Meet the 2019 Floret Scholarship Winners

Reviewing scholarship applications, informing the winners and writing this post is one of the highlights of the year for me and all of us here at Floret.

Over the last ten days, the team and I have been pouring over all the scholarship essays and narrowing down the list of top candidates. With so many applications to read, we recruited additional outside reviewers to participate in the process. Joining the review team this year were four Floret Workshop alumni, including two past scholarship winners! These ladies all know what it takes to be a successful farmer-florist and are great at spotting applicants with the potential to thrive with a little help from Floret.

I was blown away by the number of applications we received this year. A record breaking 3,107 individuals from all 50 U.S. states and 65 countries applied for a spot in our upcoming Floret Online Workshop. Wow! What an incredible testament to the growth of the seasonal flower movement and the level of interest in small-scale flower farming all around the globe.

floret dahlias We had to burn the midnight oil in order to read through all the applications and choose the top 50 finalists. From there, I printed out the thick stack of finalists’ applications, curled up with a big ole’ cup of coffee and read and re-read each of the finalists’ essays. It was refreshing to focus on the hope, beauty and joy that flowers bring to others and the inspiring stories from around the globe of people who aspire to cultivate more beauty through seasonal blooms. What was even more inspiring was the commitment by so many applicants to continue to pay it forward and help others along the way. It affirms, once again, that the flower community is made up of some of the kindest, most generous people around.

The review team selected many incredible and deserving finalists, which made the decision-making process excruciatingly difficult. Choosing just six felt impossible. But to my surprise we had a few generous souls who stepped forwards and gave the gift of two additional scholarships, for a grand total of eight!

10/5/18 UPDATE:  Since this original post was published, two additional donors have come forward to generously sponsor an additional six scholarships. As one explained, “We need so many more small farmers and things that bring happiness in the world today.”

I’m so amazed and humbled by these incredible acts of kindness.

Before I introduce the winners, I want to first express my gratitude to each and every person who took the time to apply for the scholarship. I am honored that you shared your aspirations, your dreams and beautiful life stories with us. I appreciate, the opportunity to read so many thoughtful essays, family memories, personal journeys and life stories.

Also, thank you for sharing so many inspiring quotes as part of your essays. There are quite a few that will be added to the collection I currently have taped to the wall by my kitchen sink. A handful that stood out include:

“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”  -May Sarton

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole lives would change.” -Buddhist Proverb

“’If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.’ (-I read that on a sidewalk while walking my pups.)”

“Hope is a powerful propeller.”

“Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin-flowers. And the frisky ones – inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones – rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.” -From “Upstream” by Mary Oliver

Loading dahlias in Floret truck

There were a number of common themes that surfaced while reading the applications, including:

Serving as an example for children. I was struck by the many mothers and grandmothers (and even more fathers and grandfathers than past years!) who were inspired by their children to apply. The intense desire to share the experience of growing gardens and farming together as a family and to serve as an example to kids, grandkids and future generations is a powerful motivator for many.

“My dream is to create something that my kids can grow up as I did learning life skills and appreciating the simple beauties of life on a farm.”

“Starting a business from home would be starting a legacy for my daughters, a creative outlet, bringing beauty & joy to my community, and it would be an example for my children to live by and to be a part of.”

“…but as my boys grow up in a world more removed from nature, I feel the need to connect people back to bugs and dirt.”

“First, I want this for my daughters.  I want them to grow up seeing what immense beauty can be achieved from hours of hard work and sweat.”

“ I want my girls to know that good things come from a little dirt under their nails.”    

“I want to show my kids that it is NEVER too late to follow your dreams!”

Floret dahliasEncore careers. We received more applications than ever before from folks ready for a career change and/or nearing retirement. Still youthful, active, and engaged, this group is itching for a change, contemplating the next chapter of their lives, and getting ready to dig in and pursue their passion as a second career.

“I want work that lets me revisit my creativity.”

“I am ..searching my soul for ways to live a life of beauty, purpose, peace, and community, in the countryside”

Healing and helping others. Many essays shared, often in heart-wrenching detail, the many ways gardens have provided comfort in the wake of loved ones lost, broken marriages, addiction, disease, disaster and shattered dreams. The number of applicants impacted by hurricanes, fires and other impacts of a changing climate was significant and sobering.

I also was struck by the number of applicants who want to start gardens, farms and businesses as a way to help others in need.  Many of these raw, heartfelt essays had a common theme: life is short and precious.

Here are just a few passages that tugged at my heartstrings:

“ experience like this (cancer) does make you ‘stop and smell the roses’.”

“Life is short and we plan on living it in an abundance of love, simplicity and beauty.”

“I have learned I need to first put on my own oxygen mask in order to help others.”

“I feel gardening allows many women/men who have suffered loss, at all levels, an opportunity to experience life again.”

“15 years I have worked in healthcare helping others heal, live and at times die. It has been a tremendous privilege to care for each person and from each of them I walked away reflecting on my own life and spending more and more time working through all these thoughts and feelings while digging in the dirt. Gardening and growing flowers have long been my escape and the garden is a place I can toil for hours and no matter how hard the work go back out the next day with a smile on my face and a happy heart. Sharing the fruits of my labor brings me great joy and nothing makes me happier than seeing the smile on someone’s face when I hand them a beautiful bouquet of flowers planted, tended to and harvested by my own hands.”

