2022 Sponsor Q&A with Lindsey McCullough of Red Twig Farms
Red Twig Farms is a returning Slow Flowers Summit sponsor, this year at as one of our two Presenting Sponsors. We welcome Red Twig Farms' support and value their leadership role in the Slow Flowers community, including as a member and major sponsor of Slow Flowers Society. Debra Prinzing recently spoke with Lindsey McCullough, who operates Red Twig Farms along with her husband and flower farmer Josh McCullough, for an update on their activities.
Q. Thank you so much for supporting the Slow Flowers Summit this year! Why is Slow Flowers important to you? A. Slow Flowers Society and your programs mean a lot to us. It’s a unique community with farmers, designers, wholesalers – different than other flower organizations. As a farm, we fill a special niche, and we feel that Slow Flowers and the way you run it, fits our business better. We’re not trying to be everything. We’re not trying to do everything, but we are trying to be the very best at what we do. We feel good about our Slow Flowers membership and how people support each other.
Q. What is your niche at Red Twig Farms? A. We’re known nationally for our tulips, peonies, and at the holidays, our dogwood and willow branches. We are expanding our nursery side of the business to sell what we grow, including dahlia tubers, tulip bulbs, peony plants and bare root peonies.
Q. Wow, you’re starting to resemble a nursery! A. With Josh’s background in a family landscaping company, McCullough’s Landscape & Nursery (now fully operated by his brother and sister-in-law), it was a no-brainer to sell peony plants. Josh and I have expanded into the tubers and other selections of plants we grow for Red Twig Farms, so customers can have the same varieties for their home landscape or home garden.
Q. In the past few years, Red Twig Farms seems to have rapidly transitioned from a local cut flower farm outside Columbus, Ohio, to a national, direct-from-the-farm, online store. How did that happen? A. Yes! We went from having a Peony Festival and selling one-thousand potted peony plants in two days, to now, literally shipping our peonies, bulbs, bare roots and tubers all across the United States.
Q. Please share the story! A. It started in 2020, because of COVID. We had just planned our fifth year of the Peony Festival, which had brought people from all over the U.S. We were working with our city for bus shuttles to better manage parking. Everything was planned. We were also sitting on thousands of tulips ready to bloom. We thought, ‘What are we going to do?’ And that’s when we started up a tulip campaign and immediately geared up shipping.
Q. Had you shipped much previously? A. We were used to shipping seasonal branches to garden centers and landscapers, but those can be shipped ground (they don’t require overnight shipping). We had shipped before to a couple of florists, but nothing of any volume and nothing direct to consumer. With branches, you’re not worried about the heat blowing open the blooms. Fresh flowers are a different challenge!
Q. How did you crack the code on shipping fresh flowers? A. We joined CalFlowers to immediately get their FedEx discount rate. We picked a lot of brains among our Alaska peony farming buddies about how they ship. We figured out shipping tulips and the first week, I think we sent almost 900 boxes. We learned what worked and what didn’t work -- Was that ice pack too small? Or did we need to add a hydration wrap? By week two, we had corrected those problems.
Q. Tell us about the Tulip Program you started during COVID. Did you continue it this year? A. Yes, we sold almost all of our inventory again through the Donate Tulips -- From a Stranger to a Stranger. We offer 10-stem tulip bunches for $10 or $12, and some people purchased strictly for a donation or bought one bunch for themselves and one for a donation; or they might buy 10 bunches and donate all of them.
Q. When do you ship the peony roots? A. We offer two shipping windows. I know some people prefer to plant peonies in the fall. But most of our fields were planted in early spring before the heat. So, we sell peonies starting in January for March and April shipping and then we open up online orders later for fall shipping. We realize people have different climates and different times when they want to plant.
Q. What about for bulbs and tubers?
A. The tulip, alliums and daffodil bulbs are shipped in the fall and the dahlia tubers are shipped in early spring. We have trialed everything that we offer to customers here at Red Twig Farm first.
Q. To what do you attribute your success as direct-to-consumer flower shippers? A. We try not to oversell, and we try not to overpromise. We try to just make sure that we’re transparent with our customers. We had a shipping issue last week. There were severe storms in Kentucky, which UPS considered an act of God, so 63 of our overnight boxes were delayed. We were not sure what condition the flowers would look like two days later, and that’s not what we promised. So, we immediately refunded all those customers 100%, no questions asked. I will say, most of the boxes arrived in perfect condition. Half of the customers reached out asking how to repay us and started to Venmo back our refund. I think we turned a bad situation into a positive by hitting it so quickly.
Q. What does a full year at Red Twig Farms look like with major crop promotions and other seasonal crops? A. We have a Bloom Club, which is a centerpiece every month for whatever length of time the customer chooses. That starts in February or March, and then roll right into the tulips, then the peonies. During the last couple of years, we dabbled in offering summer bouquets with zinnias, cosmos, and sunflowers. I think that will happen again this year. Then we roll right into lisianthus, eucalyptus and dahlias, which is for local pickup customers, florists, and wholesalers. And then, we go into shipping bare root peonies in the fall, followed by dogwood, willow, ilex and wreathmaking.
Q. So what do you offer to wholesale customers? A. We offer peonies, tulips, dogwood, and willow. And we also offer wreaths.
Q. What’s on the horizon for Red Twig Farms? A. Next year will be our 10th year of peony harvest since we’ve been in business. We want to celebrate our customers. We want to celebrate the florists who took a chance on us. We are planning to host a farm-to-vase dinner at Red Twig Farms.
Read More: In March 2022, Josh and Lindsey McCullough co-authored “Flower Farming Pivot,” an article about how they reinvented their farm through the challenges of COVID. Click here to read that story in Slow Flowers Journal.