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Money Does Grow On Trees And I Can Prove It - My Story Of Growing Food And Flowers For Fun And Profit

They say that money doesn't grow on trees, but I beg to differ. It most certainly does grow on trees and shrubs, bushes, leaves and roots, as I have seen it do first-hand many times.

 

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Not in a literal sense obviously, but money can be acquired from the productivity of many plants and I have done it. It never made sense to me when people used this expression as our family quite literally made money from growing things.

My parents used to grow cannabis and other vegetables when I was a kid and I soon realized there were other things to grow beside weed. My first foray into growing food for profit began with a strawberry field.

Strawberries are a favorite at farmers markets especially organically grown strawberries. Before the bell would ring, signaling the market was open, there would be a line of people lined up at my stand that never waned from the start of until the closing of the market. In a typical season, we would sell about $30,000 worth of strawberries.

 

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Vegetable and herb starts were the next profitable crops we grew. Broccoli, lettuce, chives, cabbage, artichokes, beans and peas were always the favorite choices of our customers.

I once grew sunflowers for the cut flower market and would sell them at the San Francisco Flower Market. The San Francisco Flower Market is a wholesale market, the largest in North America and the third largest in the world.

It all began when I got a call from a friend to come help them do some work in a hydroponic rose garden. I wanted to learn about hydroponics so I accepted. We would cut the roses grown in ten, huge greenhouses and box them up to ship to New York where a buyer would purchase two boxes per week for the entire nine month season. Each box sold for about $2,800. That's about $100,000 gross per year.

 

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I almost bought that business but decided against it as I didn't like the chemicals involved in growing roses, but as I researched the cut flower business, it soon became clear there were better flowers to grow from a profitable standpoint. This led me to begin growing sunflowers and with a $5,000 investment I netted $40,000 in four months of work. Not bad for my first year.

Soon I started looking for other flowers to grow that could extend my season and spread out the cash flow over the year.

Calla lilies at that time were wholesaling for $3.50 per stem and I knew where there were thousands of them growing wild on a 3000-acre property of a friend of mine so I had a chat with him. He had a young couple living on a house on the property who were struggling to pay the rent and he told me if I could help them earn money to pay rent, I could harvest all the calla lilies I could gather.

 

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I struck up a deal with the couple and provided all the buckets and pruners they needed and paid them $1.00 per stem. They would bundle them in bunches of ten and would fit 40 stems in a bucket. Three times a week, I would collect about 100 buckets from them and load them up in a big refrigerated truck to haul them to market.

The market was open three nights a week from midnight until nine in the morning. These were the hours florists buy their flower as the temperatures are cooler at night so the flowers won't wilt in transport.

One evening at the market, a guy pulled up in a big, white van and unloaded a thousand bunches of lavender flowers which he sold out in 35 minutes for $15 each. That's $15,000.

Lavender grows with very little water, needs little attention throughout the year and would fill in some of the gaps in my season as far as cash flow was concerned. I discovered the best variety to grow for the cut flower industry and found it growing in the parking lot of my local grocery store.

I asked the owner if I could trade some work for some cutting and he said if I cleaned up the landscape of the lot I could have all the cutting I want. It took me 6 hours to do the job and another 6 hours to transplant the cuttings into pots once they took root.

I ended up with over 5,000 lavender plants and needed a place to plant them, so I placed an ad on Craigslist and got a response. I'll never forget the look on those peoples faces when I arrived and planted about 4,000 lavender plants, installed the drip line to water them and got the whole thing up and running.

 

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They asked me. "What do you want for all this?" "I just want to be able to pick the flowers.", I told them. "I feel like we should be paying you.", they said, looking at me like I was a little crazy. "The flowers will be more than enough compensation.", I assured them.

I paid them for the water and they could pick as many flowers as they wanted, plus it made the view along their long driveway look beautiful and their neighbor, who had bee hives, loved it.

That field took three years to become productive and netted over $80,000 per year. The other 1000 plants I didn't plant were sold by driving to landscape sites and selling them right out of my truck for $5 each, allowing me to more than break even from the whole operation before I even harvested a single flower.

Then there was the time I grew an acre of garlic. Garlic keeps well and can be made into garlands and wreaths and can be pickled. Besides, I love garlic and use it a lot. No vampires at our house.

 

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I then grew echinacea for the roots and sold 800 pounds of dried root for $8 a pound to the San Francisco Herb Company to be made into tinctures. That was a lot of work so I only did it one season, but was able to sell the cut flower as well.

Parsley and cilantro are two crops that are easy to grow and in high demand at restaurants, selling for $7 and $8 per pound respectively. Each Thursday, I would deliver to 54 restaurants in my area and get paid cash or credit to eat at the restaurants. Both crops are relatively pest free and can be cut repeatedly throughout the season. All said and done, it netted $18 per square foot over a 8 month season.

This year we sold 45,000 pounds of apples at $2.50 per pound and 200 gallons of apple juice for $15 a gallon and 5000 pints of blueberries at $4 a pint. Plus plums, pears and cherries and 550 dozen eggs.

So when people say that money doesn't grow on trees, I just look at them and chuckle. Of course, it does and always has. Food is a 100% recession proof business and always will be. People need to eat and a big part of their budget goes to feeding themselves and their families.

Like the famous, urban, guerilla farmer Ron Finley says, "Growing your own food is like printing your own money."

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