Rhonda’s research led her to decide that operating a flower farm was possible. The couple began with a small patch of flowers at the end of the driveway on their farm near Spencer, Indiana. But it soon blossomed into something neither Rhonda nor Ken expected.
During that first summer, Rhonda and Ken gave away over 300 bouquets to those who were in need of a pick-me-up amid trying times. Bringing joy to their family, friends, and community was the goal, Rhonda said.
After seeing how much good a small patch of flowers can do, Rhonda and Ken went all in. They moved some of their livestock off their northwest pasture and made it the flower field. A few varieties soon turned into over 100 varieties of perennials, sunflowers and other annuals, tulips, dahlias, berries, fruit trees, pumpkins and much more.
“As we started talking about it, we said, ‘Oh we’re going to do something 10 times as big as the first year’,” Ken said. “It has probably ended up being 25 times that big. We just kind of jumped in with both feet.”
The quantity of flowers that Sunset Ridge Berries and Blooms produces requires a lot of planning and attention to detail. For example, they carefully plant a new patch of sunflowers every week during the spring and summer to ensure some are always blooming right up to the first frost. Fruit trees need ongoing care and maintenance as they require multiple years of growth before producing fruit.
Rhonda says they also pay special attention to what interests their farm visitors. Popularity and performance dictate what varieties get planted for the next year.
The possibilities for customers have grown along with the farm. Visitors can now pick their own bouquets, schedule photo sessions, order custom bouquets or attend events on the farm. Past events have ranged from an outdoor concert to farm tours to pumpkin bouquet classes. Sunset Ridge Berries and Blooms also offers a flower subscription service during summer and early fall. As their fruit trees and berries mature, they’ll expand their offerings.
With so much going on, Rhonda and Ken lean on support from their family to keep things moving. Rhonda’s mother, Tresa Sips, helps plant, harvest and run the U-Pick sessions.
Rhonda’s sister, Doris Scully, also has a green thumb, planting flowers and herbs of her own. During one event, Doris made a lavender lemonade from her plants and educated attendees on the uses of lavender. Doris’ husband, Dave, and sons, Mike, Sean and Ryan, also help when needed.
On Ken’s side of the family, his sister, Bernadette Thomas, helped get the business into farmers markets and other vendor opportunities. His brothers, Bill and Danny Schafer, continue to be the farm's “construction crew,” helping with building projects.
Rhonda and Ken's three daughters — Morgan, Brooke and Kara— pitch in when they’re back home, helping set up events, delivering subscription flowers and with other tasks.
Like any business, operating a flower farm has its obstacles. Ken remembers their first year planting pumpkins as one of their more challenging seasons.
“It was frustrating because we wanted to get them planted by Fathers’ Day,” Ken said. “But the ground was all mud. We were just moving mud out of the way and covering seed back up with mud. It was a little discouraging. I thought it would be a miracle if they grew. Then they just went crazy.”
Another challenge the farm faces annually is rotation. To be good stewards of the land, the Schafers rotate their plants each year. This helps reduce fungal diseases and protects soil health. To protect their soil and sustain their operation, they also compost, soil test and use straw beds to protect soil from erosion.
“We want our family farm to be able to continue and be the livelihood for our family,” Rhonda said. “It’s important that we appreciate what God’s given us and that we try to improve it. We were raised to make something a little better. That’s what we try to do with the flower field on the farm – just make it a little better."
To learn more about Sunset Ridge Berries and Blooms, visit its website, Facebook or Instagram.