It started as a special boutonniere for her date to the homecoming dance. It ended up being a part-time business that she hopes will help pay her way through college.

“It was a happy coincidence,” recalls 18-year-old Brooke Beamesderfer. “The homecoming dance of my sophomore year, I wanted to make my date an extra special boutonniere for the occasion. I like DIY projects, so I gathered the materials. He likes hunting, so I used a shotgun shell and stuffed it with preserved flowers and a pheasant feather. I didn’t think it was anything special.

“His mom posted a picture of that boutonniere on Facebook. The post was a hit – people said it was really cool, that they’d purchase something like that.”

And so Backwoods Boutonnieres was born. Beamesderfer, a member of the Northern Lebanon FFA chapter, began crafting items to sell to other people, at first working to specific orders but eventually creating her own designs as general stock. As her business expanded into non-boutonniere products, she renamed her business Backwoods and Backroads Forever Floral.

The logo for Brooke Beamesderfer’s home business, Backwoods and Backroads Forever Floral.

In January, Beamesderfer was recognized at FFA’s Mid-Winter Convention as one of four FFA members “who have excelled in the supervised agricultural experience programs.” According to a Jan. 21 article in Lancaster Farming, the honorees “have gone above and beyond in their attitude, involvement, community service and supervised agricultural experience. Finalists have mastered skills in production, finance, management and/or research.”

The honor went to Beamesderfer in the category of agribusiness, recognizing the business she started and still operates as a sole proprietor. Besides manufacturing her goods, Beamesderfer also oversees all the finances for her business, including budgeting, expense record-keeping and income, as well as maintaining communication between customers and social media advertisements.

Brooke Beamesderfer holds her awards for both the Regional and State Star in Agribusiness at the Pennsylvania FFA Mid-Winter Convention at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Backwoods and Backroads Forever Floral was initially launched with a $500 Learning by Doing Grant, which is given out each year by the Pennsylvania FFA Foundation. “That was awesome, and it covered the costs of starting my business,” she said.

Who’s Brooke?

Beamesderfer is a senior at Northern Lebanon High School, where she competes on the softball and soccer teams. She grew up on Thistle Creek Farm, her family’s property near Ono where they — her parents Justin and Eve Beamesderfer, and her 16-year-old brother Kaden — raise chickens, beef, goats and hay.

“They’ve always supported where I’ve gone and what I’ve done with this,” she said. “I owe a lot to them.”

Beamesderfer herself breeds goat, which she shows at the Lebanon Area Fair. And, last year, she competed in an FFA public speaking event, and her speech on the mental health of the farmer earned her second place at the state level.

Brooke Beamesderfer, left, shows off a set of her corsages with friends Erin Shuey, in the middle, and Bailey McFeaters.

After graduation this spring, she plans to study agricultural business in college. Although she hasn’t yet made a decision, Beamesderfer said she’s leaning toward the program at Penn State University’s main campus.

She credits her interest in agriculture to her upbringing, naturally, but also to her involvement in FFA.

“Every school works a little differently,” she explained. “At Northern Lebanon, once you’re a freshman in high school you’re able to enroll in ag classes.”

She began learning the principles of the ag industry, she said, although, “being a farm kid, I pretty much had the background knowledge already.” But it wasn’t a wasted class, she said — “Especially that first year, it showed me a lot about networking, as well as the principles and fundamentals of FFA as an organization.”

Ever since that first year Beamesderfer has taken whatever opportunities were presented to her through the organization, including serving this year as chapter president. Backwoods and Backroads, she said, started off as a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) for FFA.

So, what’s this project?

The project, Beamesderfer explained, gave her the freedom to make an income while working on her own, admittedly very busy, schedule.

I provide a product that is all natural but will last forever,” she said, noting that the flowers — which she buys wholesale — are made of wood and can be dyed in any color. They come in pretty much every floral variety imaginable, she added. Then she collects her fillers and accents, from shotgun shells, bullet casings and fish hooks to feathers, wheat stalks and baby’s breath, all of which are preserved.

“It’s a forever memory,” she said. “When you buy real flowers, they die eventually. You can keep these and look back at the memory.”

Although the business started with just custom boutonnieres on the product line, Beamesderfer soon expanded her efforts.

“As I was doing it more, I kept getting more ideas of what I could incorporate into my business. The next thing I started doing was distressed mason jars as home decor. Then I learned how to make corsages. At that point, I started to realize you can add flowers to anything.

“I’ve done a couple weddings by now. For sports team senior nights, I made the arrangements with a bouquet inside a real football, I cut it open and used the school colors. … It’s more than making a product, it’s making an event special.”

Arrangements Brooke made for Northern Lebanon football’s senior night.

Her output varies, depending on her other commitments and what’s going on in the community that might require her special touch. “This business allows me to do as much or as little as I want at any given time,” she said. “For one homecoming, I made about 30 combos, boutonnieres and corsages.”

She also has begun selling items on consignment at the Carriage House in Quentin. “I can make a whole bunch of arrangements, jars and flower boxes, and drop them off there.”

She’s still just selling locally, she noted — she prefers to deliver her goods, rather than trusting the fragile arrangements to shipping.

What’s next?

As for her future, Beamesderfer plans to remain in agriculture, but she believes her business has a place there as well.

“Ag is where my heart is,” she said. “I aspire to be on the farm, to learn all the rules and take over the family business someday. My biggest dream is to open up a country store on our farm.

“This has taught me the principles of business … so that one day I’m able to attain my goal of doing it on a larger scale.”

She is even taking an entrepreneurship class that has tied into her work, she noted.

In the meantime, she plans to keep making her products during college, churning out as much as she can on her visits home. She hopes sales will help pay for tuition. Already, she said, she thinks she’s making as much if not more money than she would in a typical teenager’s part-time job.

She’s also pleased to be doing her bit for recycling. Given the number of hunters in her area, she said using shotgun shells and bullet casings in her arrangements was an obvious choice.

She said the Jonestown Game Commission has donated some of their shotgun shells for her labors, and 911 Rapid Response has donated bullet casings.

“It’s cool to be able to recycle, and to make relationships with other local businesses and organizations,” she said.

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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