Valley Bounty: Flowers

Flowers decorate the milestone events in our lives. John LaSalle, the owner of LaSalle Florists in Whately, has been brightening those landmark occasions for a long time.

“It’s one of the gratifying things that we do in our business, that we’re able to provide flowers for all the different communities around,” he said during a recent conversation.

LaSalle Florists was founded when John’s grandfather, James LaSalle, built the business’s first greenhouse in 1934. The farm grows flowers and plant starts in 15,000 square feet of greenhouse space and grows flowers on six acres of farmland. LaSalle’s also has a retail florist business on-site.

Now in its 86th year, LaSalle’s has never faced a challenge quite like coronavirus.

“We work with the University of Massachusetts, Smith College, and the high schools and prep schools in the area. And all their celebrations of the season, graduations, proms, and alumni functions, were cancelled. So that’s really put a hurt on our retail business,” LaSalle said.

The loss of school functions has only been the tip of the iceberg for LaSalle’s. Weddings are being postponed, Memorial Day parties cancelled, and even in-person funerals have been put on hold.

Easter is typically one of LaSalle’s biggest sales days of the year. He provides plants for 35 churches, bringing in up to $20,000 in income for the business. This year, services were cancelled across the Valley and his sales plummeted. But one sliver of light came from the Whately Congregational Church.

“One of the parishioners suggested that people order a plant from us and set them all up at the church,” LaSalle explained. “I took the orders and set it up on Easter morning. It was a nice look out there for the church, I think it brought a nice spirit to the community.”

With the entire flower market flipped on its head, LaSalle is doing his best to ride the waves as they come.

“We’re taking it a week at a time. You just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “We’re planting our annuals for sale, hoping that’s going to happen. And we’re planting our outdoor crops, hoping that functions will be happening in the fall that were postponed in the spring.”

Right now, LaSalle Florists is selling plant starts on-site at their greenhouse in Whately, where they are observing social distancing practices. They also have a variety of locally greenhouse-grown flowers available, including freesia, stock, and lilies.

LaSalle will do home deliveries of pre-ordered flower arrangements along the I-91 corridor, including Northampton, Hadley, Amherst, and Greenfield.

A local flower arrangement can be a great surprise for the mom in your life for Mother’s Day. To find more information about locally grown flowers, and other locally-produced products, visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide.

LaSalle is currently in the process of getting his field-grown flowers planted, including dahlias and sunflowers. They will be ready for harvest after the 4th of July. With that bet on the future, he’s hoping that life will be able to return to some form of normalcy sooner rather than later because providing for community events across the Valley has been the core of his life’s work.

“I’m 68 years old and I’ve been doing this almost all my life,” he said. “All the people I’ve known and worked with all these years, whether it’s weddings, funerals, or hospitalizations, we’re part of their lives. I’m proud of what we do.”

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).

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