The Bloom Project

Kelly Perry - 00:00 - You are listening to the Team Flower podcast where we talk about flowers and the people who have dedicated their lives to sharing them with the world. We believe that your work with flowers matters and we're cheering each of the on. Hi, my name's Kelly, and today we're talking with Heidi Berkman, founder of the Bloom Project. The Bloom Project is a volunteer driven nonprofit that provides fresh floral bouquets to hospice and palliative care patients. In this episode, Heidi is sharing the why behind the Bloom Project and her journey in founding the organization. You'll be touched by real life stories of people. The Bloom Project has impacted. We are talking about the best flowers and vases used for donation and some secrets of the trade when it comes to being involved in the community. And this podcast is paid for by Team Flower, an online support community dedicated to educating, conducting and empowering flower levers worldwide. We provide online classes in person events and free weekly resources like this podcast designed to support you in your journey with flowers. Whether you're a professional florist, flower farmer, or just loved flowers, there's space for you here. Come join the party at Well, Heidi, it's so great to have you on the Team Flower podcast today. Welcome. 

Heidi Berkman - 01:09 - Thank you, Kelly. This is great to be here. 

Kelly Perry - 01:11 - Well, tell us a little bit about yourself and why you founded the Bloom Project. What's the story under the story?

Heidi Berkman - 01:20 - Sure. I, um, I've had a personal experience of being with a extended family member years ago in hospice care and this is where I really began thinking a bit about, um, what it would be like to provide an opportunity for people in our community to give back specifically to individuals and end of life care and kind of the thought process behind that, which I very much thought about during our own experience with Ruth was. I remember our time with her was a typical gray, rainy day in Portland, uh, during the winter and not only was the day gray and rainy, but the mood and the feeling in the room as though we were waiting for the inevitable. And I also recognize that I was sitting there with my stepmother and I, and we were there day after day with not a lot of visitors and one day flowers came and we both stopped and paused and talk, talked about the color and the beauty from the outside in. And how much Ruth would have enjoyed these flowers had she been alert and awake to see them. 

Heidi Berkman - 02:43 - But it was one small break in that impending what was to come that really gave us a moment, every reprieve, excuse me, to um, take a moment to talk about the flowers but also memories that are associated with flowers. So that was a very personal example of the impact of flowers in my life and in the life of my extended family. And over the course of time I, I kind of feel like I filed these little bookmarks in my mind away about different pieces of my life and my career and how I want to combine that with service in my community. Um, I've had a love of flowers since I was very young and have enjoyed learning more about flowers throughout my life. And my career, I started out in the hospitality industry is a corporate meeting planner and also did some weddings as well. And so you see flowers around you all the time and oftentimes that are used for just two to three hours and it makes you stop and think, you know, wouldn't it be lovely to see these, uh, the life of these flowers be extended. 

Heidi Berkman - 03:57 - And then I also had the opportunity to learn more about flowers by doing wedding flowers with a friend of mine in Portland when summer. So learning more of the varietals and the mechanics and how you really care for these flowers. Um, it's one thing to admire them, it's another thing to understand them. So as time went on, I think I began thinking about all of these little bookmarks of my hospice experience, my love of flowers, my desire to combine board service and volunteer service and try to hopefully engage and inspire other people to get involved and do something meaningful, uh, not only for another person, but gave them a feeling and a sense of belonging and satisfaction and that they were able to give back in their community. And this is when I started conversations clear back in 2007 around the Bloom Project and talking to others and seeing if they felt the same way that I did about this particular special group of patients and family members that oftentimes are either spending a lot of time alone or alone together because our society does not embrace death and dying very well. 

Heidi Berkman - 05:17 - Um, so as I talk to more people, it definitely started resonating with others. But the one thing that was clear is I want to help. I want to be involved, but I cannot be bedside. It's too hard for him. So really what came about is a desire to get involved in desire to help but also to not be bedside with patients. So from the inception of the Bloom Project, what we decided to do was to talk to hospice and palliative care organizations and share with them what we wanted to do and that was to repurpose a product for good. So bring flowers together, people together and provide this beautiful thoughtful gift to patients that they were caring for. But we wanted to know will your social workers and your nurses and your chaplains and others be willing to take these bouquets to homes and care facilities. 

