Flower Farming Pivot

Josh and Lindsey McCullough discovered their adaptive skills during the Pandemic, and in doing so, they reimagined Red Twigs Farm

Red Twig Farms Tulips
Our tulips found new homes with strangers and frontline workers during COVID.

March 2020 marked the beginning of uncertain times for us all. The pandemic and its “Stay at Home Order” hit and our flower farm was just weeks away from our major tulip harvest and months away from our biggest annual event, The Peony Festival. Thankfully, our team was covered under agricultural exceptions, allowing them to continue working on the farm, but our Farm Store was forced to close and all our public events were in jeopardy.

Lindsey and Josh McCullough
Lindsey and Josh McCullough of Red Twig Farms (c) Bob Stefko

To say we were reeling from the changes is an understatement. Red Twig Farms is known for its Farm Store and for The Annual Peony Festival. In 2019, the festival brought in over 7,000 people in two days.  We had spent months planning The 5th Peony Festival and  expected record-breaking crowds. And now, what? No customers were allowed on the farm due to the Shut Down.  A huge chunk of our yearly revenue was just gone. In a business based on 99% consumer sales and 1% wholesale/florist sales, our onsite farm store was the primary way to sell our flowers. After reality sunk in, we knew we had to find a way for our small business to stay afloat. We worked too long and too hard to close our doors or wait things out Mother Nature doesn’t do that and honestly neither do we.  We had to a make a fast decision. We transform, we pivot, we push through — or, we shut down.

“As we look back at 2020, our biggest takeaway was receiving the kindness of others. The community, our followers, our customers were not ready for the farm to be closed. They backed our changes and they pushed us.”

Lindsey and Josh McCullough

Our choice? Pivot. If the public couldn’t come to us, then we would come to them. Given that our clientele was accustomed to doing everything in person, how would we shift them to a new way of doing business with Red Twig Farms? A portion of our tulips and peonies were already pre-ordered for the upcoming season — a mix of farm pick ups and local deliveries. 

Front line workers with Red Twig Farms flowers
Front line workers with Red Twig Farms flowers.

Covid said try another way for that. And that’s when it hit us. What if we could sell tulip bouquets online and then donate them to strangers? We could bring some joy and hope in a hard time while moving customers to a new way to interact with Red Twig Farms. We pivoted. The Stranger Tulip Donation Campaign was created and listed on our website. We promoted the new option on social media and within ONE HOUR, our website sold over 100 bouquets.

Delivering tulips
One of our team members on a tulip delivery

Apparently, the pandemic couldn’t keep our customers down either.  Shocked that the idea worked, we knew there was no turning back. Within days, over 1,000 bouquets were purchased and donated. This campaign did more than just pay kindness forward, it allowed us to keep the farm open while employing 4 more people that had lost their jobs due to Covid. Our staff and farm friends made the bouquets and loaded up their cars for contactless deliveries. The bouquets seemingly had minds of their own and found the people who needed our flowers the most. We asked  recipients to tag us or email us toshare how they were doing — and the response was overwhelming. On top of that, we found a way to establish a drive-through system for our customers to safely pick up their weekly bouquets at the farm. We had transformed tulip season but now peony season was looming in the future.

Peonies galore!

Now it was time to pivot again with Peony Plan B.

Plan A involved selling one-half of our peony inventory in 2 days. But as we heard time and again, those were unprecedented times and we couldn’t base our livelihood on “what if”? We asked ourselves, could Plan B include shipping our flowers? We are a small flower farm in Ohio. We never considered this option due to so many reasons (expensive, logistics, manpower, etc.). However, necessity is the mother of invention, so we changed our entire farm business in one month.  

Red Twig Farms worked around the clock to figure out shipping, discounts, boxes, ice packs, you name it. We reached out to farmer friends, including Scenic Place Peonies owners Beth VanSandt and Kurt Weichhand, who shared their advice about peony shipping from Alaska and gave us their opinions and  some courage (thank you). Without knowing quite how it would work logistically, we pulled the trigger and listed our peony bouquets on our website for Nationwide Shipping. Here goes nothing, right?

Ohio-grown peonies for our local community – and beyond

Week 1 was filled with nerves, anxiety, and so much stress. (Or was that just the new norm from the pandemic?) Week 2 arrived and we made shipping modifications from the prior week’s lessons. By Week 4, we had it figured out and then the season was over. We managed to ship over 1,700 boxes of peonies to 48 states in just four weeks of our peony season. We had to work out shipping issues, of course. We achieved this feat with a great team — a mix of people laid off from other jobs due to the pandemic and others looking for extra work; moms of children doing remote learning; and high school and college students whose sports programs were on hold. Between Josh (aka “The Farmer”) and Lindsey, and the rest of our Red Twig Farms team, we worked together to create a strategy: To transform our harvesting to support flower shipping,  local deliveries, and on-farm, farm drive-through pick up. This team had everything thrown at them for the first time and we figured it out. Together.

As we look back at 2020, our biggest takeaway was receiving the kindness of others. The community, our followers, our customers were not ready for the farm to be closed. They backed our changes and they pushed us. In 2022, we are no longer just an Ohio farm. We are everyone’s farm. Now nationally known for our peonies (delivered to all 50 states in 2021), we often wonder where the farm would be if the pandemic hadn’t hit us. We will never know but we know that when times get rough, we took the chance and pushed ourselves, and yes, we embraced the word PIVOT.

Josh & Lindsey McCullough

This duo met while Josh was hanging up holiday wreaths at Lindsey’s employer's office. Lindsey was determined they were going to be centered perfectl - 1/8” to the right, 1/4” up. Josh went home and told his mom that he was never going back there again. That Lindsey was way too bossy. Years later they crossed paths again at a holiday party and the rest is history. Josh & Lindsey became the sole owners of Red Twig Farms in 2019. They took off running and have yet to stop expanding and restructuring the farm. After 4 successful years, with Lindsey betting her father-in-law Karl that they could grow the annual Peony Festival, the event unfortunately was retired when Covid hit in 2020. That's when McCulloughs introduced nationwide shipping for their peonies, sending out over 1,700 boxes in 4 weeks to 48 of the states. In 2021, Red Twig Farms' peonies reach ALL 50 states. They added on "Bloom Mechanics Floral Designs" to their lineup in 2021, using foam free mechanics designed for events & weddings.

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