What was once an empty patch of dirt now houses more than 16,000 sunflowers, each one with its head turned toward the sun, looking at the bright side — how Garret Conway did last spring.
When Conway, senior law and public policy major at Indiana University Bloomington, answered a phone call in March and heard his internship was rescinded, this empty patch of dirt became the only thing keeping him from “twiddling his thumbs” in boredom in the midst of a pandemic.
“At that point, a lot of the internships, especially the legal internships, had already been recruited,” Conway said. “It was harder with COVID-19.”
Conway said he was left to his own devices to “fill in the gap” his summer had become, so he turned to his family’s farm — a horse ranch, an empty barn and a wide-open field.
While Conway and his family discussed what to do to lift people’s spirits during an unusual summer, he said, the idea of turning their property into a flower farm received a lot of positive feedback from the Cowan community.
“Me and my dad were talking about how we could be more self-sustaining here at the farm, and we were just sort of wondering what we could do from here,” Conway said. “[The flowers] brought life back to the barn. It’s a great second life that this barn has.”
The Conways’ old horse ranch is now known as Barnside Blooms, and while Conway said he and his family have had gardens in the past, they have been nothing compared to the scale of their garden now.
“We had like five tomato plants,” Conway said. “We’re not what you would think of as your typical farm family.”
Because the Conways already owned a large enough property to start a flower farm, as well as a barn to work out of, Conway said their overall startup cost was relatively low. The family’s largest investment was in seeds.
“It was a privilege for us to be able to do that because not everyone has access to a property already,” Conway said.
Since Barnside Bloom’s grand opening Fourth of July weekend, more than 4 million people have seen the colorful flowers Conway and his family have grown.
On July 6, Conway posted a clip on his TikTok captioned, “I started a flower farm and these are my ladies.” Since then, Barnside Blooms has been visited by people from Indianapolis to Arkansas.
“Our first legitimate customers were three girls that came from Indianapolis because they saw me on TikTok,” Conway said.
It took 18 hours for Conway and his flower farm to go viral on the app. Now, he has more than 44,000 TikTok followers to advertise Barnside Blooms to, and the farm only continues to grow.
“The TikTok is successful because of the flower business, and the flower business is successful because of the TikTok,” Conway said. “It’s a positive feedback cycle that, at this point, is almost self-sustaining.”
Divine Vasquez-Jones, Ball State junior fashion merchandising and apparel design major and Barnside Blooms employee, said she was one of the farm’s first official visitors besides family, friends and neighbors of the Conways.
While searching for a safe activity to enjoy while social distancing this summer, Vasquez-Jones said, she developed a “flower-picking kick” and learned about Barnside Blooms. She visited the flower farm three weeks in a row before the Conways offered her a job.
“The flower field was just so beautiful and healthy, and the affordable prices kept me coming back,” Vasquez-Jones said. “I would rather pick my flowers and make my own bouquet of healthy flowers than go to the store. I would rather support a local business than a big corporation.”
While Vasquez-Jones has only been working at Barnside Blooms for a little over a month, she said the Conways have already left her in charge of the barn for a day.
“I love working there,” Vasquez-Jones said. “It’s just a job that you don’t think of as a job. I get to meet people, talk to them and explain my passion for the flower farm and get them excited about it.”
Barnside Blooms is more than just a sunflower patch. The farm offers Barnside Blooms apparel, locally-crafted glass vases, live entertainment and honey harvested on the farm’s property.
Vick Conway, Garrett Conway’s father and co-owner of Barnside Blooms, collects honey from the farm’s hives as often as possible for visitors to purchase from inside the barn.
“We just can’t keep it in stock,” Vick Conway said.
Besides a seemingly endless sunflower field and high-demand honey, Barnside Blooms also has patches of zinnias, marigolds, cosmos and cactus blossoms in their flower field of about an acre, according to Garrett Conway’s TikTok profile. But his favorite flower he grows, Conway said, is celosia.
“They’re all kinds of neon, fluorescent colors,” he said. “Pink, purple, red, yellow, green … It’s hard for me to describe what they look like.”
Visitors have the opportunity to take a bucket and clippers out into the field to create their own bouquet, which is wrapped up at the front counter and tied together in a bow of twine. The price of each bouquet depends on the amount of flowers and blooms cut.
“It’s kind of hard to be in a bad mood when you're cutting sunflowers,” Conway said. “I think what Barnside Blooms means to the community is something that they can look to and say, ‘We’re just going to get out, we’re going to focus on the positive things in life and have a good time with our family and our loved ones.’”
Vasquez-Jones described the barn as “a home away from home.” She said it is a place for her to forget reality and let herself relax.
“Barnside Blooms is just a little light to me,” Vasquez-Jones said. “People can get caught up in such dark things in this world, and I just love how positive of an atmosphere the farm is. It’s just that bright light that everyone needs right now.”
Garrett Conway said turning his family’s property into a flower farm has not only taught him good work ethic, but reconnected him with his family and the Cowan community
“There’s a neighbor who lives about 2 miles down the road from us, and next month, she’ll turn 100,” Conway said. “We took her some flowers one day, and she sent us a thank you card a couple of weeks later. It was just so cool because she knew the varieties of flowers and their Latin names. She was incredibly knowledgeable about gardening, and she was giving us tips and tricks, and I think that, for us, really grounded us.”
While the Conways have seen success with Barnside Blooms, running a flower farm doesn’t come easy. Behind the scenes of the company, Conway and his family continue to learn lessons that only help to make Barnside Blooms better.
“Not everything is going to be a success right away,” Conway said. “You’re going to have struggles, and you’re going to have hills to climb, but at the end of the day, everything that we are going through … is only going to make our family stronger and provide us with lessons to go forward in life with those things learned.”