Q&A: About What Cheer Flower Farm
Who gets the Farm's free flowers?
What Cheer Flower Farm gives away 100% of its stems. We distribute via hospitals, hospices, senior services, recovery centers, food banks and other nonprofits who reach the people in our community who would most benefit from a bouquet. During the pandemic, we have also been giving out flowers to 'Healthcare Heroes' -- the hardworking staff at area hospitals. Our distribution partners include:
Hospitals, Hospices & Health
Clinic Esperanza/Hope Clinic
Ronald McDonald House of Providence
Anchor Recovery's Jim Gillen Center for Teens
Federal Hill Food Center
St Mary's Home for Children
Are you an RI nonprofit seeking flowers for the people you serve?
Click for free flower info.
Pace Organization of Rhode Island
Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island
Steere House Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
Can I donate flowers, vases or other things to the Farm?
In season, in addition to growing our own flowers, the Farm accepts in-kind donations of:
- gently used wedding and event flowers
- unsold retail and wholesale flowers
- other flower farmers' leftover flowers (via gleaning their fields)
All flowers should be in good enough condition to last 5-7 days in a vase. We are able to pick up flowers during regular M-F working hours in the Providence area.
Please contact us to discuss your donation.
In addition to stems, the Farm also accepts in-kind gifts of:
- bulk bulbs for spring-flowering, plants such as tulips
- gift certificates for nurseries, seed/bulb suppliers, hardware stores and farm supply firms
- seasoned organic manure and compost
Sorry, we do not accept vases or plants from consumers. As a nonprofit farm we have to maintain efficiencies by sticking to just the vases and plants we have carefully planned to use.
Note: The Farm is a 501c3 charitable organization, so your flower donations may be tax deductible.
What's the Farm's mission and five-year plan?
Flowers bring a deep sense of solace and joy. Flowers are healing. Giving someone a bouquet acknowledges their worth. It says, “You matter. You deserve beauty. You are cared for.”
What Cheer Flower Farm is a 501c3 nonprofit founded in 2017 with the purpose of growing, rescuing and giving flowers away to those in need, lifting spirits by sharing the beauty of flowers and providing training in growing and floristry.
What Cheer Flower Farm founded by three Rhode Islanders
Initial funds to purchase land secured from private donors
10,000 flowers grown and donated to charities
2.7 acres of former factory land acquired in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood
6,000 sf land remediated, organic field created
60 volunteers got their hands in the dirt
$50,000 RI DEM grant won to remove pollutants from derelict factory on site
44,500 flowers grown, rescued & donated
Additional 10,000 sf land remediated into farm field
Annual Flower Festival launched attracting 700+ attendees
Grants won from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Rhode Island Foundation, RISCA and RI DEM
The Future: 2025 Vision
50,000 flowers grown, rescued and donated (despite the pandemic)
Pollinator garden planted & honey for sale from Farm beehives
Grants won from Citizens Bank, the Garden Club of America and the June Rockwell Levy Foundation
300,000+ stems grown and gleaned plus 100,000 rescued, totalling 400,000 donated to charitable organizations annually
2 acres of urban land remediated and under cultivation
Historic 4,000sf Colonial Knife building restored as a jobs training center preparing locals for careers in floristry and flower farming.
300+ volunteers involved in growing, rescuing, arranging and delivering flowers
Money: How does the Farm stay afloat if you don't sell any flowers?
“How can you keep going if you give all your flowers away?” people ask. As a 501c3 nonprofit, we rely on a combination of revenue streams. These include:
Renting floral arrangements to non-profit events: During our harvest season, we allow area nonprofits to rent our flowers for their galas and events for a low hourly rate. Afterwards, the rentals are distributed to area hospitals and such.
Note: Rentals are cancelled during COVID.
Flower Festival: Every late summer we hold a Festival outside at the Farm where you can enjoy drinks and live music, tour the fields at peak bloom, view a gallery of art created in our Fields and be blown away by installations from Rhode Island’s top farmers and florists. Note:
The Festival is cancelled during COVID.
Donations: As a 501c3 charity, your donations may be tax deductible.
Grants: The Farm applies for grants relevant to its purpose of green jobs training, brownfields remediation, urban farming, arts education, and bringing the joy and beauty of flowers to those in our community who need it most.
For more details on our financials,
please see our latest Annual Report.
People: Who's behind the Farm?
Destenie Vital, Executive Director
Krystal Lynn Kraczkowski, Farmer: Growing & Gleaning (she/her)
Prior to joining the Farm, Kraczkowski served as the production, harvest and crew manager for RI's oldest flower farm, Robin Hollow Farm, for three seasons. She has extensive experience in both non-profit and for-profit farming. She is certified in Lean Six Sigma, Green Belt and OSHA 10. She believes "food feeds the body but flowers feed the soul."