Heidi Berkman - 06:19 - And at first they were like, well, it's a lovely idea, but we'll see. And I think a lot of that is really understanding how, what their role is in, in their care of these patients, but how busy and how regulated their schedules are based on what they're trying to accomplish in their day. And with the patients when they're with them. There's a lot of detail behind, um, the care that they're giving. And a lot of that is very focused and adding a lot of things into the mix is not always welcomed or well received because it's an. It's more we're asking more of them to do a. So the little bit of feedback that we got is, well, let's try it, but please make sure that these flowers aren't going to create a mess. We're already cleaning up messes in the household or in the in the care facility. 

Heidi Berkman - 07:17 - So we started donating these bouquets via these partners, partner organizations, and all of a sudden we started getting phone calls and emails back saying, when I show up at the door with a bouquet of flowers and the door opens and the look of surprise on the face of someone standing on the other side is welcomed because they're so excited to see the flowers and who are they from? I as a caregiver, no longer feel like the angel of death coming to deliver bad news. I can have a different kind of conversation with a family member and potentially the patient than I have before. It's changing the morale of our teams. It's giving us new opportunities. 

Heidi Berkman - 08:08 - And although we had maybe been a little reticent, we now embrace this amazing gift that you have given us to change conversations, open conversations, and like we talked about before, I can't tell you the number of times that we will hear from patients with Alzheimer's or families with Alzheimer's patients that that might be the little twinkle in the eye, that they will see it, their mother or father and they won't see it again, you know, because they saw the flowers and they recognize them and that's a special gift to be able to give a spouse or a child that's there to witness that. So anyways, long story about the thought, the Bloom Project is truly to find a special group of people that we wanted to bring encouragement to that were maybe not recognized or not remembered. And this has been the core focus and mission and vision of our organization is to bring beauty giving enjoy to people in end of life care. 

Kelly Perry - 09:18 - It's beautiful. Yeah. And these florists and farmers were really thankful for organizations like yours that can be an assist. It's one of those things. I remember the seasons in my business where things were extremely, extremely busy and it's kind of like once the season hit you really, I mean, I feel like it's the same kind of response that um, that hospice had kind of like initially where it was like we're so taxed already, um, and we are serving our communities through our business like that. That's community service as well. Um, in a sense. And so there can be sometimes this little bit of reservation, like, you know, I want to be a part of that, but I am so tired and I'm so um overextended. 

Kelly Perry - 10:10 - How can I work something like that into life. And, you know, sometimes I don't know that it's something that happens. All that needs to happen all the time. I mean, if you happen to be listening, you're like, this is a really nice idea. I want to be involved with something like that behind. So tired. Um, could you speak to that just a little bit until, it's kind of like how you work with, I'm a florist and in how the flowers are acquired and things like that. And sort of how you function and work with those teams.

Heidi Berkman - 10:10 - Mm-hmm. So the core ah group of donors, floral donors for the Bloom Project are grocery stores, wholesale flower companies and farms. Very few florists actually donate to us. And the reason why is I'm oftentimes florists really are utilizing product to the nth degree as they should. It's they're running a business and every single flower and stem of greens is money that can go out the door and be collected and, and they can benefit through their business at times you'll find that florists will have overruns or for example, a supplier will accidentally send too much or a mistake and they don't have use for it. 

Heidi Berkman - 10:10 - So that is a fabulous way for florists to think about how they can repurpose something along those lines and that might give them inspiration. So they're not always feeling like, I, you know, I have to do something regularly. You could develop those resources for when this happens to our business, we know who to call. So it's less of a burden and especially in a, in a time where one is busy and the staff is busy as like we have a solution now, so when we're able to, we'll absolutely, um, donate, um, grocery stores as you can probably appreciate while they are gifting us flowers, they are fairly far along in their life cycle. 

Heidi Berkman - 10:10 - And so that provides opportunity, but also we have to approach that and remember that our training with our volunteers is so key to really understand when you put a flower in the compost and when it still has enough life to repurpose because we have a silly saying that we use to remind our volunteer, I'm a floral arrangers, is that we do not give wilting dying flowers to die in hospice patients. And it sounds a little, I'm a little harsh, but it's the way that we can really bring it home to them and remind them that we only use save and use the best because we want these bouquets to last for a minimum of five to seven days. 

