Five Questions With: Shelby Doggett

Shelby Doggett is a founder of What Cheer Flower Farm in Providence, a nonprofit established in 2018 that turned the former Colonial Knife property, a brownfield site, into a thriving urban farm.

The nonprofit distributes flowers grown on-site, as well as reclaimed flowers from weddings and other events, to nonprofits, hospitals and community organizations. The idea is that flowers are cheerful and should be shared, particularly with people who most need a positive uplift.

Doggett, the organization’s executive director, spoke to PBN about the farm and plans for the year ahead, which include construction of a permanent barn on-site.

 

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PBN: I read your annual report and was astounded at the number of flowers that were distributed, 44,500.  

DOGGETT: That’s about 5,000 bouquets. The majority of the flowers that we gave away this year were grown, but we did add more rescue efforts and we will continue to be doing that so we can distribute more year-round.

PBN: How suitable is the property to grow flowers? Did you find a former factory site turned out to be a great spot?

DOGGETT: We definitely had to doctor it a little for it to be a suitable place to grow flowers. It is a brownfield site. We’re not able to grow in the existing soil. We had to cap that and bring in new soil. We did it in two phases.

PBN: You held the first Flower Festival at the farm in September of 2019, which drew 700 attendees and produced 13% of your annual operating revenue, according to your 2019 annual report. How hard was that inaugural event to pull off?

DOGGETT: It was definitely a huge event. We had a lot of volunteer help that day, which was helpful. Our shoot-for-the-stars number of attendees was 350. So we were very surprised and happily surprised by the turnout. We put a ton of work into planning it and mapping out the day. We also worked with an event planner. It was a huge success and exceeded our expectations.

PBN: Going forward, are you seeing that festival as something that can reduce pressure on traditional fundraising?

DOGGETT: Definitely. We really see it turning into a community event that people look forward to attending each year, as well as being a fundraiser for us. We definitely got good feedback from it and are happy to keep exploring the opportunities.

PBN: When you started, what was the greatest challenge for you in working in a remediated space?

DOGGETT: The hardest part was getting access to utilities. There was no running water on the property for the first season. That was a challenge. We had permission to use the fire hydrant on the street, so we would hand-water everything using the fire hydrant.

We had to bring in our own water and electricity. We are a brownfield site and in a historic zone, so [in] navigating with the city and with the [R.I.] Department of Environmental Management, there are different things to consider. Overall, we overcame a lot of adversity in our first couple of years.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com.