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Meet Jessi Sawl of Elkton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessi Sawl.

Hi Jessi, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today.
I’m Jessi, the farmer-florist and owner of Shady Spring Gardens. Shady Spring started with just a tiny garden plot in my front yard back in 2019. Due to a major ankle injury, I was on medical leave from my full-time job as a speech-language pathologist. I had a lot of time to reflect on my life as I elevated my leg on the couch for months. Looking back, it’s so obvious now, but I was so stressed and unhappy with how my life was going. I was never one who knew what I wanted to be “when I grew up” and chose a college major that I felt would be a stable career, not putting passion or happiness at the top of my priority list. I have always been the type of person that has just pushed through challenges with my head down to get to the end goal, thinking there would be some light and relief at the end of my 7 years of college, and it would all work out. But I never seemed to be able to reach it. I truly enjoy helping others and am so grateful for what my role as a therapist has offered to those in need. But at the end of the day, I would come home depleted and still feel like something was missing in my life.

One day, while on the couch scrolling through the internet, trying to take my mind off my ankle, I came across a link to Floret. Floret is a well-known flower farm in Skagit Valley in Washington State. I can’t explain the feeling when I first learned of Floret; it was more than just being fascinated by the stunning pictures of lush flower fields or beautiful bouquets. It connected me to a new world that I never imagined even existed.

Something told me to buy her book Cut Flower Garden and start growing. I spent hours and hours pouring through the pages, ordering starting supplies, planning out the front corner of my yard, and figuring out how to start my little garden, all while still on crutches. At that moment, I found passion, beauty, and the possibility that excited me in a way I had never really felt about anything else.

Flower farming is the absolute hardest thing I have ever chosen to do in my life. Knowing all that I know now after years of experience, I was very naïve and had NO idea how difficult it would be to grow flowers here in Florida, let alone run a successful flower farm. But if I had known that then, I don’t think I would have had the guts to do it. After scooting around in the dirt and planting my first seeds, I was hooked. I’ll never forget the first flower that bloomed, a small white anemone. When the first spring season of the garden was in full bloom, I never would have imagined the impact it would have on not just me but the community around me. A few people started reaching out to me asking to purchase bouquets, and I couldn’t wrap my head around how these flowers were making such an impact. We had entered the pandemic’s start, and I felt like we were all now searching for something.

It brought me to the realization that flowers are another way for me to help others by spreading connection, kindness, and joy. I promised myself that I would keep putting all I had into growing that garden space and bringing more beauty to the world, that I wouldn’t let my self-doubt or fear of failure keep me from this little dream. I decided in 2021 to step away from my full-time job and jump in, and Shady Spring Gardens set off.

Shady Spring was the street my sister, best friend, and I used to live on together. It was one of my happiest times, and I wanted to honor those memories and our friendship in some way. Now, between my original home garden and the expanded growing space next door. I organically grow seasonal, specialty cut flowers on approximately 2000 combined sq. ft. by using sustainable practices, offering bouquet subscriptions, local deliveries, and floral design services for small weddings and events.

Can you talk to us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Definitely not a smooth road. There are many struggles in farming – from planning at least 6 months in advance to ensuring your crop schedule is organized each season, meticulously transforming poor Florida soil, battling bugs, plant disease, and the elements, the list goes on.

I am a one-woman, first-generation farmer (still weird calling myself a farmer!), and I don’t have any large or fancy farming equipment so things take a bit longer to do here. Just learning over the years how to simplify and improve each season, making the most out of my small growing space, and learning from all the failures has been quite the experience.

Also, learning how to navigate the small business owner world, wearing all the hats, and managing/improving my self-limiting habits has been a bumpy road—learning when to ask for help and when to limit the amount I choose to take on at once has been a game changer in the past year.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I am a farmer-florist who organically grows specialty cut flowers for retail and a limited number of wholesale customers here at my home gardens in Elkton, FL. I offer seasonal bouquet subscriptions, custom local delivery, DIY and floral design services for small weddings and events. I also specialize in dried, everlasting florals for custom bouquets and events. In every order and design, I try to be as sustainable as possible (no floral foam, using compostable and reusable materials, etc.) and use what I grow and supplement with other locally/regionally grown products.

By supporting and choosing seasonal flowers as local as possible, you’re getting the freshest, longest-lasting blooms and supporting the local economy, fair labor, and environmental health.

I am proud not only for starting this venture and making passion and genuine kindness the forefront of my business while being mindful of the environment and my impact on this Earth, but I’m also proud of the connection this has made with the community. I am also grateful to have been able to organize a few small fundraisers and floral donations in the past few years. Last Thanksgiving, we raised over $500 for the National Alzheimer’s Association by donating floral posies to local nursing home residents. I’ve also participated in Flowers for Hope, a group of florists raising money for women and children refugees.

What was your favorite childhood memory?
I was lucky enough to have both of my grandmothers alive growing up. One lived next door to me, and the other lived across the street. I have wonderful memories of walking through a wooded trail and riding just across the street to visit them. One grandma even taught me how to ride a bike. She’s a healthy 90 years old today and still lives next door.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Evergold Photgraphy Ellymaria Photos Sarah Cebulski Photography

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