Heidi Berkman - 10:10 - And oftentimes that's been challenging with the product we've been receiving. Um, but the change and the shift for us is kind of two-fold. It's education to the grocery stores to say we know you too are busy and oftentimes there's not always a dedicated floral manager in their department. Sometimes it falls under the produce department, so there's multiple people and not always flower people, but we always emphasize the sooner you can get us the product, the greater possibility we have for re purposing. So that's kind of the grocery store and have things on the wholesale flower companies. 

Heidi Berkman - 10:03 - We're really fortunate here in Portland that all three vendors at our wholesale flower market donate to the Bloom Project at least once a week, if not more. So, um, as you were sharing earlier, it's very typical for these wholesalers to clean out the cooler at the end of the week and get ready for the new product.  And so, um, that doesn't necessarily mean that what's in the cooler is not usable and we benefit from that. So we're very fortunate to have that resource within our city, uh, to utilize. And then from there we've expanded our relationships, um, with some local and regional farms that have the ability to gift fresh flowers to us that they could sell, could choose to sell, but they have committed to the Bloom Project to say we believe in what your mission is and we want to be a part of this oftentimes are family run businesses and there may have been, um, a personal experience that helps solidify the relationship. 

Heidi Berkman - 15:04 - But I think as the Bloom Project has really come along and really shared the opportunity within the community more and more you're seeing farms and wholesalers have a desire to join forces and really help the effort because the fresh or the product the longer these flowers will last. And um, so we are really, really fortunate we have, like I said, local and regional support and even have gotten creative with, um, requesting, um, assistance with a trucking in places where we can't easily get the flowers. There has been very generous, um, companies that have made that possible. So I would say to florists that are interested in giving back within their community, no matter what size is to take it slow and take it, make it simple to get started. Um, to really maybe find a cause that speaks to you and your heart or your staff and talked to that individual or that organization and ask them what their needs are. 

Heidi Berkman - 16:25 - You know, do you have an annual event where this would be helpful if we have the ability to match us product or are you able to receive product throughout the year? And um, the way our organization works is our volunteers pickup product and they process the product and arrange and they deliver to our hospice partner organizations. So you can work with organizations to make it simple and wonderful for the donation process to occur and not have it be an added thing that's on your to-do list is really set it up to be simple so that they can come to your shop or your workspace and pick up when you have the ability to donate and can give a call. 

Heidi Berkman - 17:10 - So, and I've had many florists around the country call and talk about this idea and this desire to give back, but it seems overwhelming to set up something like the balloon project and my encouragement. Anyone as you are making a difference, it just start small, just try it one time even, and it may not be for you and it may not be for your business, but just I'm making the effort to explore the possibility is still making a difference. So it doesn't have to be on the grand scale.  It's people are so appreciative for whatever you can give. 

Heidi Berkman - 17:47 - And I would say the same thing for farmers. If you know, if you know of an organization like the Bloom Project in your community and you're interested in making that effort, I think that the connections can be made. Um, the Bloom Project currently is located. It's headquartered out of Portland, Oregon, but we have affiliate Bloom Projects in Bend, Oregon. We have two in Bend and we have our first affiliate outside of Oregon is in San Francisco. So what we've been doing with our affiliate program is building a model for communities that teaches hospice organizations how to build a Bloom Project so we're still going business to business so that the mission and the vision is honored, um, but we are essentially helping other hospice and palliative care organizations build their own Bloom Project with a tool kit that we're developing. Um, so we hope in the future that we will be able to share what we have learned with other communities in a way that is simple and easy to understand. It's not overwhelming because it's organization by organization. Um, so hopefully that will be easy and easily replicable in any town that has access to flowers and willing people in hospice and palliative care organization serving patients in their community. 

