Reviewing scholarship applications, informing the winners and writing this post is one of the highlights of the year for me and all of us here at Floret.
Over the last ten days, the team and I have been pouring over all the scholarship essays and narrowing down the list of top candidates. With so many applications to read, we recruited additional outside reviewers to participate in the process. Joining the review team this year were four Floret Workshop alumni, including two past scholarship winners! These ladies all know what it takes to be a successful farmer-florist and are great at spotting applicants with the potential to thrive with a little help from Floret.
I was blown away by the number of applications we received this year. A record breaking 3,107 individuals from all 50 U.S. states and 65 countries applied for a spot in our upcoming Floret Online Workshop. Wow! What an incredible testament to the growth of the seasonal flower movement and the level of interest in small-scale flower farming all around the globe.
We had to burn the midnight oil in order to read through all the applications and choose the top 50 finalists. From there, I printed out the thick stack of finalists’ applications, curled up with a big ole’ cup of coffee and read and re-read each of the finalists’ essays. It was refreshing to focus on the hope, beauty and joy that flowers bring to others and the inspiring stories from around the globe of people who aspire to cultivate more beauty through seasonal blooms. What was even more inspiring was the commitment by so many applicants to continue to pay it forward and help others along the way. It affirms, once again, that the flower community is made up of some of the kindest, most generous people around.
The review team selected many incredible and deserving finalists, which made the decision-making process excruciatingly difficult. Choosing just six felt impossible. But to my surprise we had a few generous souls who stepped forwards and gave the gift of two additional scholarships, for a grand total of eight!
10/5/18 UPDATE: Since this original post was published, two additional donors have come forward to generously sponsor an additional six scholarships. As one explained, “We need so many more small farmers and things that bring happiness in the world today.”
I’m so amazed and humbled by these incredible acts of kindness.
Before I introduce the winners, I want to first express my gratitude to each and every person who took the time to apply for the scholarship. I am honored that you shared your aspirations, your dreams and beautiful life stories with us. I appreciate, the opportunity to read so many thoughtful essays, family memories, personal journeys and life stories.
Also, thank you for sharing so many inspiring quotes as part of your essays. There are quite a few that will be added to the collection I currently have taped to the wall by my kitchen sink. A handful that stood out include:
“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” -May Sarton
“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole lives would change.” -Buddhist Proverb
“’If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.’ (-I read that on a sidewalk while walking my pups.)”
“Hope is a powerful propeller.”
“Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin-flowers. And the frisky ones – inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones – rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.” -From “Upstream” by Mary Oliver
There were a number of common themes that surfaced while reading the applications, including:
Serving as an example for children. I was struck by the many mothers and grandmothers (and even more fathers and grandfathers than past years!) who were inspired by their children to apply. The intense desire to share the experience of growing gardens and farming together as a family and to serve as an example to kids, grandkids and future generations is a powerful motivator for many.
“My dream is to create something that my kids can grow up as I did learning life skills and appreciating the simple beauties of life on a farm.”
“Starting a business from home would be starting a legacy for my daughters, a creative outlet, bringing beauty & joy to my community, and it would be an example for my children to live by and to be a part of.”
“…but as my boys grow up in a world more removed from nature, I feel the need to connect people back to bugs and dirt.”
“First, I want this for my daughters. I want them to grow up seeing what immense beauty can be achieved from hours of hard work and sweat.”
“ I want my girls to know that good things come from a little dirt under their nails.”
“I want to show my kids that it is NEVER too late to follow your dreams!”
Encore careers. We received more applications than ever before from folks ready for a career change and/or nearing retirement. Still youthful, active, and engaged, this group is itching for a change, contemplating the next chapter of their lives, and getting ready to dig in and pursue their passion as a second career.
“I want work that lets me revisit my creativity.”
“I am ..searching my soul for ways to live a life of beauty, purpose, peace, and community, in the countryside”
Healing and helping others. Many essays shared, often in heart-wrenching detail, the many ways gardens have provided comfort in the wake of loved ones lost, broken marriages, addiction, disease, disaster and shattered dreams. The number of applicants impacted by hurricanes, fires and other impacts of a changing climate was significant and sobering.
