A lake, a pond, 25 acres and lots of wildlife. It sounds like an idyllic scene you'd find in a painting, but it's actually where Alaska Perfect Peony is located. Owner Rita Jo Shoultz tells us: "We have a company in this somewhat remote area with lots of young families. We hire neighborhood kids as soon as they graduate from eighth grade. We usually have kids from 14 to 17 years old biking several miles to work every day. Some of these kids stay with us through high school and college and one still works after 11 years, on her days off from her permanent year round job."
Often this is the first job for these kids. "It can be interesting but totally rewarding", Rita Jo says. "We have several kids and adults with challenges join us and totally enjoy seeing them progress/blossom working outdoors with our beautiful flowers. We are popular with the parents."
Peonies in the cooler, waiting for delivery
Flowers for frontline workers
Having shipped out the last boxes of Alaska peonies to Mellano, Rita Jo says they've had their best season ever both for growing and marketing. However, there are always flowers that are not quite perfect enough to ship. Fortunately, those flowers didn't go to waste.
"Four of the kids this year made 150 bouquets with 15 peonies in each one. They put a Floralife food packet with each bouquet and stuffed (literally) them in our beautiful Certified American Grown sleeve", Rita Jo tells us. "The result was very impressive. I spent three days driving them around in our farm vehicle as they handed out bouquets to front line workers. From the hospital to long term care facilities to the car parts workers. You can imagine the impact on a small town."
Putting the bouquets together
All masked up but still recognizable
Rita Jo and the kids had a routine. "Of course they wore masks, but before they got back in the car one person opened a window and gave them a squirt of hand sanitizer. We rehearsed how they would approach and what they would say. It turns out their high school requires community service before they can graduate, so that's one more benefit. The local newspaper was one of our stops. Everyone was really excited when the weekly paper came out with their pictures. All masked up but still recognizable."
Off for the ride home. Rita Jo says there were lots of comments from drivers about the kids on East road on their bikes with their peonies every evening.