Name: Sarah Lutte

Age: 37

Title: Chief of everything and owner, with husband Mark

Business: Lazy Acres Farm, Farmingdale

About: A small family farm focusing on sustainably raised specialty cut flowers and pastured pork

Website: www.lazyacresmaine.com

Sarah Lutte

What was  your biggest influence in starting this business?

We have two small children, and we really wanted to do something with our lives that illustrate our values and provide a different example for them of what they could do. We were both working 9-to-5 offices jobs. We were gone a lot. We each traveled here and there and there. There was a big disconnect between that and what we wanted our kids to know. We had been on this property for a long time and it was kind of calling to us to do something here. We’re both kind of homebodies. Based on those values of ours and our love of gardening and love of my grandmother’s dahlias, we said there’s a way to carve out a business that’s based here at home and can involve our children, and frankly, our parents and anyone else who wants to help.

Both of my parents have worked for themselves and had their own businesses. My father was a contractor and carpenter for his entire career, worked for himself, never had another boss. I thought, “That looks pretty cool!” He would always joke about giving himself time off. So I definitely knew that could be done. That was a huge influence for us, the way we wanted to spend our days.

It’s not about working less, that’s for sure. When the 16-hour days start in May, I say, “Is this the right decision?” But I’m out here early in the morning before the kids are up harvesting flowers, I think there is no other place I would rather be right now. The other day when I was walking just from here (the greenhouse) to there (the sugar house) and the birds were singing, and I thought, “I haven’t felt this good working in a really long time.” I do have more flexibility to work for me and for my family.

How do you build your customer base for your evolving business?

Talk about it! Word of mouth is huge. That was really big in the beginning. Our parents were so excited about this and so they told everyone they knew. So in the first year, when were trying this out, we ended up having some wholesale accounts. That’s been a big deal for us. Honestly, social media has been huge. Last year, probably 90 percent of our business came from social media, Instagram and Facebook.

I was a really late adopter of any social media personally. I thought, “I’m never going to do that.” And now I have a complete love-hate relationship with it. With the flowers, if I post what’s out there (at the farm stand at the end of the driveway), people are willing to make the drive out here to pick them up. If I post a picture of  flowers and talk about our CSA, our community-supported agriculture program, I get an email saying, “Hey, tell me more about this.” So, that’s been really big. Press has been really big. We’ve been lucky to be in the local papers a bit.

Interestingly I have found that this geography, the greater Augusta area is overlooked a ton as far as farms looking to market their products. So many people, when they hear about us, have said, “Oh, my God. I had no idea that even existed. A flower CSA? I can get a weekly bouquet right here from flowers grown right here?” That has kind of made me think there’s a need here and to keep our networks local. However we can reach this audience, we’re going to try to do that.

We have gotten to know a lot of our neighbors, and they are really rooted in this community, so they share our posts, and their friends contact us. That ripple effect has been paramount for us.

The product is unique. It’s really high-quality, so when people do experience it, they go,”This is really, really good.”

I think people love the idea of knowing their farmer, supporting their farmer, supporting this family that doesn’t want to get out of town. It’s the product, it’s the story, it’s us. My job before was in relationship management. I was a fundraiser. I love the CSA model because it allows me to interact with the customer. I have an ongoing relationship with them throughout the summer. I get to see the look on their face when they pick up the flowers. The model is perfect because they are paying me now when I have to keep buying things. It’s worked out really well. I want to grow this CSA right here in town. We do a lot in our hometown, in Damariscotta, too. My mother lived in Boothbay too, so places where were have connections is where we want to build our customer base.

What was your biggest obstacle to overcome in starting your business?

What hasn’t been an obstacle? Have you seen the water in the greenhouse? We’re still very new farmers. And I say we, because my husband does a lot with me on nights and weekends. He wishes he could be here, full time, but it’s learning how to do stuff.

There have been challenges on the side, when something doesn’t germinate. Why didn’t that germinate? I don’t know why that didn’t germinate. I have a few guesses, but I don’t have a grandfather or a grandmother who was a farmer to ask.

