Summer Stems is a small you-pick flower garden near Stillwater that started out of necessity. Thirty years ago, when Wendy Hawkins and her family were searching for a new home, they passed a sizable plot of land because the house on it was too small. In 2017, the Hawkins family heard that it was up for sale again, and purchased it. They later discovered it included 175 peony plants.
Known for their brilliant pink, red, and white flowers, peonies are perennials that brighten Minnesotans’ homes from mid-June until early July.
With no connections to florists, Wendy and her daughter Emma started their business from ground zero in 2018. After some research, they found that you-pick flower farms were rare on the east side of the Twin Cities. Using a farm in Michigan for inspiration, they set up social media pages and had a family friend design a logo. According to Emma, “We didn’t even have banners the first year. We just bought some little yard signs and wrote ‘Flowers for Sale’ along with the price – and word caught on.” Wendy expressed a similar sense of urgency. “We literally started it in about three hours because we had all these flowers that were going to bloom.”
Although monetary growth isn’t their number one goal, Wendy and Emma enjoy the work involved, while maintaining and building new relationships with customers surrounding their love of flowers. “Some of our goals and part of the mission is still to let people just experience, unplug, hear the birds, feel the wind and just experience nature, which we don’t do very often anymore,” says Wendy.
Social Media Impact
Since then, Summer Stems’ social media following and outreach have grown significantly. Emma and Wendy have enjoyed getting to know their customers who make picking peonies at the farm a tradition. They are both humbled and grateful that so many people frequently “check in” on their business through social media, are interested and engaged. Wendy remembers a couple that was married during peony season and visited on their first wedding anniversary. They came back when they were expecting a child, and this year they brought their baby.
In 2020, Emma graduated from Liberty University with a degree in strategic communications in social media, so managing Summer Stems’ social media accounts was the “best practice” for her. “You’re reaching so many more people than you think,” she says. “We’ll have people come to the farm, and they’ll say ‘I’ve been following you for three years and this is the first time I’ve been able to go.’”
Wendy agrees that it has been amazing to see the growth only from social media with virtually no money invested in outside marketing. Her previous small business spent a significant amount of money on printed marketing materials and attending events with displays.
Every Season is Unique
Starting any business comes with its own set of challenges, and florals are no different. Both flowers and the weather can have a mind of their own, which makes scheduling you-pick hours especially difficult.
“Each season has been a bit different with weather,” Emma says. “Now that we’re increasing in customers, it’s hard to set out a whole week of hours. A lot of it depends on nature or how many people showed up the day before, but you also want to give people a good enough warning to plan their visit.”
Wendy brings to the table years of gardening experience and expertise, and this business feels like a gift, “It’s my favorite flower,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it. I’m like, ‘God, could you really give me something that I loved so much to do and get to share with other people?’ That just seems like kind of a pipe dream, right?”