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Okemos Flower Microfarm is in the Business of Brightening Days

It’s strange how it always seems to be the delicate and supple things that have the deepest impact on someone’s day.

As the owner of Kindness Blooms, Jessie Gillard knows all too well how the small gesture creates the biggest effect. Since she started the family-owned and -operated flower microfarm at her home in Okemos in 2017, Gillard has come to understand that she doesn’t deal in flowers as much as she does in stories.

“My customers never cease to amaze me. At least 60% of my business is people purchasing flowers for other people,” Gillard said. “They always tell you, ‘This is for my sister. She’s having a health battle, and this will really brighten her day.’ The stories people tell me about who they give the flowers to are incredible.

“Whether it’s making bouquets for someone to honor a person who has passed, or celebrating a birthday, or making donations to people who are going through cancer treatment or who recently lost someone from cancer, being able to provide just a little bit of light for people in their darkest days — to have them know that someone in the community is supporting them, even if they don’t know them — is the best part,” she added. “If I can make a part of someone’s day better, that’s the best part for me.”

Kindness Blooms grows seasonal flowers using sustainable practices. The business provides flowers for events such as weddings, parties and graduations; however, it primarily provides cut flower bouquets at the Meridian Township Farmers Market and through full- and partial-season subscriptions that customers can pick up or have delivered throughout the growing season from June to September.

“With the exception of a few perennials that have been gifted to us or that I’ve picked up over the years, we grow everything from seed in our basement starting in late February. Then, weather permitting, we transfer everything outside,” Gillard said. “Once we have the last frost of the year, we put everything out into the yard. We farm on just about a quarter acre right at our home, and we use succession planting and compact planting methods to get more production out of a small area. That’s where the microfarm designation comes from: using less land to produce more of a crop.”

The idea for Kindness Blooms came a bit out of necessity. When Gillard and her husband moved to Okemos, their new house abutted a wooded area.

“We kept getting an encroachment of weeds where some trees had been taken down — like 6-foot-tall weeds, jungle weeds,” Gillard said. “I don’t like to use chemicals, so I knew I had to plant something there to draw the line between us and the forest.”

She had heard about the concept of microfarming and began learning everything she could about it. The sustainability website Hello Homestead defines microfarming as small-scale, high-yield, sustainable-minded farming, generally conducted by hand in urban or suburban areas.

Growing up in northern Michigan, where roadside stands with fruits or vegetables at the end of someone’s driveway were everyday occurrences, Gillard initially pictured Kindness Blooms as a neighborhood flower stand.

“Even when we were thinking about just a flower stand, our idea was to meet more people and get to know more people and build a sense of community, at least in our neighborhood. It’s grown into more than we ever expected,” Gillard said. “We have just been floored at how many more people we have met, and the customers that have become friends, and the people who seek us out. People stop by the farmers market not just for the flowers but to chat with us. It’s just been so cool to use social media and build up this network of community.”

The other inspiration to start Kindness Blooms for Gillard was just being able to spend time with her hands in the dirt: “There is just something therapeutic about being outside busy growing things that keeps my head above water most days.”

Her children, on the other hand, may have a slightly different opinion about it.

“We have four kids, and they live more of a suburban lifestyle. They’re not as akin to manual labor as I would say we were growing up. I also wanted them to get their hands in the dirt and have some responsibilities and chores related to the farm, which they do. They’re still not happy about it four years in,” said laughed. “But they have some sweat equity in the farm as well, which has been a good experience for them — from my perspective, not theirs.”

Plus, the vast majority of the profits from the seasonal business go directly into college funds.

“Having four kids is not cheap,” Gillard said. “You always have to have a side hustle, and this is a good one to have.”