Welcome back for another addition of "Meet the Farmer"! It's a new month so it's time to feature another one of the amazing flower farmers that I get to work directly with here at The Local Bouquet. As you know, it is our core mission to source 100% local and American grown flowers for all of our designs. We always work with the local growers first, ensuring that we provide our clients with the freshest, most beautifully unique product possible while keeping our carbon footprint the smallest we can. Tiny footprints are way cuter anyways!
As a true testament to the local flower movement and the type of people that make up our community, I was introduced to Amy two years ago by another farmer who I buy from. I was told at introduction that I would really love her because she too was a "working momma"! Since that first meeting in a flower field surrounded by our children, Amy and I have bonded over motherhood and flowers.
Amy Rodrigues, owner of the Dahlia Shed, has been growing for nine years on her 1 acre farm in Middletown, RI where she specializes in dahlias. Amy has literally grown up in the farming world, working as a kid on her family's wholesale and PYO pumpkin farm as well as at her aunt's greenhouse operation just down the road from her childhood home. When Amy first started out she grew just two crops; sunflowers and cutting hydrangea blooms. These flowers were primarily sold at her small self- service flower stand at the bottom of her driveway, where locals could enjoy fresh flowers weekly. As the years passed, she added more varieties to build up better bouquets for the stand and more dahlias for her growing list of event designers. Through her years of growing, dahlias have been her primary focus. By concentrating on streamlining the dahlia crop, Amy has been able to grow a higher quality dahlia, which is so vital in the wedding and event industry. This year she is excited to be growing 28 additional cut flowers crops in an array of colors while increasing her dahlia production to 1,250 tubers, a record high for her farm.
Although Amy is one of the newer additions to The Local Bouquet family, she is someone who I have built a strong bond with. Like me, Amy also has three children who she works alongside with. I admire Amy's unwavering commitment to not only her business and the brand she is building but also to her family as a great mother and a wife. Her ability to balance work and motherhood look effortless and joyful!
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I always wanted to be a Mom. I remember sitting down with the career counselor and she advised me to be a teacher as that would give me more time with family. I went on to college and received my bachelors degree in early childhood education.
I grew up on my parent's farm that grows pumpkins, makes maple syrup, and apple cider. Right down the road from my parents farm was my aunt and uncle's greenhouse farm. In middle school my twin sister ( identical) and I raised vegetables and cut flowers to sell in the summer to keep us busy. Throughout high school I took flora-culture and horticulture classes and competed in floral design in FFA. In college, I worked at my aunt's floral shop where I fell in love with more cut flower plants to bring home to the garden. Having a family of my own and staying home, the garden by the house just kept growing. I wanted to give my children the experience to be out in nature and around something that anchored me in my youth. Flowers became my project, my escape, and my legacy to my family.
How did you come up with the name of your company?
In conversation one day with a customer she mentioned how she loves to tell her friends about the flowers. It became the shed with dahlias to her friends and then the Farm was named.
What is your favorite thing about your farm?
I love that my children can be involved. I can work alongside my children happily giggling in the field and playing in the irrigation stream. So many lessons that we all learn day to day. Flower farming keeps you on your toes and you can constantly experiment. We live on such a beautiful island and I love that only a few miles down the road on a hot summer day we can go and cool off at the beach.
What is your favorite thing to come home to after a long day?
I am pretty fortunate my husband is an amazing cook and I always look forward to dinner with a cold margarita.
Name the biggest overall lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
You need to learn the word "No" sometimes. This has been hard for me as I do not like to disappoint.
Which of your traits are you most proud of?
Work ethic, organized, routine and attention to detail. That critical eye has served me well in farming. Scouting bugs and being in tune to what each plant needs, I am able to stop an issue before it starts. I could not handle the daily tasks of farming without being organized and having a routine with a young family. It avoids melt downs from everyone when routine is followed and you have a plan. Of course changes are constantly being made daily and we are all learning to be flexible at times.
Name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experience?
When other growers compliment me on the high quality of my dahlias. When I started growing my flowers they were just okay. Over the years I have learned some wonderful skills to get longer stems, cutting them at the right stage of development and post harvest treatment to produce a higher quality bloom. We are pretty lucky as flower farmers that other growers are so helpful and sharing of knowledge.
Name a woman or women whom you admire or look up to?
My aunt Holly Howard. She was an amazing bedding plant grower. I spent many years at my aunt's greenhouse and watched as she balanced family and her business. Whenever I have a crossroad in my business, I always ask myself "what would Aunt Holly do?" I call her when I have a plant issue as she is the plant whisperer. I also admire my Aunt Heidi Lessard. She can tackle an issue with a blink of an eye. I get my drive and organization skills from her. Lastly my aunt Helenna Livernois. Her floral design skills are amazing. The years of watching her design in the flower shop I use daily making farm bouquets and mason jar arrangements for the shed. I am pretty lucky to have had such amazing women surround me growing up. The Fountain Family has a drive like no other and doing your best was always emphasized!
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?
Offer quality and be nice- that will take care of the rest.
What inspires you as an entrepreneur?
For me I love that every seed, plant and bloom is nurtured by me. I love to make decisions based on my families needs and customers needs.
