I am excited to wrap up the 2017 season with one last "Meet the Farmer" blog post. This week I am featuring the talented farmer, Anna Jane Kocon. Anna Jane has been part of The Local Bouquet family since the beginning, when I first started this company back in 2013. I was one of her first weekly customers when she began her company, Little State Flower Co. in 2014, so my relationship with Anna has always held a special place in my heart. We have watched each other build our companies, supporting one another along the way as female entrepreneurs and as people who believe in the local flower movement.
Anna Jane and I first met at a farmer-florist pot luck dinner one chilly winter evening at a fellow flower farmer's home. At the time, Anna Jane was in the very beginning stages of starting her company. I remember this young and spunky chick who shared the same locally grown mission as me and who clearly had a great work and business ethic. I could tell from our first encounter that this girl was solid and that somehow our paths would cross again soon. Business cards were exchanged and we went on our separate ways that evening.
A few months later, Anna Jane called to re-introduce herself and initiate what would become a beautiful and supportive business relationship. Anna shared more with me about her new company, Little State Flower Co., her mission to grow some of the best blooms in our little state of Rhode Island and her vision to provide floral designers like me with fresh and season blooms.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? A veterinarian, everyone knows I love the fuzzy creatures of the world!
Why flowers? Flower farming combines art and farming on a daily basis. Our products are based on aesthetic….color, shape, texture, etc. AND we work primarily with florists and designers who are working to achieve a certain theme or vibe in their projects. So there is a lot of creative conversations that go on with my clients.
How did you come up with the name of your company? It took a very long time to come up with our company name. We were searching for something that was very local Rhode Island, with no specific gender, definitely not too whimsical and with a nod toward nautical. Also, we do not own a farm, we work several leased parcels so calling it a ‘farm’ did not make sense to us either...Hence choosing ‘company’ rather than farm.
When did you start Little State Flower Co.? Founded November 2014, first season selling was 2015
How many years experience did you have before you started this company? For about 10 years I farmed along with teaching adjunct drawing and art history at the Community College of Rhode Island, before I started Little State Flower Co.
How many acres are you currently growing on? We are currently farming 5 acres.
How many different crops? I am not totally sure. It can change depending on the time of year...and now we have planted large amounts of perennials so I am not totally sure....probably close to 100-120?
How big is your team? I have two field employees and one florist that work for me. Also my husband is heavily involved in equipment and structure maintenance etc. and we have periodic helpers that pop in and out for specific jobs or when we need more sets of hands involved...such as dahlia digging/processing and putting up greenhouses.
What inspires you when you are building your brand? I am super proud and dedicated to growing organically. I am also inspired by the flower movement that is happening in our country right now. I love being part of the resurrection of the US flower farmer. We are working to show florists and designers there is another way to do things. You can, quite literally, think outside the box.
What inspires you as an entrepreneur? Independence and creativity. I love to be in control of my days, my year, and of my money. I am not a control freak, in fact I love delegating. Before LSFCo, I worked for so many other people...I worked the hours they wanted me to, for the pay rate that they were willing to pay me, and did whatever they needed or wanted me to do all within THEIR vision. Though I am very thankful for the invaluable experiences I gained during these times...once I started LSFCo, I realized how little control I had for so many years day in and day out. I now feel I control everything about my life and my company and all within my own creative vision. Obviously there are issues and difficulties with being self employed, but I would say the same about working for someone else too.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?“Crawl before you walk, walk before you run” I have taken this to heart and really believe trialing new and different crops before going big with them.
Name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business? Surround yourself with smart and positive people. “Heavy wears the crown” and my crew is a bunch of smart women (and one man…) who keep me laughing and help me stay focused on the positive. Both these things are invaluable to me.
Name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experience? The accessibility that people feel to my company. I work very hard to market our product and our brand every day through social media. I love to show people how we are building our dream and this has really translated into a story that people are wanting to be a part of.
Which of your traits are you most proud of? My ability to make something out of nothing or very little...I built this company with my little savings account and a unique vision and I am very proud of that. I have earned every single thing we own now from hard work and a strong vision.
Name a woman or women whom you admire or look up to? Lark Roderigues, the woman who owns the first of my leased land parcels. Lark is also self employed and owns two successful, yet unconventional businesses that I have worked with her on periodically over the years. She has always showed me that there is another way to be in the world. When she offered to lease the 2 acres to start Little State Flower Co, she looked right at me and said “I know you can do it. I know you can 100%” and I believed her. Without her giving me the opportunity and encouragement, Little State Flower Co would never have existed.
What does success mean to you? At this point, success is being happy and proud of my project. I feel proud to say I own LSFCo, a business I have built with my own strong back, my own mind and my own money.
Favorite season for locally grown flowers? Fall...definitely Autumn! Especially in New England. The temperatures cool down and the work starts to shift towards Fall planting and planning for the following season...I love planting planning and conceptualizing all the possibilities of the next season.
If you could only grow one thing for the rest of your life what would it be? Lisianthus. There is just something so remarkable about the strength and toughness of such a seemingly delicate flower. We are growing over 10,000 plants of it in 2018!
What is one thing you couldn’t work without? Food. It takes a lot of food to keep this machine running!
What kind of music pumps you up? I do not listen to music to get pumped up...My days are so busy and complicated I actually listen to music to relax and decompress. I have always leaned towards calming music.
What is one thing you never leave home without? My clippers!!!! One never knows when a cutting opportunity will present itself.
What's one of your biggest dreams for Little State Flower Co. in the coming years? To be able to round out the seasons with flower options for my clients. We are great at Summer and Fall, but definitely need to work on Spring production and that is specifically what the new high tunnels are for. We are also focusing on early season perennial bulbs such as hyacinth and fritillaria, etc.
Any predictions for floral trends for 2018 for the local flower scene? In the New England area the color trends have been the same for a long time, whites and greens, blushes, peaches, grey foliages...and then heading towards Fall there is a high demand for burgundy flowers and dark foliages. I do believe that the flower farming scene is very strong specifically in Rhode Island and I think that a coming trend is that florists and designers are going to start seeking new options from us specifically, local and interesting options that are not offered from the import market for one reason or another or simply do not ship well. I think that WE (local flower farmers) will start creating the local flower trends by simply working with the seasonality of New England.
If you weren’t flower farming anymore, what would you be doing? Probably teaching drawing or painting. I still teach adjunct now at CCRI and I love it.
Photographer: Maaike Bernstrom
Farm: Little State Flower Co. Portsmouth, Rhode Island