Heading west past Avon, S.D., you’ll see rows of cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes and more. Shades of green grow across the city block, backed by a large high tunnel greenhouse and bright red barn. Next, you’ll see two more greenhouses, one connected to a small building. Bright colors peek out from the greenhouse windows: purple petunias, bright yellow marigolds, pink hibiscus trees and red geraniums. You’ve found Mensch Retail Greenhouse and The Flower Shop.
Vern and Carol Tolsma grew up in Avon and married in 1975. The couple started gardening in a 20×20’ section of their front yard. Neighbors were invited to take whatever produce they needed and – if they wanted – leave some change. Vern and Carol started the retail greenhouse in 1994 and added The Flower Shop a few years later.
Forty-three years after starting in the front yard, Vern manages two and a half acres of garden space while Carol creates beautiful flower arrangements for weddings, birthdays, funerals and everyday events. Vern and Carol’s trusty dog, Digger, helps by greeting patrons at their car doors.
Although Vern and Carol didn’t achieve their childhood dreams – Carol wanted to be a fashion designer and Vern a farmer – they did take on similar roles.
“We both got what we wanted, with a twist,” Carol said.
And it’s a good thing, too.
Vern and Carol’s business has provided jobs for numerous teenagers and young adults – myself included. The Flower Shop grants opportunities to learn beyond arranging: through Vern’s “home economics” classes and Carol’s customer service lessons, workers learn to build better relationships and bake pie from scratch (and then workers get to eat pie, so win-win).
Outside in the garden with Vern, workers learn the best crops for each season, the importance of pulling weeds, the distance apart crops need to be to grow the best, the ins and outs of high tunnels, and ways to better your sass.
“I just like playing in the dirt,” Vern said.
On slower days, Carol teaches flower arranging to her workers. A third-generation florist, Carol’s even-tempered attitude and designer’s eye combine to create beautiful arrangements that never fail to leave receivers breathless.
Carol finds special significance in funeral arrangements.
“It’s the last thing I can do for somebody,” Carol said.
With a 4.9-star Facebook rating, one might expect Vern and Carol to be inflexible; however, the couple is easygoing and adaptable. The Tolsmas are willing to let their workers take on tasks such as flower arranging or planting, and never lose their patience.
On a young employee’s first Valentine’s Day in The Flower Shop, as customers rushed around for bouquets, vans were loaded with deliveries and arrangements were positioned in the flower coolers, the employee knocked over a red rose bouquet. The young blonde had damaged the roses and spilled water through the flower cooler. Panicked and nervous about a scolding, the girl scooped up the roses and rushed to Vern, expecting anger.
Vern simply informed her to take the bouquet to Carol as he silently cleaned up the mess in the cooler, never reprimanding her. The employee – guess who! – never forgot.
Vern and Carol operate one of few year-round greenhouses, which keeps them busy at all times of the year. In the spring, the seed packing and planting begin, while prom corsages, Easter lilies, wedding flowers, Memorial Day arrangements and Mother’s Day bouquets are prepared.
When July 4th hits, the season of vegetable picking and canning begins. Vern and Carol’s acclaimed pickle recipe brings tasters from miles around Bon Homme County, all eager for a product they trust from people they can relate to.
As the school year begins and picking ends, Vern and Carol move into winter days of holiday gift shoppers and, after a few months, back to Valentine’s Day.
Vern and Carol’s work in the greenhouse keeps them busy all through the year, but never too busy for their workers. No matter how rushed the day, the couple doesn’t just tell workers what to do – they teach them what to do.
“Vern and Carol are the two best bosses a person could work for,” employee Jill Bertus said. “We probably do more screwing around than actually working, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else – even through the long, hot days of picking and pulling weeds.”
From a 20×20’ plot of land to two and a half acres plus a flower shop, Vern and Carol Tolsma have built a high-quality and high-demand business. More importantly, they created lasting relationships between themselves and their employees, as well as close friendships among employees.
During my two years at The Flower Shop, I usually viewed my job as pickle making and flower arranging; now, I realize that Vern and Carol planted seeds of patience and adaptability.
There’s more to Vern and Carol than just playing in the dirt.