Lead Dawg: Mandy Rovolis O'Shea
Growing a sustainable dream
Mandy Rovolis O’Shea builds her business on flower power
In 2012, Mandy Rovolis O’Shea (BSA – Horticulture ‘03) and her husband, Steve O’Shea, were living and working in California, trying to make their dream of an organic produce farm a reality. They’d been searching for land for more than four years when they found the perfect place — more than 3,000 miles away — in Comer, Georgia. They put in an offer sight unseen, moved back to Rovolis O’Shea’s home state and established 3 Porch Farm.
They’ve been building on their dream ever since.
Mandy O’Shea’s background working on farms while a student at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and afterward in California combined with Steve O’Shea’s business and building skills to create the Certified Naturally Grown flower and fruit farm on 9 acres in Madison County, just northeast of Athens, Georgia.
They specialize in growing local, seasonal flowers — ranunculus, anemones, tulips, daffodils and peonies in the spring; zinnias, cosmos, rudbeckia, celosia and lisianthus in the summer; and dahlias, chrysanthemums and amaranth in the fall, among many others. They sell their flowers at farmers markets, market them wholesale to designers, and use them for weddings and events through Moonflower, a floral design studio they established at the farm that incorporates seasonal flowers to create unique, sustainable floral designs for weddings and events.
“We did a few flowers [in the beginning], and they didn’t really sell that well,” Mandy O’Shea said, “but we still knew there was a market there, people just weren’t exposed to it. We decided to go all in. Instead of flowers being kind of an afterthought, we wanted to put it in the front of people’s minds like ‘this could be every day, it doesn’t have to be for a special occasion.’ ” After a few years of selling at the Athens Farmers Market and gaining an enthusiastic following on Instagram, customers became enamored with 3 Porch Farm’s beautiful bouquets and Honeypops, frozen fruit treats they make from the fruit they grow and the honey from the bees they tend.
The farm has nearly 60,000 followers on Instagram @3porchfarm, something they credit for doubling their business and bringing in buyers from out of state, according to Steve O’Shea. But for Mandy O’Shea, who does the behind-the-scenes posts and updates, it’s more than just promoting their products, it’s a way of telling their story and connecting to followers.
“A lot of our followers are in Athens and Atlanta,” she said. “They love getting a glimpse of who’s working for us. Our farm is our community. It helps [customers] to see who they’re supporting. That’s important to us.”
As the word spread other selling opportunities quickly opened up.
“We knew it was difficult to get into an Atlanta market,” Mandy O’Shea said. “We weren’t necessarily ready for it, but we knew we needed to say yes because we might not get that kind of opportunity again. So that really helped push us even further in diversifying our offerings of flowers even more.”
“So many farms, especially our size, they don’t even break even,” Steve O’Shea said. “That’s why we’re constantly thinking outside the box,” Mandy O’Shea added. She even incorporates foraged foliage and dried flowers into her floral designs.
“A lot of people might see it as ‘that’s a dead plant,’ but we see it as a beautiful texture for holiday wreaths,” she said. “For our lilies, we sell the cut lily, seeds and seed pod. We try to make sure every flower has multiple uses. If it doesn’t sell at market, it’s hung to dry and turned into flower confetti.”
Above all, the O’Sheas strive to put “principles before profit,” as they say in their
motto, referring to their dedication to taking care of their land and people by being carbon neutral and ensuring their five full-time and other part-time employees are paid a fair wage and have good working conditions.
The couple didn’t pay themselves for more than six years, rolling their profits right back into the farm — installing solar panels to provide all of the farm’s electricity and converting their farm vehicles to run on recycled vegetable oil.
Currently, the O’Sheas are incorporating more shade-grown varieties and plan on adding more perennials to help better balance out production.
“We keep thinking we’re done, and then we realize there are more ways to be more efficient,” Steve O’Shea said. “We keep trying to grow in efficiency. And every year we keep finding ways to do that.”
The end goal? To maximize their land use while keeping to their core values. And to slow down a bit and spend a little more time together not solely talking about the farm.
“We have a few thousand hellebores planted out there. It’s going to be a constant evolution of the woods and trying to offer more unique things,” Mandy O’Shea said. “So many people think that growing in the sun is what cut flowers are all about, but we can go even further with a niche and push into the woods and get some unique things.”
By Josh Paine