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Kelly Perry - 20:26 - Before we sign off for the day, just two quick things that came to mind that's standing out from this conversation to me is this timing aspect of as soon as the faster that we can get the flowers, the more potential they have, the more likely it is that we're able to receive them. And I feel like unless you, like, like for me, um, whenever I have flowers that come in and, you know, the wedding is over and it's Sunday and they're hanging out in the cooler and um, it's hard to go out there on Sunday and to even like think about that. But I think that the, the encouraging thing that I'm taking away from this and the thing that I'm just like, oh, this is so simple. Like I'm just making the decision in advance what will happen with those. Um, and knowing that timing piece of it. 

Kelly Perry - 21:18 - So, you know, I feel like I know that the flower, like I might even have just some extra flowers in the cooler or something. Um, and it's like, oh, I might do something with those, but really will I do something with those, you know, and just sort of setting up some, some parameters of time where it's like thinking just thinking ahead instead of it, letting it, letting it be this sort of like in the moment kind of thing. So I feel like that's the thing that's really standing out to me at the moment. And Janine, who works as our community builder and in is helping coordinating contact a lot of these podcast, his work towards getting something for our community put together in this way and so we've been kind of like walking that out over the last several months and figuring out what that looks like and so I'm excited to be a part of that and I'm glad that she's here in organizing that and getting some of those things together. 

Kelly Perry - 22:10 - But yeah, I think that was just my big takeaway is just deciding in advance like okay, if they're here on Wednesday, then they go out on Thursday and this is who I call, you know, I'm just sort of setting that up instead of it just being this thing where it's like, Ooh, you know, the indecision, like just making the decision in advance and it doesn't have to be a long-term decision, you know, it could just be for the season, okay, let's try this, this will be what we go for. And then when it's time to play in for the business at the end of the year, the next year, it's like, okay, well were you reevaluated, you know, it. 

Kelly Perry - 22:39 - Was that a good thing? Or even for me, I feel like something that I might like to do just in talking with you today and sort of, you know, just those thoughts of like, oh, okay, well what could I do or what would I do? I actually think I like the idea of maybe putting something together just from the garden and going for a visit with somebody. Like I actually think, you know, I know that the mission of what you're doing is um working with other organizations, but I think for me I would actually really like to go and sit with somebody. And so that's a little bit different, you know, using flowers is different tool than a re purposing project. And if you're listening, I just hope that this conversation inspires you to think about what is it that makes you excited about flowers and how can you share that with somebody who might need a little bit of encouragement in their lives? 

Kelly Perry - 23:25 - It might be feeling a little bit lonely, like it can come in so many different forms. Um, I love that about it. And the other thing, the other question I guess that I had for you, um, and just something for all of us to be aware of is blooms that you feel like are really long lasting or are ones that you feel like are really suitable for this kind of like, you know, five to seven day life or are there some favorites that you have? Um, and then also with your staff, what are some of the markers of a flower that's not past its prime that you use to kind of teach and train on what is acceptable to go out and what is it? 

Heidi Berkman - 24:04 - Sure. Um, well, I would say that as we all know, there are certain varietals that are just plain hardier than others. You know, there are many flowers that are on the more delicate side. And as we all know from working with wholesalers, it's not so much that the wholesalers are mispacking, but there's just the reality is if we, if we don't get things out of boxes quickly and they sit, they mold, they get flat and they, you know, there are certain flowers like we'll talk to our volunteers about. We had a beautiful variety of Freesia the other day, but they were flat as a pancake and I, you know, we encourage them because it's very hard to, to throw something out or to compost and not give it, but they're not going to bounce back. 

Heidi Berkman - 24:58 - And we're a big believer of supporting the industry, although these flowers are donated to us and we're donating to them. We take our job very seriously. That when we send out a boat, okay, it needs to be beautiful and lovely and the flowers need to look like what God created them to look like. So we're stripping too many petals off of roses, or there's a flower or a flower varietal that has multiple blooms on a stem. And there's only two at the top. Because we've had to take so many off, that's not the way this flower was grown or intended to be inserted into a boat. Okay. So there's basics like that. 

