BUSINESS MONDAY: Tiny Hearts Farm… in full bloom
What does it mean when a Dutch bulb company visits the website of your small local flower farm? “Maybe they wondered who was ordering 80,000 tulip bulbs,” laughs Jenny Elliott, co-owner with Luke Franco of Tiny Hearts Farm in Copake, NY.
But maybe there’s more to it. With the exception of a few midwestern Dutch enclaves that hold annual “Tulip Time” festivals, as well as a handful of farms in the Pacific Northwest, tulips – the adult flowers sold at markets and florists – still come mainly from growers in the Netherlands (alas, 90% of the world’s cut tulips are grown in the Netherlands and 80% of the bulbs originate there).
At a time when more and more people want to know how and where their meat is raised and where their produce is harvested – and become more aware of the carbon footprint their choices leave – it’s easy to understand the growing popularity of flowers. grown locally that aren’t shipped around the world. Hence the tulips in Tiny Hearts.
Indeed, Franco and Elliott go one step further in protecting the environment by growing organic flowers using sustainable farming practices that help enrich the earth. This makes each floral bouquet not only an extraordinarily beautiful gift, but also a thoughtful gesture that both giver and recipient can feel good about.
How two classically trained musicians who lived in New York ended up running a 35-acre flower farm and boutique in upstate New York is not your run-of-the-mill story. “I found life in Brooklyn so stressful that I bought dirty turnips at the Union Square Farmers Market just to smell the dirt,” Elliott says, explaining that she wanted to quit her day job and try something new, having enjoyed gardening as a young girl. (she used to order dahlia catalogs just to look at the pictures). When she saw an ad for an agricultural internship at an educational farm in Westchester County, she told Franco, “I’m going, with or without you.” Fortunately, he followed. (Franco was and is a jazz guitarist who performs regularly.)
A few years later (in 2011), after growing vegetables and completing the internship, the couple joined the Westchester Land Trust’s Farmland Matching Scheme, matching potential farmers who lacked land with landowners who had a few acres to spare. Upon hearing that a one-acre pasture was available on Dick Button’s 50-acre Ice Pond farm in North Salem, Mass., Elliott immediately applied. “I was a big fan of the Winter Olympics,” she notes, “and I thought, obviously, it was meant to be!”
So began Tiny Hearts Farm, a small vegetable and flower farm on an acre of land that hadn’t been turned in 30 years. They installed a rainwater harvesting system but, without drinking water, they had few options for growing vegetables. Additionally, they quickly discovered that it was difficult to sell at local farmers’ markets as market gardeners, but people were eager for more flower vendors. “We switched to flowers exclusively in our third year,” notes Luke. “But there’s a steep learning curve with growing flowers, especially if you want to specialize in the harder-to-grow strains, so we knew we had to focus to make it work.”
In the spring of 2014, they signed a long-term lease on a 22-acre farm in Columbia County and moved to Copake, part of the new Copake Agricultural Center, where they expanded their space and improved their infrastructure. They now have 35 acres, a fieldside home, a barn to pack orders, four greenhouses, more equipment, two delivery vans and a strong team of dedicated employees who are also passionate about flowers and invested in become great farmers. and designers. They opened the Tiny Hearts Farm studio/showroom on Route 23 in the Hillsdale Events Center in May 2018.
In the early years, fencing, equipment, funding, and housing were huge challenges, but they were nothing compared to the chaos that erupted when the pandemic hit in 2020. One of their biggest wedding seasons to date, with 25 weddings booked, disappeared overnight. with the immediate forced cancellation of all gatherings. Relations with other floral designers and wholesalers are interrupted. “We had planned our seeds and seedlings long before this spring, but suddenly we had no market to sell them,” they explain. “We were afraid to open our shop and had to reconfigure everything.”
So the couple got creative and developed an online store on their website, listing all the flowers available for pre-orders or CSA (community supported agriculture) accounts. They posted on Instagram and sent out a weekly email newsletter. Elliott launched a YouTube channel with virtual tours to keep customers connected to what was available on the farm and updated on weather conditions and challenges. The result? To their surprise, business flourished. As more regular activities in people’s daily lives were put on hold, demand for their flowers grew.
As Franco recalls, a customer got emotional on the phone when she learned that her favorite flower was sold out. “She told me it was such a dark time, she really needed our flowers to bring her joy. The bouquets seemed like a beacon of hope in our community.
This realization gave them an even stronger idea of what they were doing and why. If you walk into the flower shop on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., you will see the meaning that flowers continue to have in the local community – to express love, joy or empathy, to honor accomplishments or loss. They elevate all occasions, lift morale and deepen bonds. Elliott and his team instinctively know this and use this sense of purpose to create spontaneous, whimsical arrangements as unique as the people and occasions they honor.
When asked how they define success, Franco pauses. “Our vision has always been to create a beautiful place to live and work, and to spread joy in the community through what we do. That goal has never changed, but I think our means of achieving that goal is constantly changing because there are so many variables in any given season. If you stay open to new directions, when opportunities open up, you can walk through the door. Each step of their journey has shaped their identity, helping them to continually evolve personally and professionally.
“Last year (our 11e year) was a big milestone for us, the first time we were able to continue growing during the winter season,” says Franco. Restoring the “bulbodome” – a 125-foot climate-controlled covered space connected to a 50-foot heated greenhouse – was an extraordinary feat, creating the perfect place to store and force bulbs. With the added effort of growing more flowers sooner, Elliott and Franco were able to retain five year-round employees for the first time. Their staff grew to 12 employees this summer (including cutters, drivers, farm crew, equipment operators and tradesmen). Sons George and St. Clair also continue to help and are often seen driving the tractor or pinching peony buds to pass the “marshmallow” test.
This winter, they hope to have heirloom chrysanthemums through early December, followed by forced amaryllis and white papers. If all goes as planned, the first tulips will be ready for picking in early February.
What makes Tiny Hearts Farm unique? Practicing sustainable agriculture, building a team spirit, selling what’s in season at the time, and committing to providing an ever-expanding palette of high-quality flowers add to the appeal.
But the real key? “We run a beautiful flower shop, we sell to wholesalers and CSA members, and we create beautiful flowers for events,” Franco explains. “The way we do it is also intentionally simple.”
To avoid expensive consulting services, they offer a transparent online a la carte menu of beautiful seasonal floral arrangements that allow customers to choose what they want and know exactly what it will cost (including fees Delivery).
Walking into the flower shop is just as magical as the return of spring to Narnia. The light-filled space, the scent of peonies and poppies, and soft jazz are an immediate lift for the weekend errands. Online customers may miss the “Shop Around the Corner” vibe, but also rave about the soothing experience of working with Elliott and his team, who believe in “let the flowers speak for themselves – the weird twist of a stalk, a nod, appreciating each plant for what it is at the time.
Samara Rahmlow, who chose Tiny Hearts Farm for a summer dinner, said: “We provided minimal direction other than the color scheme, and the flowers were GORGEOUS!!! They used fresh, local, seasonal flowers that looked authentic… Our guests raved about the beauty.
The bulbodome and greenhouses help Elliott and Franco cope with the strange weather conditions that are becoming more frequent with climate change. Now they’re navigating how to turn a highly successful business into a long-term entity. “I think there are three stages of growth: starting the business, the growth spurt once you’re underway, and building an established business,” Franco notes. “We are definitely settled now, but we live in a house and farm land that is part of a lease agreement. In order to have a long-term farm that we can pass on to our family, we need to buy our own land. Understanding how and where they do it is the next big challenge. And by following the strategy that got them this far, they stay open to new directions so that when opportunities open up, they can walk through the door.