And the marketing. Are we going to be able to sell our product? How much of it are we going to sell? Every year I need to decide how many shares of the CSA to sell and then I’m committed to those. We usually end up having way more (flowers) than we need. But that’s certainly a challenge, matching those two things together. We wanted to have the little farm stand to put extra stuff. We also sell wholesale. We have a list we send every week to local florists and wedding designers. So that I’ll put more on it if we have extra, or less on it if we have less. They really do complement each other, the different business models we have.

Then, of course, the weather. Let’s not forget about the weather. I’m looking out here at the field  thinking that the sweet peas have to go in the ground in three weeks and the ground is still pretty hard. They can go in as soon as the ground is workable. So that’s always a challenge.

And work-life balance. Because I have a partner who works a Monday through Friday job, we’ve committed to have a weekend in the summer. So figuring out how to do this full-time in a Monday through Friday and trying to honor that, and honor our family so if we want to go camping on the weekend, we can. That’s really important to us. It’s Maine, it’s summer time, that’s why we live here. We’re still figuring it out.

What’s been the most rewarding aspect of starting your business? 

It’s been a year since I left my job, but we’re still here. A year ago, I wasn’t sure we would be, as we were going through the decision-making process. I don’t feel we’re completely on the other side of it. We’re still putting everything this business makes back into the business. It needs to start paying me an income pretty soon. We’re working on that this year. So that was pretty major obstacle: Could we do it? I will tell you the first time someone paid us for something we grew,  I will never forget it. The wholesale side was a little less risky because we had no expectations. But the first time someone gave me a check  for flowers, it was amazing. I didn’t know anyone would want what we had. It was a pretty big obstacle we knew we would overcome, but I will never forget it.

When I was doing this as a side gig, I knew in my heart this is what I wanted to do full time. Getting to that decision was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was right up there with trying to do an MBA in Germany. I’ve never been more scared of anything, and I have an amazing support network. My husband was super supportive, and my parents were super supportive. But I have always worked. I knew I would be contributing, and contributing to our values and that’s what drove it, but I was so scared. It took nine months to make the decision.

Last winter, when I was still working full-time, we applied for and became MOFGA journey people. (MOFGA is the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.) It was seven Sundays, quite a commitment when you have two children who need childcare. So we had a business, but it was the drives to Unity and back, an hour each way, uninterrupted with my husband and partner where we could talk this stuff through (that was valuable). We came to the point where we decided if we didn’t go for it, we would regret it and we don’t want to ever live our life with those regrets. I also found my people. There’s a group called the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. There are members in every state who are doing exactly this and they are willing to share. That has been huge, finding other people who are doing this, other moms, people who have just quit their jobs. So I was able to get other perspectives.

Where will you be in five years? 

Right here. But with a lot more structures here. So, what we envision is expanding the growing area putting up one or two, or — who knows? — maybe more hoop houses. They are the same shape as this (their greenhouse) but you grow in the ground. Because we have space and land that’s where we see or growth going. When you have hoop houses, you can start earlier in the spring so blooms are earlier. And you have frost protection in the fall, so it lengthens our season. And we’re going to have more staff. The hope is just to increase at scale what we’re doing now.

We do offer workshops. We love bringing people here. We had one here last summer. We did a farm tour, pick your own flowers. On our screen porch, we had a designer here who guided everyone through making an arrangement.  We’re doing more of that this year, and we’re doing a wreath-making workshop in the greenhouse in the fall. We want to develop that so it feels more like a place to come.

And hopefully in five years, we also want to put some lodging up. We have 40 acres here, it goes back into the woods. We’re working on a forest management plan right now to improve access and trails and wildlife habitat back there and put in a yurt or a cabin. We want to continue to diversify a little bit and share the pieces of this land. We have lots of friends in D.C. and Boston, and they call us up and say, “Can we come up and work for the weekend?” They want to put siding on the barn. They want to feed the pigs, collect the eggs. They’ll weed in the garden and collect the flowers. We know that’s a thing. And we just love people. Welcoming people here to enjoy this place as we do is pretty high up there. Being part of the community that way, that’s why we wanted to have a farm stand. I would like have a farm store so we can sell pork.

We plan to be here just doing bigger, different, more things.


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