What Cheer Flower Farm, an Olneyville-based nonprofit that farms and gives away upwards of 100,000 flowers a year, is set to expand their fields and grow their operation with help from grants …
What Cheer Flower Farm, an Olneyville-based nonprofit that farms and gives away upwards of 100,000 flowers a year, is set to expand their fields and grow their operation with help from grants procured from the RI DEM.
“Our nonprofit’s basic mission is to grow flowers and give them away to communities in distress,” said Farmer-Florist Erin Achenbach. “People who are experiencing housing instability, people with limited abilities, people in recovery, food banks, hospice, palliative care and day programs. What we’re doing is taking flowers that we’re growing, and recycling flowers that are no longer saleable but still perfectly usable for our purposes, to bring joy and giving them away to people who need them.”
Achenbach said that another mission of What Cheer is to promote a format of sustainable floristry. A mission they’ve undertaken not just by giving away flowers, but also by providing information. In January Achenbach spoke at a meeting of the Edgewood Garden Club which brought over 40 volunteers to the organization from Cranston alone.
“After the article and interview with (The Herald) we had a huge response,” Achenbach said. “We had more people reaching out and coming to give their time as volunteers to the organization than we could have hoped for. A lot of people came to give back in a unique way. I can tell you our phones rang off the hook for two weeks.”
As one of the most popular states in the country for weddings, Rhode Island’s flower market is in high demand.
“Floristry is a huge industry in Rhode Island,” Achenbach explained. “It’s notoriously a trade that is wasteful and kind of not really focused on, unlike restaurants that get focused on for waste of food and things like that. Floristry is hanging out there and we’ve seen some really great advances in how to be more sustainable and create local infrastructures. Our plan here is that as we are growing flowers as our basic mission we’re also moving forward with an educational center to help partner with the DEM and the Conservation Resource Commission to educate people by bringing agricultural programs from underserved communities to the farm to teach them about urban farming and integrating ecological practices.”
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.
The entire property, however, wasn’t all usable as farm land. Approximately 70,000 square feet is taken up by dilapidated buildings that, despite efforts to revitalize, have proven unsafe for use.
“We had hoped to salvage any of it to be able to repurpose the buildings into our future floral training center, processing center or greenhouses, but unfortunately none of them were able to be saved due to damage or levels of contamination with asbestos,” Achenbach said. “So they had to come down. We worked with the DEM and environmental representatives to facilitate the demolition of the buildings. That took years of planning.”
Just two and a half weeks ago the actual demolition started. Achenbach said that the plan is to end up with about two acres of arable land to continue farming, and then also integrating community gardens and public spaces for art exhibits or community meetings.
As What Cheer grows the value of volunteers grows with it, and the nonprofit offers a variety of opportunities.
“Part of being a volunteer here is about getting something out of the experience,” said Achenbach. “It’s not just about getting our mission completed but bringing that peace, solitude and healing to the volunteers. When they come in for orientation they tour the farm and we find out what they want to do. When somebody comes in and they really want to take time with the flowers and make bouquets they can do that. If they want to be part of something in a way that’s very energetic, busy and active then we tell them when those days happen. If they want to come in and work in a private, quiet or personal environment then we can give them that.”
Those looking to learn more about What Cheer Flower Farm, or to sign up as a volunteer can find everything they need at the nonprofit’s website, whatcheerfarm.org. The farm is generally open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Volunteers are asked to wear comfy casual clothes with closed-toe shoes and all gardening gear will be provided.
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