugh a lot,” she said, “and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
One of their Facebook posts said, “Taking care of our greenhouses can be hard work, but it’s worth it.” It’s a sign in one of the greenhouses, however, that says it all: “This is our happy place.”
by Gail March Yerke