I also was struck by the number of applicants who want to start gardens, farms and businesses as a way to help others in need. Many of these raw, heartfelt essays had a common theme: life is short and precious.
Here are just a few passages that tugged at my heartstrings:
“..an experience like this (cancer) does make you ‘stop and smell the roses’.”
“Life is short and we plan on living it in an abundance of love, simplicity and beauty.”
“I have learned I need to first put on my own oxygen mask in order to help others.”
“I feel gardening allows many women/men who have suffered loss, at all levels, an opportunity to experience life again.”
“15 years I have worked in healthcare helping others heal, live and at times die. It has been a tremendous privilege to care for each person and from each of them I walked away reflecting on my own life and spending more and more time working through all these thoughts and feelings while digging in the dirt. Gardening and growing flowers have long been my escape and the garden is a place I can toil for hours and no matter how hard the work go back out the next day with a smile on my face and a happy heart. Sharing the fruits of my labor brings me great joy and nothing makes me happier than seeing the smile on someone’s face when I hand them a beautiful bouquet of flowers planted, tended to and harvested by my own hands.”
A quest for confidence. More than a few essays spoke of the need for courage and confidence to pursue a dream. We read many confessions of anxiety and self doubt. Many shared their fear of stepping away from something stable, but unsatisfying, in order to pursue something that bring you joy. We heard lots of excitement, laced with a lot of anxiety, about starting a new business or making a big change.
“A nod from Floret will give me the confidence and encouragement to start being the person I’m meant to be.”
Applications, once again, came in from around the world and from 65 different countries. I’m both inspired and humbled to see that flower lovers from as far away as Cyprus, Slovakia, Philippines, Finland, Uruguay and Indonesia applied for the Floret Scholarship. Check out the map below to see where the submissions came from:
Floret readers may note that last year’s winners were almost all international, while the newest winners are all domestic.
And so, without further ado, I am thrilled to announce the 2019 Floret Workshop Scholarship winners:
Aki Nakamura, Old Grove Orange, Mentone, California
Surrounded on all sides by sprawling development, Old Grove Orange is one of the last working farms in the Los Angeles basin. Owned by Aki Nakamura, the farm produces many kinds of citrus, and recently, mixed vegetables. The farm has been in Aki Nakamura’s family for five generations. While other farmers in the region have sold out to developers, Aki’s family has maintained the land in agricultural production. However, the farm now faces an even greater threat than development: the Asian Citrus Psyllid, an invasive species, which carries a bacteria that is fatal to citrus trees.
“The Psyllid has now reached our grove and I expect that we will lose our 100-year old trees over the next six years. To not lose the farm, we started farming mixed vegetables four years ago, thinking that we could transition over to this alternate crop as the Psyllid gradually worked its destruction. But our experience with vegetables has been rough – nobody cooks anymore! And competition from meal kit providers, funded with silicon valley venture capital which enables them to lose money for years, is extremely severe.” Eager to save her farm and grow a product that her urban customers will buy, Aki is expanding into specialty cut flower production.
“We do not have much time or money left, and flowers are complicated. I am hoping that with the Floret scholarship I can move more rapidly through the learning curve and help save our farm!” Aki wrote. “Among all these housing developments is a place with a year-round running stream, bobcats, deer, wild boar, and endangered-species birds. A touchstone where this huge urban population can meet a farmer and understand how things are grown. For five generations my family has kept this land growing when every other farmer has sold out. We have shown our passion and commitment, help us to evolve to keep this farm here for our community!”
Matt Diemer, Bighorn Blooms, Ft. Collins, Colorado
Five months ago, Matt Diemer walked away from his desk job to be a stay at home dad to 3 young boys, ages 6, 4, and 1. The financial strain has been difficult, but Matt wanted to give himself and his and kids, “the greatest gift of all: a path to happiness…. to show them what it means to be your authentic self. To not get swept up in others’ definitions of success. I didn’t want my children to make the same mistakes I had,” he shared. Matt felt “stuck behind a desk. Grinding through each day to bring home a paycheck. Trying to do the right thing for my family. But in reality, sacrificing everything of value. Finally, at age 36, I would honor my inner voice and devote myself to something I love.”
