Sarah Barkhouse of Vera Flora Farm in Gilsum.

Sarah Barkhouse, of Vera Flora Farm in Gilsum

Editor’s Note: This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series that aims to highlight how business leaders have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations

This was supposed to be a banner year for Sarah Barkhouse, owner of Vera Flora Farm in Gilsum. For nine years, Barkhouse has been a part-time florist, growing flowers and creating bouquets and displays during nights and weekends, while working during the day at nearby W.S. Badger Co.

Her floral business took off, and with the 2020 wedding season booked, she quit her day job last fall to focus full-time on her business.

“Before this hit, I was ramping up to have the biggest wedding season,” she said.

With stay-at-home orders in place and wedding venues shut down, Barkhouse had to find another way to get her business through.

So now, Barkhouse finds herself focusing on her floral CSA , in hopes of making up the revenue she lost when all of her events through August were canceled. Normally, the CSA is capped at 27 participants and made up a small portion of Barkhouse’s business, in part so that Vera Flora Farm would always have enough flowers for events. With no events to worry about, Barkhouse expanded the CSA to 50 participants this year, and the program quickly sold out.

“CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and that is absolutely what happened for me this spring,” Barkhouse said. “Yes, flowers do bring joy which is especially needed right now, but I also had a lot of people purchase a CSA share and tell me it’s because they wanted to support my business. The community is choosing who they want to support right now by voting with their dollar and it is so encouraging to see so many small, local producers being supported.”

Now, Barkhouse plans to make the CSA a prominent part of her business in the future, even as events return.

“My hope is I can maintain those 50 members and maybe even grow this program next year,” Barkhouse said.

By expanding the CSA, Barkhouse has made up roughly one-third of the revenue that she lost from canceled weddings. And yet, since weddings account for about 60% of the sales that Vera Flora Farm does, she’s preparing for revenue to be significantly reduced.

“It’s going to be down still, quite a bit,” Barkhouse said.The pandemic will affect her next year as well, since she’ll be rescheduling bookings from 2020, rather than connecting with new customers in 2021. And yet the idea of building the CSA — which is less time-intensive than weddings — has some appeal, although weddings give Barkhouse a creative platform that she would never want to give up entirely.“Weddings are really stressful. They take you away from your family on weekends,” Barkhouse said. “There’s definitely part of me that’s thinking […]