A quest for confidence. More than a few essays spoke of the need for courage and confidence to pursue a dream. We read many confessions of anxiety and self doubt. Many shared their fear of stepping away from something stable, but unsatisfying, in order to pursue something that bring you joy. We heard lots of excitement, laced with a lot of anxiety, about starting a new business or making a big change. 

A nod from Floret will give me the confidence and encouragement to start being the person I’m meant to be.”

Applications, once again, came in from around the world and from 65 different countries. I’m both inspired and humbled to see that flower lovers from as far away as Cyprus, Slovakia, Philippines, Finland, Uruguay and Indonesia applied for the Floret Scholarship. Check out the map below to see where the submissions came from:

Floret readers may note that last year’s winners were almost all international, while the newest winners are all domestic.

And so, without further ado, I am thrilled to announce the 2019 Floret Workshop Scholarship winners:

Floret Scholarship winners 2019

Aki Nakamura, Old Grove Orange, Mentone, California

Surrounded on all sides by sprawling development, Old Grove Orange is one of the last working farms in the Los Angeles basin. Owned by Aki Nakamura, the farm produces many kinds of citrus, and recently, mixed vegetables. The farm has been in Aki Nakamura’s family for five generations.  While other farmers in the region have sold out to developers, Aki’s family has maintained the land in agricultural production. However, the farm now faces an even greater threat than development: the Asian Citrus Psyllid, an invasive species, which carries a bacteria that is fatal to citrus trees.

“The Psyllid has now reached our grove and I expect that we will lose our 100-year old trees over the next six years. To not lose the farm, we started farming mixed vegetables four years ago, thinking that we could transition over to this alternate crop as the Psyllid gradually worked its destruction. But our experience with vegetables has been rough – nobody cooks anymore!  And competition from meal kit providers, funded with silicon valley venture capital which enables them to lose money for years, is extremely severe.”  Eager to save her farm and grow a product that her urban customers will buy, Aki is expanding into specialty cut flower production.

“We do not have much time or money left, and flowers are complicated. I am hoping that with the Floret scholarship I can move more rapidly through the learning curve and help save our farm!” Aki wrote. “Among all these housing developments is a place with a year-round running stream, bobcats, deer, wild boar, and endangered-species birds. A touchstone where this huge urban population can meet a farmer and understand how things are grown. For five generations my family has kept this land growing when every other farmer has sold out. We have shown our passion and commitment, help us to evolve to keep this farm here for our community!”

Matt Diemer, Bighorn Blooms, Ft. Collins, Colorado

Five months ago, Matt Diemer walked away from his desk job to be a stay at home dad to 3 young boys, ages 6, 4, and 1.  The financial strain has been difficult, but Matt wanted to give himself and his and kids, “the greatest gift of all: a path to happiness….  to show them what it means to be your authentic self. To not get swept up in others’ definitions of success. I didn’t want my children to make the same mistakes I had,” he shared.  Matt felt “stuck behind a desk. Grinding through each day to bring home a paycheck. Trying to do the right thing for my family. But in reality, sacrificing everything of value. Finally, at age 36, I would honor my inner voice and devote myself to something I love.”

An avid gardener, Matt converted his backyard into a micro flower farm, Bighorn Blooms and now sells seasonal flowers at local farmers markets.  Matt and his family have adjusted spending habits, relied on community safety net programs and dipped into savings to make ends meet. Matt is eager to be a part of the Floret Online Workshop in order to be pursue his dream and “to give Bighorn Blooms a fighting chance.”


Rosie and Grazia Floret Scholarship winners

Rosie Gray, Galloway Flowers, Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway, United Kingdom

Rosie Gray grew up gardening and even considered a horticulture career at age 16. She chose what appeared a more ‘sensible’ career path instead. She continued gardening & later in life began selling surplus cut flowers. This naturally led to launching Galloway Flowers in 2015.  “At first, many thought me mad to try growing flowers commercially here in South West Scotland…and some were initially disparaging of my ‘weeds’.”

“The business is growing but the transition to selling thousands of stems a year profitably is a big leap. A major rethink is essential to increase production, maximise space, reduce overhead.”

And as both her parents are living with Alzheimer’s disease, Rosie is acutely aware of the importance of work you truly care about. Every day is precious.

“I’m tired after this season of challenging weather & must get my mojo back, fast. There must be a better way to reach the next level. At 59 I’m impatient & ready to learn more to create a strong foundation for my later years.”

Grazia Apolinares, Tanitani Flower Farm, Carolina, West Virginia

Many of the small towns scattered across West Virginia’s Appalachian mountain countryside are seeking to re-define themselves in the wake of the decline of the once-dominant coal industry. While some focus only the challenges; others residents, like Grazia Apolinares, are focusing on the positive and the untapped potential.

“We could’ve left this place in search of better opportunities for our family, but instead of continuing a generational chain of land abandonment, we decided to dedicate our time and last resources here. We hope that by treating the land in a holistic way we will stay connected to it.

“Inherited by my husband, with no one interested on working it, this land was rescued by his grandfather from coal mine operations. This summer we started work on an initial 1000 square feet area intended to grow and deliver seasonal flowers to nearby farmers markets, vancouver flower delivery and local florists.”

Readmore: Authentic Connection: An Interview with Five Marys Farms

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