Heidi Berkman - 25:39 - Um, we're very sensitive quite frankly to mold because we've been educated by our healthcare professionals that mold is not good for even any of us, let alone a patient, um, and just using some best practices to, um, we're very fortunate to have sponsors in the floral industry such as Chrysal and Floralife, so that everything that we do in our workspaces, um, all of our buckets, all of our bases are filled with the right injection of floral food and water to really help that agent work that not only hydration but that bacteria, bacterial fighting agent in the, in the food. Um, so I would say flowers, you know, we'd get a lot of roses around Valentine's Day and a lot of coordinations. And um, as I mentioned before, 

Heidi Berkman - 26:33 - I think sometimes with new volunteers who don't have floral experience, we observe too many petals and being, being taken off. And we just gently remind them that you know, that a few on the outside. If they're a little Bert or wrinkled spine, but we're trying to just teach the basics of what should a flower look like, um, in general, but what are the signs of when it's turning? Is there browning is there, um, are you detecting mold on leaves or the underbelly of the flower? Um, and you know, if you're working with mums or other, um, flowers that all of a sudden start losing their petals, that's not going to get better. 

Heidi Berkman - 27:14 - So like out of the boat, okay. Um, and really making sure that when your focal flower or flowers or going into your bouquet that they are the freshest as possible because the worst thing ever is to have your focal flower be the first one to fail. And then you have giant holes in your base arrangement once they get to the home. So I hope that's helpful. It's kind of some basics, but we don't use, for example, Lavender or Baby's Breath because of what the nurses taught us about how things dry and they make messes. And we don't use any sort of Bear Grass or, um, Curly Willow because it could inadvertently be sharp or, or be a problem because we want. 

Heidi Berkman - 28:02 - Those were creating bouquets that are able to be bedside or on a tray so that the flowers can get as close to the patients as possible and I think that'd be one thing I would say if you are working with or, or visiting patients that are bedridden or primarily spending a lot of time in bed or in a chair is to think about the size of the bouquets and the vases that you're using because oftentimes there's not a lot of space close to them and the bigger the vase, the farther back in the room they go because that's where the chests and the bureaus and everything are. 

Kelly Perry - 28:37 - So that's a really, really good thing to think through. 

Kelly Perry - 28:42 - Financial support for the production of this podcast is brought to you by Team Flowers, creating inspired design, fast track online class designed to set you free in your work with flowers. Nurturing creativity in our lives is important. Designing arrangements that are clients love and that we're excited about is important too. If you've ever experienced that tension between what you'd like to create, what your client needs, this class will help together. We'll go on a journey and creative expression. We'll explore a personal design philosophies. Learn how to break out of creative breadths and step out from under the weight of perfectionism. We will cover both client and personal arrangements and learn techniques for bridging the gaps between these two types of work. If you're ready to get back to creating from a place of joy and inspiration, you can learn more at 

Kelly Perry - 29:36 - And probably I imagine that that color is important. Something that's pretty important.

Heidi Berkman - 29:43 - Yes, very important. One thing to, again, to be sensitive to older people and/or patients is sent lilies and can bother even the best of us, but to really be aware that flowers with scent, especially in nursing homes and hospitals settings are really difficult for people to handle. So to maybe consider that, um, when you're creating your arrangement or you're okay to share. Um, the other thing that I just wanted to interject, and I, I hope that this will be helpful because I, I know the desire of event planners and florists and brides and grooms is to repurpose wedding flowers. But I want to share with you all that while the intent is lovely, there's a couple things that have to take place if that's going to happen. And I know for florists one of the biggest challenges is, is we're renting vases versus some time selling them in our wedding packages. 

Heidi Berkman - 30:42 - And so that exchange and that return of getting glassware and other specialty items back is part of the challenge after a wedding, especially when you're trying to repurpose something. And oftentimes centerpieces and other arrangements who still bouquets are very short, have very short stems. So the moment you take them out of that original container, they are not only handled again but oftentimes damaged in that process. So I've been talking to a few florists to consider the types of arrangements, the links of stems, even the possible liners that can be used to pop out and if um, they can be repurposed in that manner. 

Heidi Berkman - 31:26 - Where everybody accomplishes what they want, uh, the repurposing piece, but also making it easy for that Sunday morning or Sunday evening when you're ready to grasp and not having one more set of things to think about. Um, and the other piece I will just say, uh, regarding repurposing of wedding flowers is to please be mindful that although we and other organizations are grateful for the idea and the intent, oftentimes flowers are burned by candles or by hot sun and wind and by the time they come back, especially if it's an outdoor wedding, they do not last very long. And so whether it's a patient or just another organization that one is wanting to repurpose that the little bit of something that you want to think about because it also represents your business. Um, and might be something to consider whether or not that's really whether or not there was enough viable product that will last because of the conditions that the flowers. Okay. 

