It’s time for some spring updates!

The last time I wrote, I was coming off of a snowy week of visiting with relatives in Maine. I knew the moment I got back to reality, there would be the launch of the 2022 Seasonal Flower Project Season, and Valentines Day to organize for…and a quasi-ominous but also thankfully packed spring season of weddings to prepare for. Let’s just say, it was no longer 2020. Or 2021.

It’s been a whirlwind since that moment thousands of years ago in mid January, and so I am so, so glad I set the realistic goal to only write four journal entries this year. Seasonally. Felt appropriate:).

It’s also been a good whirlwind. I’ll quickly number off the top 5 happenings at Molly Oliver Flowers, Jan – April…

Probably the most momentous thing to happen this year – if not in all of MOF history – is the onboarding of Paige Haroldson (above, left) to a full time position as Seasonal Flower Project Coordinator and Sustainable Event Manager. Paige worked part time last fall as an assistant designer for events, and we instantly clicked. In a nutshell, Paige has a real brain for organization and systems, and with the full blown return to events, hiring someone to take on the work of logging new subscriptions, pause requests, and communicating with members throughout the week was going to be vital. This felt like a really big step. Hiring a part time employee – let alone a full-time employee besides myself – was a goal that took about 10 years to realize. (For any small business owners struggling to break out of the do-it-all-myself mode, see more on this down below).

I also hired two drivers for the season, Kelly Mill (above, center) and Henry Mendelsohn (above, right), who in addition to Carolina of City Gal Local, handle Monday flower farm pick-ups, and delivering flowers to our Seasonal Flower Project members around the town on Wednesdays. Delivery driving is not easy work: long hours, a lot of sitting, road rage all around…not for the faint of heart. I’m so grateful for this crew. Without them the business just simply wouldn’t be.

This felt like a far-off dream, that became a dire imperative last year, as I felt confident about continuing our hyper-local flower subscription service. You may or may not know, flowers depend on cold storage to last post-harvest. They often travel from farms to wholesalers or floral shops via refrigerated planes or trucks. They need to stay cool until they reach the final destination, so that they last as long as possible for the consumer. Many florists – small florists – will simply use an A/C to cool down a small room. Retail florists will have sliding door beverage-coolers for display, and sometimes, a “walk-in” cooler. I wanted to have a place to store our subscription flowers at optimal temp (38 degrees for most flowers) from the moment they arrived to the studio Monday afternoons, until they left for delivery Wednesday mornings. While wedding/event flowers can actually benefit sometimes from slightly warmer conditions (which encourage flowers to open and reach their fullest before game day), flowers meant to last in someone’s home should be kept cool and tight. I had heard about CoolBot for years: a low-cost, DIY hack for small scale farmers wherein you buy a “CoolBot” (a cunning mechanism designed to trick your A/C unit to going as low as 36F without ever freezing) and can then cool down a small space at a fraction of the cost of installing large, custom walk-in coolers. If you’re curious, read more about it here. Whereas a custom built cooler may have cost me 10-12K, I invested about 3K in this, mainly because I was lucky to rescue some free insulation otherwise headed to the landfill and because my brother and father-in-law were kind enough to help build it!

In short, it’s been a game changer. Hard to believe I lasted nearly 10 years with just a 2’x5’4’ beverage cooler. Also goes to show, for those florists just starting, you can get by on something more budget friendly to begin with. (I will tell you that investing $1800 into used cooled in 2016 was the most expensive and scary investment I had made up to that point!).

I went out on a limb for specialty tulips this year. I fell in love with the parrots, the doubles, the fringes, the lily types, and so on last year. After connecting with Cassie, owner of Jig-Bee farm – an incredible tulip grower who helped bring some of the most stunning stems I’ve seen to the Seasonal Flower Project in spring 2021 – we began planning for a late winter Tulip Share! It was a lot of fun. We both learned a lot: mainly, that it is tricky to time the flowers of forced tulips! But we got some gorgeous flowers, and about 50 takers. We’ll see if there is appetite for it again next year!

Kind of self-explanatory:) So hard to believe that the original start of this weekly project to bring the choicest, most unique locally grown flowers to New Yorkers was 2 years ago. In Year 1, we delivered everyone’s bouquet door to door. Appropriate for the height of the pandemic, but not sustainable for us. In Year 2, we moved to a classic CSA model by partnering with small, neighborhood businesses. I cold-emailed over 30 spots, and found enthusiastic partners in about 20 neighborhoods. After 4 or so months, we dropped a few sites due to low enrollment, and stayed strong with about 15 through November 2021. We partnered on bringing flowers on Valentines’ Day and Mother’s Day as well! It was really wonderful to get to know so many more New Yorkers in 2021 through local flowers, and extra special to build relationships with so many special small business owners.

When I emailed our hosts in December 2021, I was surprised and delighted that ALL of them were happy to continue hosting in 2022, making the process of re-launching that much easier. Having Sophie Bromberg return (see above, lower right corner, pictured with Paige Week 1). We’ve added a couple new pick-up sites as well, in Central Harlem and Ridgewood! (See them all here). Another exciting change for this year was returning to a single size bouquet (ahhh, simplicity) but introducing a lot more flexibility in duration and frequency of the subscriptions (there went the simplicity…:) I think in general, people being able to choose their start date has been very positive. And we just really love getting to send so many unique, cool seasonal flowers our members’ way! Running the “SFP” has been a joy – and has helped make my life / business much more sustainable. Taking on weekday work means having to fill less weekends with events, and more time for rest and play with friends and family.