Anne Hills Holland, Board President & Cofounder (she/her)
A cut flower growing hobbyist, Holland was inspired to found What Cheer Flower Farm after she saw the impact of giving flowers away to the elderly. She is a serial entrepreneur, having successfully founded multiple, for-profit, publishing companies, as well as another local nonprofit, What Cheer Writers Club. She has been quoted by dozens of media outlets including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and served as a keynote speaker at business events across the US.
Robert Alan Matthews, Board Member (he/him)
A former florist, Matthews has headed his eponymous landscape design and gardening firm for nearly 20 years, serving clients across the state. In 2013, he won the Design and Execution Award at Rhode Island’s Spring Flower & Garden Show and was named Young Nursery Professional of the Year by the New England Nursery Association. Matthews was also the designer behind Providence Preservation Society's famous annual fundraising Bash for many years.
Mary Shawcross, Board Member (she/hers)
A native of Oxford England, Mary has been involved in urban gardening, tree planting and beekkeeping since she moved to Providence in 2000. She is the manager of the Mount Hope Community Garden, and has planted and maintained more than 100 trees in sidewalk treeboxes under the auspices of the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program (PPNP.org). She also serves as a recycling ambassador for SustainPVD. At her day job, Mary is a realtor specializing in older homes.
Marian Purviance, Cofounder (she/her)
A former estate gardener for the renowned TJ Brown Landscaping firm in Newport RI, Purviance got her first taste of professional cut flower farming when she served as a flower and vegetable farmer one season for Greenrock Company, a three-acre farm owned by the Rockefeller family in Maine. She has also served as an after-school garden club instructor for Providence-area public schools, and has been a professional artist in her spare time since 2002.
Shelby Doggett, Cofounder (she/her)
A Rhode Island native with a BS in ecological agriculture, Doggett served as the Farm's Executive Director for its first three years, helping an idea become a start-up reality. She has been an invited speaker at Blithewold's annual green careers day, served as Studio Director at Riverzedge Arts Green Design Lab and was an agricultural worker at Greenview Farm in Woonsocket and The Food Project in Boston.
Impact: Why do flowers matter so much?
Science reveals that:
- Growing flowers reduces anxiety and improves empathy for gardeners and farmers.
- Patients receiving flowers tend to have quicker recovery times.
- People with flowers in their homes feel happier, less stressed, less depressed and are able to concentrate more easily.
- The presence of flowers can help as a memory aid and flowers have been used to aid dementia patients.
Here’s what our recipients say:
“My client who was just diagnosed with breast cancer began to cry when I handed them to her and told her I couldn’t wait for her to get to our appointment together so I could give them to her. She kept insisting that I give them to someone who needed them more than she did, and I told her she did need them. She thanked me and said that no one has ever given her flowers. I LOVE What Cheer Flowers!!!!”
From St Mary’s Home for Children, Shepard’s Program staff
“One of my clients is a full-time working mother of 5 and she always looks completely exhausted. I handed her the vase and said, “These are for you. We have a wonderful flower farm that gives us flowers to give to clients who may need some beauty in their day.” Her eyes filled with tears and she kept saying, “Oh, oh, are you sure you want to give them to me? Isn’t there someone else who needs them?” I assured her that when the flowers were delivered that day, she was the first and only client that came into my mind who needed them. When she left, she thanked me many times and I absolutely am positive that their beauty softened her difficult and tiring day.”
From St Mary’s Home for Children, Shepard’s Program staff
“The lady’s face just lit up. It was as if a beacon of light was coming from the top of Federal Hill through the city. The Meals on Wheels clientele understand that they’re dependent on others to bring them the outside world “And to see that someone cares enough about them to go to the effort of cultivating these flowers and bringing [the bouquets] to them, I think it’s amazing.”
From Meals on Wheels volunteer Rebek Duhaime as quoted in Projo.com
“This ongoing partnership with What Cheer Flower Farm has been beneficial for many of our participants. It has proven to be a universally therapeutic activity that participants who are non-English speaking, cognitively impaired, or who have physical disabilities are able to engage in together. The flowers also bring joy to participants who are home bound or hospitalized.”
From PACE Organization of Rhode Island
Remediation: How do you turn a former factory parking lot into a farm?
The Farm is located in the heart of Olneyville a former industrial neighborhood just two miles from city hall. Our land is the site of a former metal-working factory - the Colonial Knife plant. The old factory building itself is hazardous; the city condemed it prior to the time of our purchase. We are fundraising to have the asbestos removed and the building dealt with. In the meantime, we are farming on a portion of the factory's parking lot.
We decided to be headquartered in the city, just two blocks from a main RIPTA bus stop, so it would easier for people including volunteers, arts groups and future job trainees to get to us.
However, that meant we wound up on a 'brownfields' site because no other urban land was affordable and available. A brownfields site is the formal term for land that's dangerously contaminated due to past uses. Clean up so it’s safe for human use can be expensive and time consuming.
Some ask, “If you’re only growing flowers that no one will eat, why do you worry about contaminants?”
Firstly, you can never control what someone might put in their mouth. Also, we were concerned because our staff, volunteers and job trainees will touch and breathe around the soil. The Farm needs to be a safe place for everyone. Therefore, we needed a remediation plan.