Kelly Perry - 32:30 - Yeah. I think that that's really great to think about. And also just to experiment with it a little bit on your own. Like after wedding comes back, like pull some flowers out, make another, make the little arrangement and let it sit in your house for a week and see how it performs. And um, you know, I think just some of these simple kind of preliminary feasibility sort of things is, is good to think through. And I love how you bridged the gap for us between what is actually needed in some of these kinds of settings like that. The small bedside kind of like six and you know, probably like a six inch arrangement would, would be fine, you know, like six, eight inches is a, uh, plenty of size or space or maybe even smaller. I mean, what do you think? Just just practically what would be good...

Heidi Berkman - 33:23 - Well, for those industry, um, and I, I think that we're all, we all use the same name for this space, but the little Ivy Bowl, that's a clear glass base that has the scalloped edge that we all see is the perfect vase. And the reason why if you flip it over and you look at the bottom, the real estate or the. Yeah, the base itself is not going to take up too much on a table and the edges themselves provide that kind of, um, not necessarily frog, but it provides that support to the flowers and the greens and it allows the arrangement to relax as well and you can get a lot of flowers into that base. Um, flowers and greens. It's also short and fairly squatting, so it's easy for transport if you pack it real well with air pockets are crumpled up. 

Heidi Berkman - 34:10 - Newspaper and produce boxes is really what we use when we transport those. But they're also really inexpensive, you know, we've had volunteers that are like, we're going to go have a book club meeting and we had one here in Portland. She and her friends purchasing entire year supply of Ivy Bowls for the Bloom Projects, palliative care programs with Oregon Health Sciences University. And that is such a universal base that most of us can find, whether it's at a JOANN's fabric or a dollar store or even through our wholesale suppliers at our, our, um, at our market. So that's the one that we really recommend that we put on our wishlist because it's easy to use, it's inexpensive to buy and um, it really allows the flowers to shine because it's clear, it's small and it gets the bookcase closer to the individual. 

Kelly Perry - 35:12 - Oh, thank you so much for being here today, Heidi, and for sharing a little bit about what you do and for those tips that you've shared as well. We're going to put him in the show notes on the Team Blower blog, um, the, the place where everybody can get connected with you and I'm linked to your website and all those kinds of things. But what, what's the Instagram that we could maybe just say here while we're on while we're on the recording that somebody just pop into their phone with.

Heidi Berkman - 35:41 - Thank you. Yeah. We're on Instagram and Facebook. Instagram are, um, it is all lower case and it's an underscore in between each word. So it's @the_bloom_project. Um, there are a few tattoo people that.

Kelly Perry - 35:41 - All good.

Heidi Berkman - 35:41 - Very interesting.

Kelly Perry - 35:41 - Flower tattoos?

Heidi Berkman - 35:41 - Some of them are.

Kelly Perry - 36:16 - Some of them are. Okay. Well, this is just a reminder, everybody. Heidi is from the Oregon area and they also have the affiliate program in San Francisco and we would love to connect to you if that's something that you'd like to get involved with and to do. And Heidi, thank you so much for the work that you do with flowers. Thank you for um spotting and highlighting a group of people who could really use, um, could really use that touch of flowers. We appreciate that so much. And for all of you listening, thank you for the work that you do with flowers, whether it be for weddings, for farming, for every day use and perhaps here another nonprofit that's charming into the podcast today. Whatever it is, you know, maybe even just a gardener, whatever your role in your life with flowers, I just want you to know that we appreciate it so much. Beauty is a really important part of the world and these relationships and the memories that we're able to form and take a part of really matter. So thank you all so much. And until next time um we'll see you.

Kelly Perry - 37:11 - If you enjoyed today's episode of the Team Flower podcast, would you help us by leaving a rating and review the more ratings and reviews, the easier it is for other flower lovers to find the podcast. Thanks for being a part of Team Flower in helping us build this dream together for so grateful.

Debra Prinzing of Slow Flowers

Max Gill Design