On Thursday evenings, Abby Vernier fills her vintage Volkswagen bus with colorful bouquets and heads to a food truck event in her Pensacola, Fla., neighborhood to sell fresh flowers.
Vernier, an eighth-grade student at Beulah Middle School and a member of Beulah Academy FFA, has been growing flowers and designing bouquets for the past two years. She started planting bulbs and sowing seeds in the school greenhouse and working alongside her FFA advisor and agriculture education instructor, Leanne Jenkins, to create colorful bouquets.
“I love nature and all types of flowers,” Vernier says. “I also liked the meaning behind it, that we were making these flower bouquets for someone who really needed it at that time or as a token of appreciation.”
Jenkins was surprised by Vernier’s passion for floriculture and her floral design skills.
“You can teach a lot of things, but you can’t teach an eye; you either have it, or you don’t, and Abby was just a natural,” Jenkins says. “You could tell it brought her joy, and she just developed this passion.”
In 2022, Vernier decided to turn her passion into a business. She started the Viloula Flower Bus and manages all aspects of the business, from growing flowers — or purchasing them from the wholesale market — to designing and selling bouquets.
Running a floral design business has taught Vernier a lot about pricing analytics and assessing customer demand. She knows that flowers of certain colors sell better than others and some flowers, no matter how beautiful, are too expensive to include in bouquets. Vernier has also learned a lot about postharvest handling, including the importance of trimming stems and adding white vinegar and sugar to the water to help the flowers last longer.
After each event, Vernier analyzes which flowers, colors, and price points were the most popular and uses that information to plan future events. All these lessons made it the perfect supervised agricultural experience (SAE).
“Miss Jenkins thought it would be a great SAE,” Vernier recalls. “I thought it really would because it’s all about agriculture and production and selling.”
Vernier wanted to make sure other FFA members could experience the joys of growing flowers. She created the role of greenhouse manager, in which she works alongside younger students, offering encouragement and direction.
“Our school greenhouse has just taken off, and we’ve made so much money off of plants that we’ve grown in the greenhouse,” Jenkins says. “It’s just really cool to see Abby taking ownership of what we’re doing; it’s just a neat, full-circle experience.”
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