An avid gardener, Matt converted his backyard into a micro flower farm, Bighorn Blooms and now sells seasonal flowers at local farmers markets. Matt and his family have adjusted spending habits, relied on community safety net programs and dipped into savings to make ends meet. Matt is eager to be a part of the Floret Online Workshop in order to be pursue his dream and “to give Bighorn Blooms a fighting chance.”
Rosie Gray, Galloway Flowers, Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway, United Kingdom
Rosie Gray grew up gardening and even considered a horticulture career at age 16. She chose what appeared a more ‘sensible’ career path instead. She continued gardening & later in life began selling surplus cut flowers. This naturally led to launching Galloway Flowers in 2015. “At first, many thought me mad to try growing flowers commercially here in South West Scotland…and some were initially disparaging of my ‘weeds’.”
“The business is growing but the transition to selling thousands of stems a year profitably is a big leap. A major rethink is essential to increase production, maximise space, reduce overhead.”
And as both her parents are living with Alzheimer’s disease, Rosie is acutely aware of the importance of work you truly care about. Every day is precious.
“I’m tired after this season of challenging weather & must get my mojo back, fast. There must be a better way to reach the next level. At 59 I’m impatient & ready to learn more to create a strong foundation for my later years.”
Grazia Apolinares, Tanitani Flower Farm, Carolina, West Virginia
Many of the small towns scattered across West Virginia’s Appalachian mountain countryside are seeking to re-define themselves in the wake of the decline of the once-dominant coal industry. While some focus only the challenges; others residents, like Grazia Apolinares, are focusing on the positive and the untapped potential.
“We could’ve left this place in search of better opportunities for our family, but instead of continuing a generational chain of land abandonment, we decided to dedicate our time and last resources here. We hope that by treating the land in a holistic way we will stay connected to it.
“Inherited by my husband, with no one interested on working it, this land was rescued by his grandfather from coal mine operations. This summer we started work on an initial 1000 square feet area intended to grow and deliver seasonal flowers to nearby farmers markets, CSAs and local florists.”
Max VanderBroek & Hayley Roberts, Harpeth Moon Farm, Kingston Springs, Tennessee
Max VanderBroek and his partner, Hayley Roberts, operate a two acre organic vegetable and flower farm not far from Nashville, Tennessee. The last two years have been what Max describes as a “frenzied dream.”
“We’ve never accomplished so much together as we have with our two acre farm, and yet there’s not a day without wondering ‘will we ever be able to sustain this?'” Max shared. “As a new farm trying to make our way, it didn’t take us long to realize that we need guidance. For the last two and half years we’ve been running on sheer adrenaline to get things done. And while it’s been a thrill, the worry of financially sustaining our farm is all too real. We need guidance in efficiency, in marketing, in scheduling, in sustaining. We dream of growing ranunculus and larkspur, dahlias and poppies, and yet everything we do is trial and error. With severely limited funds, it feels like every single seed purchase is a make or break moment. And each minute feels as though it should be spent moving forward, so as to grow our farm into a place where it can sustain itself before we exhaust our funds and feel the burn out from years of 12 hour days with no pay. What we see in your online course is a chance to set ourselves apart, like a good rain in a drought–a boost that will help us flourish. Money is tighter than it has ever been for Hayley and I, but our work ethic is endless because we love our work almost as much as we love each other. We love what we do. It’s in our bloodstream. It’s who we are …but as young farmer-entrepreneurs, we need somebody with experience to show us how they have managed to grow up out of the weeds and blossom into a fully bloomed business.”
Melissa Law, Bumbleroot Organic Farm, Windham, Maine
One of four owners of Bumbleroot Organic Farm, a small organic farm just outside Portland, Maine, Melissa Law started growing vegetables and flowers on two acres of leased land in 2014. Two years later, she and her partners purchased her dream farm. Committed to making a positive impact in her community, Bumbleroot donates veggies and flowers to local non-profits she has worked with since have starting the farm.