I honestly think this is the update I’m most excited about. I think Paige would have to agree, although I am beyond stoked she joined the team full time, and I think she’s pretty pleased to be here:) We are both just feeling so much more at ease and at home in the studio now that we have what we call our “kitchen” (made from a mash-up of upcycled furniture from the Big Reuse and Ikea’s “As-Is” section) and a brand new shiny workbench, perfect for storing our many kraft paper bouquet sleeves, and for spreading out tissue to wrap up hand-tied bouquets.

Other mini milestones thus far:
-Getting bangs (again)
-Finally teaching myself how to make a reel on Instagram
-Seeing Elton John (major bucket list item, and at MSG no less, and yes! he did play the Dua Lipa remix – and he clearly loves it. So cute).
-Getting Covid for the first time, and boy was that second line obvious.
-Turning 41 in sun in Santa Fe a couple of weeks ago in the company of a soul sister and her family; had been over 2 years since I’d seen her.
-Getting a facial and portraits taken – also firsts! (Can’t wait to share these soon!)

Hands processing Icelandic poppies salmon Molly Oliver Flowers


My biggest take-away this season has just been reflection – constant reflection – on the life I’m living now, versus the life I lived for the first 8 years of MOF.

For anyone new here, I stepped away from farming/teaching in 2019. From 2012 – 2019, I worked “part-time” managing a 1 acre urban educational farm, and “part-time” on MOF events (roughly 25-30/year). They were really more like full time; I just got paid part-time.

While ultimately stepping back from farming was the right reset for me, and what created the space I needed to grow the business enough to hire employees, it was a difficult adjustment; one that arguably took me years to make. My body and spirit loved to work outdoors 75% of the year, and also, I had self-identified as a farmer since 2005. I had a skeptical view of the floral design world, and didn’t identify as a “florist” for a really long time. I was a total locavore – loved supporting small business and buying (or growing as it were) my food locally. I didn’t think of florist shops or supermarkets as places to find locally grown product. I didn’t think of floristry as a place to put my energy for the good of the world. I was younger, idealistic and basically near-sighted.

At the same time, I also knew I was part of a grassroots movement to re-grow local farming and local economies around sustainable agriculture, and to me, that included flowers. This was why I wanted to incorporate flowers into the crop plan at the farm I managed. I believed they had a place in the movement to re-green the city and develop more holistic, regenerative and locally/community-based agriculture projects.

In a way, I started MOF because I saw a void. On a hunch, I thought if there were people out there who cared about supporting local small business, local economies and sustainable farming, there had to be people looking to connect with locally grown flowers. A friend helped me set up a WordPress website and suddenly, I was selling my services as a designer.  I never created a plan for any of this; I had just followed my bliss. And so, years into it, I found myself spinning on a hampster wheel I didn’t know how to get off. I had created a 2-headed farmer-florist monster. Managing a farm meant getting up at 5:30 three days a week, being on the farm by 7 and leading and teaching till 4 or 5. And then also, 2-3 weekends a month I was getting up at 4 or 5, shopping for flowers on 28th street or the Union Sq Greenmarket and design and delivering weddings, all day Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday.

Sound crazy? It was. I worked so much, at two jobs I really loved, but one that I couldn’t imagine my life without. People would often say to me, “I don’t know how you do it all.” It always felt like a backhanded compliment. I felt like a failure for not knowing how to make enough money to live and still have weekends off. Long story short, a capitalism problem became my personal flaw.

Everything in my life – my teaching, relationships with students and my partnership and most of all my mental health were all really suffering by year 6 or 7 of this. I knew by year 4 (2016) that I needed a lifeline but I couldn’t seem to delegate or hire help at Molly Oliver the way it came so easily to me in my farming/teaching job.  I struggled to see how I could keep someone employed full time, or even pay for a part-time person.

In hindsight, it was partially because I had no formal education in floral design – or business, for that matter. As a farmer, I’d had all kinds of apprenticeships and both formal and informal education. I was confident in my skill set, earned over 10 years, and felt empowered to pass on what I’d learned. In floristry I was always guessing myself and in some ways I still am. How could I teach someone else when I didn’t feel confident in my own skills? But I have now down over 200 weddings and can safely say I know a thing or two. 

Of course, stepping away from farming created the space I needed to really breathe life into MOF. And to have better work/life balance. It was incredibly difficult to walk away from the work of selecting, planting, harvesting plants and tending to land. But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have finally found the energy to really shape Molly Oliver Flowers into what it is still in the process of becoming. I’m still finding my voice, still growing my skillset, and now, learning how to be an actual boss (another title I’m incredibly wary of, but that I know I need to own and understand how to embody in a progressive way). I miss the daily movement of farming, but the now 25 year old injury that led to a titanium rod in my back does not. I am just trying to develop a new skill, called intentionally exercising. (I used to walk 12,000 steps a day without thinking #farmlife).

I share all this for anyone out there who is thick in the mud of a startup phase, not knowing if you will ever be able to step out of the trenches. You can and you will. My advice? Even if you don’t feel ready, hire someone VERY part time to start. Identify the tasks that you could most easily train someone to do. If you’re a florist this could be processing flowers, customer service, website updating, or proposal writing. Pay someone 5, 10 or 15 hours a week. Start small. Give yourself a little more bandwidth, to be able to fine tune your bookkeeping or make calls to important partners or vendors. If you have enough time to take care of the business’s financial health, you’ll eventually have more business and more of the business you want. And then you will be able to hire that person part or full time.

Now, at 41, it really means a lot to me to be able to carve out 2 weekends a month to rest or see friends or do something out of the ordinary. That recharge keeps me going.

I am really, really excited to see what else evolves this year, for myself and for Molly Oliver Flowers. Thanks so much for reading, supporting and following along.

Till summer,


April 28, 2022 — Molly Culver

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