Tuesday and Fridays are for delivering flowers, according to Erin Achenbach, farmer-florist at What Cheer Flower Farm. The Olneyville-based nonprofit will pack a couple of thousand stems into a car …
Tuesday and Fridays are for delivering flowers, according to Erin Achenbach, farmer-florist at What Cheer Flower Farm. The Olneyville-based nonprofit will pack a couple of thousand stems into a car on those days and distribute free flowers to organizations throughout the state. According to their website, the farm is “dedicated to bringing solace, joy and healing to the people of Rhode Island via flowers as well as supporting our local floral economy via job training.”
“The goal is to give 100,000 stems, and my goal is to grow as many of those stems as possible,” said Achenbach, at the Edgewood Garden Club’s Jan. 11 meeting at William Hall Library.
Achenbach was the club’s most recent presenter. Edgewood Garden Club, which turns 90 at the end of January, describes itself as a group of plant enthusiasts who strive toward bettering the community through horticulture. The club promotes gardening activities, education, floral design, civic beautification and conservation. Members are from Edgewood, Pawtuxet Village, Gaspee Plateau and other Cranston/Warwick areas – though all Rhode Islanders are welcome.
Born in Montana and raised in Oregon, Achenbach started working for What Cheer Flower Farm last year. Her role includes selecting, propagating and growing crops, managing flower rescues, stem prep, bouquet making and deliveries. In her spare time, she grows hundreds of peonies and raises nine different types of animals on her own small farm.
The farm’s flower giving began in 2017 when one of the founding members had too many flowers in her garden and started giving them away. Seeing the value in handing out flowers, she wanted to do more and looked for property to grow flowers on. This search led her to 2.75 acres in Olneyville. Before the flower farm, the property was the site for a factory that had sat empty for 20 years. The organization purchased the property for half of the asking price due to the plans for the site. Since the property is a brownfield site and could never be used for residential buildings, the lot’s future would have rested in being a parking lot.
According to What Cheer Flower Farm, growing flowers can have the following effects: reduce anxiety and improve empathy and help with quicker recovery times for patients. Additionally, individuals with flowers in their homes feel happier, less stressed, less depressed and are able to concentrate more easily. Flowers can also help as a memory aid.
In 2018, 10,000 flowers were grown and given away – that number jumped to 44,500 the following year. The nonprofit also received a $50,000 Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RI DEM) grant that year to remove pollutants from factory on the property. Since then, What Cheer Flower Farm launched an annual flower festival and won additional grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Rhode Island Foundation and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.
The organization is currently working with RI DEM to remove old buildings on the property (taking up 60,000 square feet) with the goal of having two acres for gardens – currently two-thirds of an acre is being used to grow flowers.
Last Wednesday, Achenbach told Edgewood Garden Club members that she can’t grow flowers in the ground since contaminates in the property’s soil have tested high enough that the state has deemed it dangerous. Instead, a geotextile is laid down and soil is placed on top so the flowers can then be grown.
The nonprofit has approximately 68 flower beds that are three feet wide, 18-24 inches high and 20 to 60 feet long. The farm also has two 40 by 20 foot high tunnels on the property, which house mature rosemary sage and eucalyptus trees.
While What Cheer Flower Farm grows its own flowers, it also receives stems from grocery stores and independent florists which can’t be sold or used – these flowers help them get through the end of the year. Achenbach said between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, the farm gave 30,000 stems away to those experiencing difficult situations.
“In the winter it’s really nice because everyone loves a flower this time of year,” said Achenbach.
What Cheer Flower Farm donates free flowers to its network of local nonprofits and organizations serving Rhode Islanders including hospitals, senior services, recovery centers, shelters, hospices and food pantries.
Volunteers help out Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those interested attend an orientation, receive a tour of the farm and can then come and volunteer at the farm at any point – as long as Achenbach is given a 24-hour notice. Volunteers can do what they like – whether it’s a bit of yardwork or creating arrangements of 12 stem bouquets.
Achenbach also noted that the organization has beehives on site which Little Rhody Bee Keeping cares for. The farm has also been the site for art classes, yoga and poetry readings in the fields. They hope to extend this artistic aspect in the coming years.
Looking into the future, Achenbach told Edgewood Garden Club members the organization has a community garden planned. They would also like to establish a floral academy to help provide green jobs in Rhode Island for people who want to work in the floral industry.
“As the number one state for weddings in the U.S., we have the opportunity to provide floral jobs to a healthy floral economy,” Achenbach said, adding that besides New York and Boston, there aren’t many opportunities to learn the trade.
What Cheer Flower Farm is looking forward to its upcoming Valentine’s Day Bouquet-A-Thon. The nonprofit receives unsold Valentine’s Day flowers from florists on Feb. 15 and – through the assistance of volunteers – makes as many bouquets as they can and donate to hospitals around the state.
Come August, the organization will host its annual flower festival which returned for the first time in three years this past summer. Achenbach said 1,500 people were on site during the last event which included poets, musicians, artists, food vendors and – of course – flowers.
“I grow flowers and I give them away.” Achenbach said. “And I try to get as many people to come along on the journey as I can.”
To learn more about What Cheer Flower Farm, visit whatcheerfarm.org/. If you would like to volunteer on the farm, you can reach out to Achenbach at FarmerFlorist@WhatCheerFarm.org.
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