“2018 was our first year dipping our toes into floral design beyond market bouquets, and it’s been a joy and a challenge. I believe it is possible to be a certified organic flower farm, to grow a diversity of flowers year-round (even in Zone 5!), and that this workshop could help me achieve that goal,” Melissa shared.
“I’ve taken the Bumbleroot flower enterprise as far as I can on my own with the resources I currently have access to. The next step is to take a leap into a space that provides support, guidance, and specifics, as well as a community to share ideas with and learn from. All of our personal savings went to purchasing our dream farm and renovating an old carriage house on the property into a home. It’s a dream come true to be living on the land that we love and making a profession out of what fulfills us, but I must say it’s not (yet) a lucrative way of life. We are searching for ways to streamline our business and make it more profitable, and thus sustainable, for our families, but for now we are simply making ends meet.”
Susan Walsh, Havenhills Gardens, Vining, Minnesota
Susan Walsh’s scholarship application caught our eye from the very first sentence: “This may be your only application from a 71 yr. old great-grandma who’s organically gardened since 1974, in excellent health, strong, energetic and loves to grow flowers and share her love of growing with others.”
Proving that you’re never too old to start growing flowers, Susan expanded her garden and planted more than 200 dahlias plus many other flowers began selling them to flower shops and designers in her area this year.
“I will continue to supply these shops and designers, but I also need to expand growing space (now in process), production and outreach. I have very limited capital, and I really need team Floret and the workshop! I love your attitudes and excellence…and I’m not too old, I’m just beginning!”
Dinar and Julia Mukhamadeeva, Juliette Flowers, Ryazan, Russia
After the birth of their second child, Dinar and Julia Mukhamadeeva left the fast-paced city life in Moscow to start a new life in the countryside where they would have more space and time to grow their own food and flowers.
“I believe that a person should love their job and should not waste time and energy on a business in which he does not put some heart. From the first flower I grew and sold I realized: this is it! I love being able to give people joy and it inspires me every day.”
“However, people are somewhat skeptical about flowers from little local farms, because in Russia there is a stereotype that flowers are sold only near metro stations by old women in kerchiefs. But we are starting to break this stereotype and growing the species that are not even imported from Holland. In Russia, flower farming is still in its infancy. We want to be at the forefront of this movement and we need outside expertise and information.”
Janie Beuthin, Twig End Farm, Flint, Michigan
Janie Beuthin lives in a city with one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation and where 41.9% of residents live below the poverty line. Over the past few years, lead-tainted water flowing from city waterlines has brought worldwide attention and condemnation and potential long-term health impacts to children and families living in this hard-hit city. While some families decided to move away, Janie buried her roots even deeper into Flint. Together with her husband, three young kids and a garden cat, Janie created Twig End Farm, a small urban flower farm on two city lots just minutes from the heart of downtown. The farm now supplies flowers to a local eatery and arrangements to nearby shops and special orders.
“I was born in Flint, Michigan, where boarded-up houses and burnt-out foundations are the norm,” Janie wrote. “I am rooted to this place; with every seed I put into the soil, with every plant I divide, I’m creating change. Flint thirsts for beauty without adding to the planet’s burden. What I give back to this city is flowers and through them joy, magic, beauty, and healing. I want to bring to Flint as much good as I can; to nourish the soil, help its people flourish.”
Mike Bolio, Needham, Massachusetts
For the past three years, Mike Bolio has been running a therapeutic farming and gardening program for adults with autism and intellectual disabilities as part of the Horticulture Program at the Charles River Center. Individuals involved in the program gain and develop many physical and therapeutic benefits including development of fine and gross motor skills, strength building, increased awareness of nutrition, increased communication and team-building, stress reduction, increased social interaction and gained sense of responsibility and accomplishment.
“From first sowing seeds in our greenhouse to then transplanting them at the Needham Community Farm with whom we partner with to then harvesting and finally seeing the vegetables and flowers go home with a family has really been one of the coolest parts of this program for the individuals that volunteer. After a few seasons under our belt we have started a small flower share csa this season and have goals to expand our flower production going forward. With this scholarship I hope to fill in some of the gaps in my flower farming knowledge and apply them into building a sustainable business model to employ the individuals in our Horticulture Program.”
