What Cheer Flower Farm brings cheer to the community

ALL GROWN UP: Krystal Kraczkowski, a grower at What Cheer Flower Farm in Providence, gathers fresh flowers from the nonprofit’s garden. /PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
ALL GROWN UP: Krystal Kraczkowski, a grower at What Cheer Flower Farm in Providence, gathers fresh flowers from the nonprofit’s garden. /PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS

PBN Business Excellence Awards 2020
Excellence at a Woman/Minority-Owned Business: What Cheer Flower Farm

THE TRIO OF Shelby Doggett, Anne Holland and Marian Purviance had a vision in co-founding What Cheer Flower Farm in 2017.

Knowing what they wanted, Holland, Doggett and Purviance at the time purchased a 2.7-acre brownfields site in the heart of Olneyville in Providence that used to be Colonial Knife Manufacturing. Doggett and Holland – Purviance is now no longer affiliated with What Cheer – plan to remediate the entire property over time.

“I’m grateful that it’s a long-term project that has exciting potential with the expansion,” said Doggett, the farm’s executive director. “Thinking about the future gets me jazzed.”

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Doggett said everyone at What Cheer had to go through a learning curve in running the organization. She said the nonprofit during its first year had no running water or electricity but quickly got those basic utilities in order.

Holland, What Cheer’s board president, firmly believes that organizations with co-founders are generally more successful than those with a sole founder.

“A co-founder brings wisdom or skills that you don’t have, and it helps to have someone to bounce ideas off of,” Holland said. “I’ve done it alone and I don’t recommend it.”

The Providence-based nonprofit has quickly gained a following. It grows and distributes flowers and floral greens to more than two dozen partnering organizations, including Crossroads Rhode Island, Newport Hospital, St. Mary’s Home for Children in North Providence and Sojourner House, which distribute those flowers to their clients and patients.

With only three full-time employees, including Doggett, and a slew of volunteers who plant flowers, arrange bouquets and make floral deliveries, What Cheer’s reach in 2019 was vast. The farm provided 5,000 people with free floral bouquets and welcomed 700 Flower Festival attendees to tour the flower fields.

The farm also had more than 250 volunteers, many of whom had never been to a farm before, help grow, harvest, arrange and deliver flowers. Plans to hire a full-time florist have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With such pressing needs as hunger, homelessness and cancer, Doggett said a flower-centric nonprofit is an essential service because flowers bring joy.

Doctors at senior centers report that patients with dementia are engaged by their flower arranging/horticultural therapy sessions using What Cheer flowers. Additionally, doctors point to the results of a study done by a Newport Hospital intern from Salve Regina University in which patients with anxiety saw a 27% reduction in anxiety due to their horticultural therapy sessions.

“[Providing] beauty and joy [is] an essential service,” Doggett said.

Recognition has come in bunches to the young nonprofit, too. As a Citizens Bank N.A. and WJAR-TV NBC 10 Champion in Action award recipient, What Cheer received $35,000 just as ­the pandemic began. Those unrestricted funds were used for growing and floristry supplies and staff salaries, Doggett said. And a $10,000 Founders Fund Grant from the Garden Clubs of America will help underwrite the purchase of the organization’s What Cheer delivery van.

That grant was one of only three such grants awarded nationally. Additional revenue comes from sales of floral-themed art created and donated by local artists, as well as from Little Rhody Beekeeping honey.

Along with the 75 varieties of flowers – including dahlias, sunflowers, tulips and zinnias – they grow, arrange and distribute free of charge, What Cheer also receives donations of “overflow” flowers from wedding receptions, events and florists.

“We’ve partnered with Wicked Tulips for two years. We glean their fields after their season is over to gather tulips left behind and Wicked Tulip donates bulbs to us every fall,” Doggett said.

Holland said that Rhode Island needs more jobs and job training, as there is no such training in floristry, garden maintenance or cut-flower farming.

“We’re trying to build an institution for the ages that will bring 250,000 stems each year [to nonprofits] and job-training programs,” Holland said. “We want it to be completely self-sustainable, so it’s not dependent on a couple of rich donors or only grants.”

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