Jenka Blossoms took root from FFA project
Kathy Hoffmann isn’t about to hide her dirt-covered hands. This is what she likes to do — anything that requires getting her hands covered with dirt.
Next week will bring a change to Kathy’s life and that of her family, however.
For the last 18 years, Kathy and her daughter, Jennifer (Hoffmann) Nevala, have owned Jenka Blossoms. They are closing the business at the end of the day on Tuesday, and Kathy is looking forward to spending her time doing other things . . . like working in the dirt.
She plans “to go out and just putter” in her flower beds and work on their lawn. No pressure to hurry. She’ll just putter.
She plans to help her husband, Tom, raise corn and soybeans on their 1000-acre no-till farm, something she did when they first were married 43 years ago.
She plans to sew and quilt, and she and Tom plan to spend some time traveling, including visiting their son, Kenneth, and his family in Norway, where he teaches math, chemistry and English.
To close Jenka Blossoms is a bittersweet occasion, she admits.
Kathy’s enthusiasm for the business is clearly evident, and she loves greeting customers and helping them with their plant needs.
Health issues for Tom, though, have required multiple knee, hip and spine surgeries over the last five years, and that has meant he was less able to lend a helping hand in the greenhouses.
Plus, Kathy says, they’re getting older and want to do other things. Tom is 67, and Kathy will turn 66 on Sunday.
“It’s time,” she says of the decision to close the business.
In 1993, Jennifer Hoffman received Wisconsin FFA’s Star Agribusiness Award, one of the most coveted state awards for students involved in FFA. As a Whitewater High School freshman, she had decided her FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) would consist of growing flowers, even though her school didn’t offer a class in horticulture.
Mentored by an Illinois family friend who operated a greenhouse, she grew 30 flats of marigolds and marketed them — along with landscaping services and maintaining flowerbeds — to McDonald’s Restaurant in Fort Atkinson.
The next year, she put up a 13- by 40-foot commercial hoop greenhouse, grew 250 flats of flowers and added a sizable Fort Atkinson business and the City of Whitewater to her list of flowerbed clients.
She also sold plants on an invitation-only basis to friends and neighbors.
Jenka Blossoms got its start after Jennifer headed off to College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN, in 1993. In November, she proposed to Kathy that they become partners and put up a state-of-the-art greenhouse.
Jenka Blossoms opened the following spring after Tom and a neighbor constructed a 30- by 100-foot Nexus greenhouse on the Hoffmann farm, 8612 Lima Center Road, Whitewater. The business derived its name from the combination of Jennifer’s and Kathy’s first names.
Since then, Kathy and Jennifer have worked closely as partners, combining their individual talents to build a strong business.
What one likes to do, the other does not. Jennifer, 36, now lives and works as a physical therapist in Boise, Idaho.
Despite the distance between them, Jennifer remains integral to the business. Through phone calls and email, she does the signage and advertising for the business and shares in decision making.
She spends as much time as possible at Jenka Blossoms in the spring during the peak retail period, and Kathy views her eye for organization and her ability to create attractive displays as invaluable.
Kathy, on the other hand, revels in working with the plants in their three greenhouse, which encompass 10,000 square feet.
From starting flower and vegetable seeds, transplanting seedlings, watering and pruning plants to designing hanging baskets, Kathy is a hands-on person.
In addition to the retail operation at their farmstead, Jenka Blossoms grows flowers and flower baskets, plans flowerbeds and plants — or an combination thereof — for a number of wholesale customers, including the Cities of Milton and Whitewater, a Palmyra business and Fairhaven senior center and Culver’s in Whitewater.
As a rural business located between Whitewater and Milton, the Hoffmanns created their niche by offering quality plants not commonly found in other greenhouses or box stores.
They give people a reason to drive to the country for plants. Over the years, their customers have come to expect new and different varieties of annual and perennial flowers, herbs and vegetables from their greenhouses.
They also have come to expect information, and that’s where Kathy excels, Tom says.
“By learning her product so well, Kathy’s able to help people with their questions,” he says.
An attention to quality, cleanliness, well-designed hanging baskets and patio pots with unique plants, and the ability to teach people how to care for unfamiliar plants are all part of Jenka Blossoms’ goals, Kathy notes.
“We try to have a happy atmosphere, and people know they can come to us and have us help them solve their problems,” she says. “I’m here all the time. I’m right down there working in the plants. Every plant has had my hand on it, and I think that’s a big factor. I do a lot of pruning, and I hope to see the last plant sold looking as good as the first I sell.”
Their customers say they like coming to the country and buying from the greenhouse where the plants are grown, Tom adds.
“They can talk to the owner,” he said. “And we grow everything ourselves. That was the hard part at the beginning. People would ask when our next shipment was coming in, and we had to explain to them that we grew it ourselves, and when we were out of something, we were out.”
Over the years, Jenka Blossoms forged a relationship with Mark Dwyer, horticulturist at Janesville’s Rotary Botanical Gardens, and it starts many of the plants and new varieties grown at Rotary Gardens.
With the closing of Jenka Blossoms, the Hoffmann’s are donating their three metal-framed display greenhouses to Rotary Gardens, and they hope to sell their three 100-foot-long greenhouses to someone wanting to start a business or add to a current greenhouse business.
Kathy admits the hardest part of closing Jenka Blossoms is knowing she won’t have the same level of contact with people who have become repeat customers and friends through the business.
In the last five years, she’s especially appreciated the support of Don McComb and Carolyn and Bob Behrens, neighbors who have pitched in to help with heavy tasks that Tom could not do.
“Meeting the people and dealing with the people — that’s what I’m going to miss. Wonderful, wonderful people,” she says. “When people come to the greenhouses, they’re always happy.”
The trade-off to missing their customers will come in the form of time. Time to travel and visit their children. Time to sew and quilt. Time to slow down a bit. Time to work together more in their farming operation. And time to putter in the yard and flowerbeds.
“It’s time,” Jennifer says. “We’ve had some good years.”
“It’s been a great run,” Kathy agrees.