Jen Koym founded Fern Creek Florals, a cut flower farm and donation garden, while quarantining at home with husband Todd and daughter Lily during the pandemic. "The beauty of the outdoors was a balm for my anxiety, sadness, and isolation," writes Jen. As they turned vegetable beds over to flower beds and their harvests grew, the Koyms experienced the profound joy and healing that sharing flowers can bring.
"My daughter and I started giving excess flowers to neighbors and people in our community who were struggling," writes Jen. "She would dress up in a flower fairy costume and we'd go ring people's doorbells and surprise them with a bouquet. Seeing the joy that the flowers (and our little fairy) brought them just filled up my soul."
Though they had also been taking flowers to inpatient families at their local children's hospital, Jen wanted to do more. "In 2015 Lily was born with a potentially terminal heart defect. We spent the first three years of her life in and out of different Children's Hospitals," writes Jen. "We know how hard, isolating, and sterile that environment can be. Now that our daughter is better, we wanted to "sow it forward" and try to bring a little joy to other Children's Hospital families who are having a difficult time–through flowers."
Farmer Bailey: Where is your farm located?
Jen Koym: We are located in Charlottesville, Virginia. About half of our flower farm is on our property and the other half is located at our neighborhood's large community garden. We also grow a small amount, including the Lisianthus from you all, in generously donated hoop house space at a nearby flower farm, Cedarmere Farm.
FB: How did you get into flower farming?
JK: When the pandemic started, our family had to completely isolate because we have an immunocompromised, medically-complex child. We had always grown vegetables, but during that time, they weren't bringing us as much joy as beautiful flowers were. So, we turned all of our vegetable beds into flower beds. We had more flowers that we could enjoy, so we started giving them to friends, neighbors, and the pediatric families that were staying with my non-profit, Lilypads Housing. We saw how much joy flowers were bringing people during that difficult time, so we just kept expanding our growing space each year so that we could donate more bouquets.
FB: What motivated you to grow flowers to donate?
JK: I also run a non-profit, LilyPads Housing, that houses pediatric families while they are receiving care at our local children's hospital, UVA. Taking care of a sick child is always hard, but the pandemic made it exponentially more so because of the very strict visitation policies (no other children allowed, only one parent allowed) that hospitals had to enact. Many of our families had to live apart for months and months. In an effort to try and bring these families some joy, we started a flower farm/donation garden, Fern Creek Florals. So many families told us that our flowers were so helpful and so healing. Soon after we began in 2021, we decided we wanted to try and expand donations to the whole Children's Hospital on a weekly basis. So, we grew our farm and program by recruiting volunteers from our community. Now, we have a wonderful village of people that help harvest, donate flowers, wash buckets, prepare vases, arrange bouquets, and make deliveries. Last year, we donated 281 bouquets. We hope to break that record this year!
FB: How would you suggest other farmers approach charitable growing and
giving? Best advice?
JK: I didn't know about the Growing Kindness Project when I started our donation garden, but found out about their organization the following year. They are a non-profit whose whole mission is to help anyone, from individuals to flower farmers, grow and give flowers in kindness. They have so many wonderful resources, classes, and supports in place to help people get started donating flowers. In addition, many Children's Hospitals and elder care centers already have programs in place to accept flowers, be it from individuals, flower farmers, or florist's with donated wedding/event flowers. If you call and ask to speak with their volunteer department, they can usually help you get connected in your community. Also, I am always happy to talk to anyone that would like more information on our specific program!