Some people have asked if we will remediate the natural way – using plants such as sunflowers or mushrooms to pull poison out of the soil for us. We decided against this because plants are not be able to pull out all the contaminants, nor will they be able to do so quickly. Plus, if you’ve grown a contaminated crop, you then need to have it harvested and removed as a contaminant!
So, here are the steps we took to remediate the land and create our initial 16,000 square feet of field.
(Note: This remediation is ongoing as we fundraise to turn more of the 2.7 acre former factory site into usable fields and facilities.)
Environmental consulting firm Wilcox & Barton, Inc. completed a Site Investigation of the property to assess for potential contamination which included the advancement of soil borings, installation of monitoring wells, and soil and groundwater sampling for laboratory analysis. Arsenic and TPH exceeding the RIDEM I/C-DEC leachability were found in select soil borings.
They created a formal Soil Management and Groundwater Plan for us, which was approved by RIDEM. The plan noted that we should not plant directly in the soil on site, nor on top of the existing, old asphalt parking lot. Instead, we would need to remove the asphalt, cap the existing soil and create what amounts to a huge raised bed by trucking in entirely new soil.
Step 1. Brush, including invasive plant species and poison ivy were removed from the future growing area. The Farm continues to eradicate poison ivy on the property using organic methods including; solarization, and spraying with a mix of vinegar, liquid soap and salt. Plus, a crew of volunteers and YouthBuild Providence have helped remove rubbish from the lot.
Step 2. NRC Eastern Environmental Services and Groundwork RI dug up the old asphalt where we planned to install our first growing beds.
Step 3. Immediately, the crews covered the areas where asphalt was removed with a geotextile fabric. This high-tech fabric prevents the contaminated soil from mixing with clean soil and retains fine soil particles and allows water to flow through acting as both a filter and drain.
Step 4. Prior to purchasing, we ran lab samples of soil and gravel from Smithfield Peat Co. and G Lopes Construction Inc to assure the materials were clean and above RI DEM Residential Direct Exposure Criteria. Then we had the soil delivered and spread into rows on top of the geotextile, again with help from crews from NRC East Environmental Services and Groundwork RI.
Step 5. Finally, Farm staff and volunteers enriched our new soil with compost and other organic amendments including aged horse manure, menefee humates, lime and sphagnum peat moss.
Additional vendors and suppliers who helped us create the Farm’s fields
Above & Beyond Contracting
Bill Rathbun of Bald Hill Forest Products
Malone Plumbing and Heating
Rambone Disposal Services
RK Plourd & Sons Construction
Scituate Portable Restroom
Can I visit the Farm?
The Farm is a working agricultural and floristry center, not a public park. Sorry, we are not normally open for individual visitors.
If you would like to be a regular volunteer, helping with field work, floristry or deliveries,
please click here. Otherwise, your options include:
Flower Festival: Every late summer we hold a big outdoor event to celebrate the peak of the harvest season and everyone's invited! Tickets are available online and at the door.
Art in the Fields: Artists and art groups and classes can paint, photograph and create art using other mediums in our fields at pre-arranged dates throughout the year. Accessing the fields to create is free, but for your first time, you must have an appointment.
We are two blocks from the RIPTA bus stop in Olneyville center. We have ample parking on site. The main pathway through the field is handicapped accessible, however there’s a 15’ long steep area. Sadly, we only currently offer a non-handicapped port-a-potty.
- No children under 10 are allowed on the property except during pre-arranged, supervised tours with formal groups. Just as with any urban site, there are dangers such as broken glass and poison ivy.
- No dogs are allowed on site except for leashed service animals. We have a small feral cat population who protect the field from the depredations of mice, so their needs come first.
- No one is allowed in the derelict factory building – the former Colonial Knife factory – adjacent to our field. It is NOT abandoned; we own it and are fundraising to deal with it. However, until we can raise the funds, the building is dangerous due to broken glass, asbestos, industrial pollutants, falling down ceilings and wobbly floors. If you get hurt there, that harm extends to the Farm.
Group tours: If you belong to a gardening, floristry and farming-related group of six or more people, please
contact us to arrange a tour during our growing season (May-October.)
How can I volunteer at the Farm?
The Farm would not be possible without generous help from nearly 200 volunteers who generously donate their time at our Providence RI HQ. Your options include:
- working outdoors in the field
- delivering flowers to nonprofits for their clients (vehicle & license required)
- creating floral arrangements and posies
- assisting on flower rescue days (indoor work, wheelchair-friendly)
- helping maintain the facility: brush clean-up, light carpentry, etc.
- serving on a fundraising and/or Flower Festival committee
No matter your level of farming or floral experience, you are welcome to volunteer with us as long as:
- You sign up beforehand and receive confirmation from us
- You are at least 12 years old
- You can commit to a minimum 3 hours of volunteer work in total (either all at once or over three weeks.)
Interested? Please fill out our
volunteer form to learn more.