Meet Emma Bilbrey | OSU HCS Alumna Class of 2020
Emma Bilbrey owns & runs Hickory Hills Flower Farm in Valparaiso, IN - a specialty cut flower farm with the goal of growing high-quality, fresh blooms using sustainable practices. Most of the blooms she grows are sold at local farmers markets & to event floral designers. As a farmer-florist operation, she is also able to offer full floral design packages for weddings. Emma started the farm in 2020 as she was finishing her Masters degree in Dr. Jessica Cooperstone’s lab, here in the Horticulture & Crop Science Department at OSU. While here at HCS, Emma worked on integrating genomics & metabolomics in apples.
Thankfully, Emma had some time to share a bit more about running her own business, her time here at HCS + some advice for students considering graduate school:
How did you become interested in horticulture?
An inkling of my interest in horticulture started with working on my grandparent's strawberry farm every summer growing up. In high school, Science Olympiad led me to falling in love with identifying trees. With trees mastered, in college, my interest widened to botany in general, and I decided I wanted to pursue a career with plants. I was always interested in how to help & care for people, so I wanted to do something with plants that also had a human connection. Dr. Jess Cooperstone's lab was the perfect fit -- investigating questions related to the impact of food crops on human health.
What’s your favorite part of being a farmer-florist?
My favorite part about being a farmer-florist is being a part of the process from seed to table. It's amazing to be able to grow something & then personally craft a floral design that brings beauty to someone's home or event.
Why did you decided to start your own business?
I decided to start my own business mainly because I wanted to live near my family in Northwest Indiana, where plant-based jobs are not readily available. Starting a flower farm also filled my desire to work outside as well as surround myself with creation's beauty. I had grown flowers for my wedding in 2016, so I had at least a bit of an idea where to start. And importantly for any business consideration, there was room in the market for sustainably grown fresh flowers & floral design.
How did your time at HCS help prepare you for your career?
My time at HCS helped prepare me for this career in a myriad of small ways. Growing my knowledge about plants and instilling a gut instinct about how to care for them was one important factor. Additionally, my practice of multitasking, meeting deadlines, and coordinating with others flowed directly into my farmer-florist operation.
Advice for students considering graduate school
For students considering graduate school in a science field, research the programs, but more importantly, look for a lab group and advisor that foster a positive environment and your well-being, not just their research timeline. Also, don't worry too much about figuring out what exactly you want to research. If you find a research group that has a general purpose you connect with, you will fall into step with the research opportunities they have available based on the grants they have been awarded. You don't need to come in with all the answers but just a willingness to work hard and learn.
Advice for students looking for their first job out of college
For students looking for their first job out of school, don't feel like you have to find the perfect job immediately. Find a good job that will support you and give you some skills that you think will better your career. There will always be time to learn from each company you are employed with to determine what you actually want out of a job. With never before having a career, it is impossible to know at the outset what you need out of a company or day-to-day job.