Welcome to the flower farm! I promise I will take an ‘after’ photo of this exact spot at some point in the future. Locals familiar with the miracles already achieved by this organization know that a ‘flower farm’ will happen here. Unfortunately, this summer, the popular August Flower Festival can not. What Cheer Flower Farm operations manager Christine Dechichio gave me a tour of the rubble: “It would be really hard for us to throw the festival this year, but we are going to offer other open, free events for people to come on the farm once it’s safe. By the end of this month we’re getting soil to fill in the hole. The contaminated materials were in the building — the soil is fine — so they tore it all out, and we will be able to turn this into farming.”
The folks at the What Cheer Flower Farm had to face facts: The crumbling Colonial Knife Factory, which had added so much atmosphere to the festival setting, was becoming a liability and taking up valuable space. The structure has been demolished and the site is currently being prepared for an expansion of the already sizeable growing beds — the Olneyville version of turning swords into plowshares.
Begun in 2018, the What Cheer Flower Farm is a charitable organization that grows, rescues*, and gives away 100,000 flowers per year from remediated, former factory land in the Olneyville neighborhood. The reclaimed land will bring the overall growing area to about three acres.
They can’t wait to bring back the August festival, with its famous flower wall, but right now the demolition and reclamation projects are taking up their time and resources. In addition to the flowers, organizers had played against the decaying urban setting and surrounding factory ruins with installations, surrealist floral balloon sculptures, and illuminated orbs. People have been asking about the murals; they have been saved and will be repurposed. And they have plans for an open-air art gallery, with art nights on the farm, once the site is safe. We’ll keep you posted.
A press conference was held in May where the magnitude of the undertaking impressed the attending dignitaries. It is amazing to consider what has been done with these former industrial sites through the efforts of energetic visionaries. (ProJo 5.12.23)
It’s taking both grant assistance from the state Department of Environmental Management’s Brownfield program and an ongoing multi-million dollar capital campaign through the Rhode Island Foundation.
The project is “exactly what we want to see in these investments we’ve got with that Brownfield money,” said DEM Director Terrance Gray, comparing it to Riverside Park, the Steel Yard and Farm Fresh RI.
Christine sees the benefits of their mission as two-fold: Not only do the flowers brighten the day of the recipients, but volunteering at the farm gives local residents the chance to donate their time and efforts, meeting new people and taking satisfaction in helping others . . . good for the soul and good exercise. Christine does not view this as a community garden in the conventional sense:
It’s not a park but it is a public garden and we want people to be involved. A lot of people are used to the community garden model where you can go and have your little bed . . . this is truly for the community, not for the individual. When you garden here you’re helping to get these flowers to people who are bedridden, who can’t even leave their house . . . so it really does spread the cheer.
Volunteers are always welcome. Contact information varies depending on whether you want to volunteer, coordinate a donation, or plan an event. The farm is not really “open” right now but call ahead and maybe you can get a look around.
Or just donate some money! They are a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity.
What Cheer Flower Farm, 62 Magnolia Street, 401.830. 0454, (directions)
*In addition to the flowers grown on the site, the organization receives donations from businesses and events. If you have a wedding or funeral coming up and you don’t want those gorgeous, perfectly fresh flowers going to the landfill, contact WCFF. Volunteers will then sort, rebundle, and deliver them to hospices, hospitals, senior services, food pantries, recovery centers, and shelters around the state.
The scope of this project is daunting. (Those hoop houses in the distance kept supplying flower material all winter.)
From the 2019 festival. Colonial Knife was the backdrop. The sun was setting and the grown-ups were coming out.