Love Grows a Flower Farm

Farmer, teacher, and business owner Jennie Love has built a blooming business.

Jennie Love never planned to start a flower farm. After graduating from college with a public relations degree, Love took a communications gig in Philadelphia and planned to climb the corporate ladder. Things changed when she learned about an urban farm a few blocks from her apartment.

“I’d never even heard of urban farming,” she recalls.

Love, who grew up on a dairy farm in central Pennsylvania, was drawn to the raised beds filled with fruits, vegetables, and herbs in the middle of the city. She started volunteering at the urban farm in 2002 and spent so much time tending to the city garden plots that she decided to start her own farm. She launched Love ‘n Fresh Flowers in 2008.

“I wanted to focus on a high-value crop that I could grow in the city,” says Love.

Starting Small, Blooming Large

Love ‘n Fresh Flowers blossomed from a fledgling side business operated from a small garden to a thriving flower farm with two acres in production. Love grows over 200 varieties of fresh flowers from asters and garden roses to dahlias and lisianthus.

 

Almost all of the flowers grown on the Philadelphia farm are used in weddings. Brides adore the colorful blooms, which helps Love ‘n Fresh Flowers book up to 70 weddings per year.

The lush, textural arrangements have also earned Love a reputation for her design work. In 2015, Martha Stewart Weddings magazine named Love one of the top wedding florists in the nation.

While Love appreciates the accolades—the farm has also been featured in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer—she has never sought out press mentions. Instead, she believes the attention stems from the dual focus of growing fresh, local flowers and using them in beautiful designs.

“I think the way the attention initially came to me was because there really was nobody else doing quite exactly what we were doing,” she muses. “When I started out, there were plenty of flower farmers but not necessarily anybody trying to be florists in addition to being flower farmers.”

Love is more than a farmer and florist; she is a passionate advocate for local flower farming. Her hope is that consumer demand coupled with an abundance of regional growers can help propel the industry toward a local, not global, supply chain.

To promote the industry, Love hosts workshops and events on the farm.

The first on-farm classes were held in 2010. When a seasonal bouquet workshop sold out—and the two other sessions she added sold out as well—Love discovered there was a niche market for hands-on classes. In 2017, the planned offerings include workshops to create wearable floral art, spring centerpieces, and peony arrangements.

“I want people to understand how the flowers are grown and understand why they should value locally-grown flowers,” she explains. “Everybody who’s ever come to a workshop leaves feeling gung-ho about locally-grown flowers so I know it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.”

Workshops – Fun and Profitable

Although “workshop mania” started by accident, the classes have become a popular and profitable part of the farm.

“I wanted to build a workshop series that hopefully people would maybe come to more than one and we did. We have people that have completed every single workshop we’ve ever done,” Love says. We hold them only in the spring because our spring weddings are a little slower [and] they’re an excellent income source for the business.”

In addition to teaching the public about flower farming, Love helps other growers master their businesses through intensive “master classes” that include The Designer’s Cutting Garden, Weddings from Seed to Centerpiece, and The Business of Local Flowers.

“A lot of farmers don’t understand that they’re not farmers; they’re business owners and that’s a different kettle of worms than just being a farmer,” Love says. “There are a lot of farmers out there who are just trying to farm and therefore are not really running a successful business and not making money and not understanding their marketplace. For me, it’s such a passion to try to get people to understand that you need to run a business, not run a farm.”

Farmers come from around the United States, Canada, and Mexico to attend the intensive seminars. Love admits the master classes have inspired some competition but she believes that there is room in the industry for everyone to blossom.

“The reality is there are a lot of weddings, a lot of flowers, and a lot of business to go around,” she explains.

For Love, those business lessons have been hard won. Love ‘n Fresh Flowers grew faster than Love anticipated—and faster than she was prepared for—leaving her scrambling to keep up. She hired a team, which fluctuates between four and six staff members, depending on the season, to help with administration, farming, and design work. As Love contemplates the future of the farm, which could include growing for wholesale accounts, launching online classes, and expanding her consulting offerings, she also takes time to stop and smell the flowers.

“Love ‘n Fresh Flowers has really grown to be a very successful, very solid business,” she says. “I couldn’t ask for it to be anything more.”

Jodi Helmer

Freelance Writer

Jodi Helmer is a freelance writer in North Carolina. Contact her at [email protected]