What does success mean to you?
That the blooms that I grow meet my high quality standard and exceed my customer's expectations. Achieving this goal with my young family is just icing on the cake.
If you could only grow one thing for the rest of your life what would it be?
Dahlias for sure!!!I love the challenge of them.
Favorite season for locally grown flowers?
Late summer/ early fall when dahlias are at their peak
What inspires you when you are building your brand?
Quality, quality, quality. I am constantly striving to meet every customers expectation.
What is one thing you couldn’t work without?
My headlamp. The cutting starts before the sun rises around here and a good headlamp helps you see what you are cutting.
What is one thing you never leave home without?
Kids snack bags and water bottles. Hungry kids are unproductive kids
If you weren’t flower farming anymore, what would you be doing?
I would be busy doing another project because I can't sit still.
What kind of music pumps you up?
LOL Kelly Clarkson's "What Doesn't Kill You, Makes You Stronger"
Favorite ice cream flavor?
What does your day-to-day look like?
It changes throughout the highs and lows of the seasons but a typical day looks like this during cutting season.
I am up by 3am. My husband has already got the coffee ready and I grab my coffee and zone into the computer for a good half hour checking email and slowly I wake up as I come up with the plan of attack for the day. I generally have my breakfast of oatmeal and banana and I am out the door to the garage to fill the wagon with buckets. By 4:00AM I am out in the field cutting away by head lamp and tractor light and slowly work my way through the list and the rows. As the sun rises, I hopefully am done with all the dahlias and head back to the garage to dry them out from the dew or pack them into the cooler. I need to be in the house by 7:00AM to wake my sleeping children, which by the way, the younger two greet me in the field well before 7. I head in to feed my children breakfast and off to school. My youngest and I head back around 8:00AM to process flowers or finish picking the rest of the list. I fill the retail stand by the house and make small bouquets for the stand at this time. If it is Wednesday or Friday I hit the road for delivery. I am back by noon, which means lunch and answering emails during the hottest part of the day. The youngest naps and if it is summer the big kids have reading time. I do my mowing while they are resting. After that it is time to feed them snack and back out we go. Sunscreen and hats and I try to set up sprinkler fun or give them a fun job. My oldest, who is 9, loves to drive the lawn tractor and wagon. He hauls out the big sand toys and last summer the kids happily played for hours making a dam in the irrigation stream. I try to do any weeding or seeding as I grow in black plastic and it is cooler during this time of day. My husband is home by 5:00PM and I eagerly wait for him to pull in as that is my sign to rally the kids. We gather all the toys throughout the row, turn on the drip irrigation and head into the house. From July to end of September this the routine. Some days you are weeding or seeding more. You can get lost in the work and it is nice to break it up when designers come to pick up. We talk about the upcoming events that they are using the blooms for. I love to see my regular stand customers to catch up with them on what they are doing and seeing young children picking out blooms with their parents. I feel blessed to do an array of things on a daily basis. Life is certainly not boring.
You are a mom of three, like me. How do you balance mom-life and work-life?
It is by far the biggest challenge. I am routine by nature and sticking to that routine has helped me tremendously. I try to get the bulk of work done early before they rise for my sanity. As the business has grown, I have learned to set priorities and know our families limits. I think as a mom you become really good at multi tasking. My children are also helpful by playing with the youngest and knowing when to be quiet during delivery or a phone call. It was slow building the business when the children were young. As the kids have gotten older, things have changed. I am faced this season with a middle school-er which means earlier bus and more homework for sure. My kids are active in sports and my husband and I love that time on the field to just watch them. I am very blessed that my kids love this life. They love being outside and working together as a family. They think it is fun and I have found that if you have that attitude they will too! I am also grateful that I have such flexible designers who have given me this opportunity. They understand when on rare occasions things need to be shifted as someone is sick. I work with such awesome people and so that makes my job even better. I am blessed to have a supportive spouse that makes amazing dinner, lunches, fixes equipment when broken, land preps for me and is such an involved father. I am not doing this alone. Oh, and I have help around the house with the cleaning- which I wish I did sooner!!!
Do you get the kids involved in the farm?
They are very involved in the farm. When my oldest, age 9, is not in school he is the tractor driver and goes along slowly in the rows as I cut into the buckets. My daughter, age 7, loves to seed with me in the greenhouse and deadhead old blooms. The oldest two also love to clean buckets- which usually entails a crazy water war. I miss them when they go back to school as I hate to clean buckets! They make it look so fun. The youngest, age 4, is into all things tractors and dirt. He is my side-kick and will drag his construction toys to wherever I am working in the field. Everything takes longer when you have children because you have to take a lot of breaks. I love at the end of the day they have played and are so filthy they need to have a pre-shower before entering the house. It is so important to my husband and I that they are able to participate in some capacity and be out in nature. We all get to be together and work for a goal. Some days are very trying and you scratch your head thinking what are you doing. But generally when I look up the kids are laughing and smiling and you get reassurance for another day.
If you had 1,000,000 today, what would you do with it?
Put it in the bank and save it for retirement.
Phototgraher: Amy Rodrigues
Farm: The Dahlia Shed- Middletown, Rhode Island