What does it mean when a Dutch bulb company checks out your small, local flower farm’s website? “Maybe they wondered who was ordering 80,000 tulip bulbs,” laughs Jenny Elliott, co-owner with Luke Franco of Tiny Hearts Farm in Copake, N.Y.
But maybe there’s more to it. Except for a few Dutch enclaves in the Midwest that hold annual “Tulip Time” festivals, as well as a handful of farms in the Pacific Northwest, tulips—the full-grown flowers sold at markets and florists—are still mostly sourced from producers in the Netherlands (alas, 90 percent of the world’s cut tulips are grown in the Netherlands and 80 percent of the bulbs originate there).
In an age when more and more people are wanting to know how and where their meat is raised and produce is harvested—and becoming more conscious of the carbon footprint their choices are leaving—it’s easy to understand the growing popularity of locally grown flowers that aren’t shipped across the globe. Hence the tulips from Tiny Hearts.
Indeed, Franco and Elliott take caring for the environment one step further by raising organic flowers using sustainable farming practices that help to enrich the land. This makes every floral bouquet not only an extraordinarily beautiful gift but also a thoughtful gesture both the giver and recipient can feel good about.
How two classically trained musicians who were living in New York City ended up running a 35-acre flower farm and shop in upstate N.Y. is not your run-of-the-mill tale. “I found living in Brooklyn so stressful I bought dirty turnips at the Union Square farmers’ market just to smell the earthy soil,” Elliott says, explaining she wanted to leave her day job and try something new, having loved gardening as a young girl (she used to order dahlia catalogs just to look at the pictures). When she saw an ad for a farm internship on an educational farm in Westchester County, she told Franco, “I’m going, with or without you.” Luckily, he followed. (Franco was and is a jazz guitarist who performs regularly.)
A few years later (in 2011), after farming vegetables and completing the internship, the couple teamed up with the Westchester Land Trust’s Farmland Match Program, pairing would-be farmers who lacked land with property owners who had a few acres to spare. Upon learning that a one-acre pasture was available on Dick Button’s 50-acre Ice Pond Farm in North Salem, Mass., Elliott immediately applied. “I was a huge Winter Olympics fan,” she notes, “and I thought, obviously, this was meant to be!”
And so Tiny Hearts Farm began, a small vegetable and flower farm on an acre of land that hadn’t been turned in 30 years. They installed a rainwater catchment system but, without potable water, had limited vegetable-growing options. In addition, they quickly discovered that it was difficult to sell at the local farmers’ markets as vegetable growers but that people were eager for more flower vendors. “We switched to flowers exclusively in our third year,” Luke notes. “But there’s a steep learning curve with growing flowers, especially if you want to specialize in harder-to-grow varieties, so we knew we needed to focus to make it work.”
In the spring of 2014, they signed a long-term lease on a 22-acre farm in Columbia County and moved to Copake, becoming part of the new Copake Agricultural Center, where they expanded their space and improved their infrastructure. They now have 35 acres, a house on the edge of the field, a barn for packing orders, four greenhouses, more equipment, two delivery vans, and a robust team of dedicated employees who are equally passionate about flowers and invested in becoming great farmers and designers. They opened the Tiny Hearts Farm studio/showroom on Route 23 in the happening hub of Hillsdale in May of 2018.
In the early years, fencing, equipment, financing, and housing were huge challenges, but they were nothing compared to the chaos that erupted when the pandemic hit in 2020. One of their biggest wedding seasons to date, with 25 weddings booked, disappeared overnight with the immediate forced cancellation of all gatherings. Relationships with other floral designers and wholesalers halted. “We had planned our seeds and plants well ahead of that spring but suddenly had no outlet for selling them,” they explain. “We were afraid to open our shop and had to reconfigure everything.”