Kelly Kellogg Gonzalez, Divina Natura, Aibonito, Puerto Rico
Determined to create something beautiful in the aftermath of the destruction and devastation brought by Hurricane Maria, Kelly Kellogg Gonzalez planted a garden. With the help of volunteers, Kelly cleared and converted a lot previously rented for her now shuttered food truck and planted zinnias, cosmos, amaranth, basil, dill and other pollinator-friendly plants.
“I got to experience the positive impact flowers have on people…and from that moment on I can’t stop growing flowers. There is a great opportunity for local flowers in Puerto Rico. And I am up for the challenge if you give me the opportunity the education and guidance I need at this moment in my life.”
Margaret Gino, Plymouth, Massachussetts
When Margaret Gino’s children were born, she created a garden for each of them with specific flowers capturing who they were in the botanical world. “I would read The Lupine Lady to them more times than I’ll ever know. From this book I found one of my life’s goals, ‘You must do something to make the world more beautiful’, I knew then it would be through flowers. Twenty-five years later, creating many gardens along the way, I’m recently divorced and find myself just getting back to living and pursuing my gardening passions. This is where I truly am ‘alive’ and at peace.
“In order to make my small plot of land more productive I will have some necessary landscaping needs and also possibly the drilling of a well..which will not be insignificant costs. The Floret scholarship will allow me more flexibility to address these important issues to ensure success. This scholarship would provide me the opportunity to show my children that “The Lupine Lady” truly does exist…with a little help from Floret!”
Michael Card, Card Farm, Madbury, New Hampshire
“Unexpected twists are part of the beauty of life, but I’m learning they are less than ideal in a cut flower,” reads the opening of Michael Card’s essay. In 2016 life took a turn for Michael which brought his professional career to a halt. But having some land to work with, and years of gardening experience, Michael decided to make the most of his love for the outdoors and his desire to care for the community by opening a small roadside stand and sold veggies and fruit. Located on a busy road, and in a community that appreciates fresh, locally-grown food, Michael’s stand did well. After reading Cut Flower Garden over the winter, Michael decided to dedicate part of his field to flowers. “Unexpectedly, I have enjoyed growing them far more than the fruit and veggies,” he shared. His customers eagerly bought up virtually every stem he offered for sale.
Michael wants to learn how to scale up his operation, without costly trial and error, or as he explains it: “Parents have the job of instilling as much knowledge to their kids as possible. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they learn things the hard way. This is an opportunity to not have to learn so many hard lessons. Your workshop would be great appreciated by myself and the seacoast of New Hampshire!”
“When I learned that a customer was buying as many of our dahlias as possible for her daughter who recently died (her middle name was Dahila) it was a great reminder of the depth flowers make to humanity. I find flowers help us find the emotions that in this age get buried. There’s nothing the world needs more right now than finding that depth and meaning.”
Stephanie Swiderski, Jersey Jules Farm Market, Burlington, New Jersey
Stephanie Swiderski runs a 3 acre farm where she grows and sells fresh vegetables, herbs, and cut flowers. Named after her daughter, the “Jersey Jules Farm Market” A first generation farmer and single mother, Stephanie started growing vegetables three years ago and added flowers “mainly to attract beneficial insects but quickly fell in love.”
Stephanie shares that she sometimes struggles “working in the fields, helping customers at the market, and working the night job, but honestly when I come home tired knowing I gave it my all, Nothing has ever felt better. My passion and drive gets me back up and I’m out cutting flowers in the morning again. My hope is that if I get accepted I will gain a richer understanding of flower cultivation and design, and find answers to some big questions that have come up for me in the fields as well as the vase. My wish is to continue to grow and bloom along with the flowers.”
Please join me in congratulating our 2019 Floret Scholarship winners, the first official members of the Floret Workshop Class of 2019! If you’d like to join these scholarship recipients to participate in the Floret Online Workshop, our 6 week small-scale flower farming course, be sure to mark your calendar, as enrollment opens October 11th!
Thank you, again, to everyone who completed a scholarship application. Your stories inspired every member of the team in ways you can’t even imagine.
Finally, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the anonymous donors who generously sponsored additional sponsorships. Wow. Our hearts are full.