So, the pair got creative and developed an online store on their website, listing every flower available for preorders or CSA (community supported agriculture) accounts. They posted on Instagram and sent out a weekly email newsletter. Elliott started a YouTube channel with virtual tours to keep clients connected to what was available on the farm and updated on weather patterns and challenges. The result? To their surprise, business bloomed. As more regular activities in people’s daily lives were put on hold, demand for their flowers grew.
As Franco recalls, one customer got emotional over the phone when she learned they were sold out of her favorite flower. “She told me it was such a dark time, she really needed our flowers to give her joy. The bouquets seemed to be a bright spot in our community.”
That realization gave them an even stronger sense of what they were doing and why. If you pop into the flower shop on any given Thursday, Friday, or Saturday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., you will see the meaning flowers continue to hold in the local community—for expressing love, joy, or empathy, for honoring achievement or loss. They elevate any occasion, lift spirits, and deepen connections. Elliott and her team know this instinctively and use that sense of purpose to create spontaneous, whimsical arrangements as unique as the people and occasions they honor.
When asked how they define success, Franco pauses. “Our vision has always been to create a beautiful place to live and work, and to spread joy to the community through what we do. That goal has never changed, but I think our means of reaching that goal keep changing because there are so many variables in any given season. If you stay open to new directions, when opportunities open up, you can walk through the door.” Each step in their journey has shaped their identity, helping them continually evolve personally and professionally.
“Last year (our 11th year) was a huge milestone for us, the first time we were able to continue growing into the winter season,” Franco says. Restoring the “bulbodome”—a 125-foot covered, temperature-controlled space connected to a 50-foot heated greenhouse—was an extraordinary feat, creating the ideal place for storing and forcing bulbs. With the extra effort to grow more flowers earlier, Elliott and Franco were able to maintain five year-round employees for the first time. Their staff grew to 12 employees this summer (including cutters, drivers, farm crew members, equipment operators, and shopkeepers). Sons George and St. Clair continue to help as well, and are often seen riding the tractor or pinching peony buds to give them the “marshmallow” test.
This winter, they hope to have heirloom chrysanthemums through early December, followed by forced amaryllis and paperwhites. If all goes according to plan, the first tulips will be ready for picking in early February.
What makes Tiny Hearts Farm unique? Practicing sustainable farming, building a team spirit, selling what is in season at the time, and committing to providing an ever-wider palette of high-quality flowers all add to the allure.
But the real key? “We run a beautiful flower shop, we sell to wholesalers and CSA members, and we create beautiful event flowers,” Franco says. “The way we do this is also intentionally simple.”
To avoid expensive consulting services, they provide a transparent online a la carte menu of gorgeous, in-season floral arrangements that allows customers to choose what they want and know exactly what it will cost (including the delivery fee).
Stepping into the flower store is every bit as magical as springtime returning to Narnia. The light-filled space, perfume of peonies and poppies, and soft jazz are an immediate lift to weekend errand running. Online customers may miss out on the “Shop Around the Corner” vibe but are equally delighted by the calming experience of working with Elliott and her team, who believe in “letting the flowers speak for themselves—the odd twist of a stem, a nodding head, appreciating each plant for what it is at the time.”
Samara Rahmlow, who chose Tiny Hearts Farm for a summer dinner, raved: “We provided minimal direction other than color palette, and the flowers were GORGEOUS!!! They used fresh, local, and in-season flowers which felt authentic… Our guests raved at the beauty.”
The bulbodome and greenhouses are helping Elliott and Franco face the strange weather patterns that are becoming more regular occurrences with climate change. Now they are navigating how to turn a very successful business into a long-term entity. “I think there are three stages of growth—starting the business, the growth spurt once you’re underway, and becoming an established business,” Franco notes. “We’re definitely established now, but we’re living in a house and farming on land that is part of a lease agreement. In order to have a long-term farmstead that we can pass on to our family, we need to purchase land of our own.” Figuring out how and where they do that is the next big challenge. And following the strategy that has carried them this far, they are staying open to new directions so when opportunities open up, they can walk through the door.