BLOSSOMING JOY: Menomonie Farmers Market Manager Gives Leftover Flowers to Strangers

Rebecca Mennecke, photos by Andrea Paulseth

BLOSSOMING JOY: Veronika Zazovsky accepts leftover flowers from vendors to give to members of the Menomonie community, which she says often makes them smile.
IN BLOOM. Veronika Zazovsky, manager of the Menomonie Farmers Market, accepts leftover flowers from vendors to give to members of the community. She believes in living zero-waste and seeks to not put beautiful blooms to waste. 

Veronika Zazovsky believes flowers are a special and delicate thing.

That’s why when she noticed a vendor at the Menomonie Farmers Market cutting up gorgeous gladiolus flowers to put in the compost bin one day, she almost cried.

After the market, many vendors don’t know what to do with leftover flowers. If they bring them back to the market, the blooms won’t look as cheerful as they first did, and thus many people won’t buy them. After realizing a significant number of vendors compost their flowers after market day, Zazovsky began accepting the old flowers from vendors, which she in turn gave to members of the community to spread joy.

“When I go home, I have tons of flowers,” Zazovsky said. “I feel bad receiving so many because I don’t need so many.”

She takes the flowers to locations that are on her way home: to the post office, to local stores on Main Street, and to strangers. For people who know her, the flowers often elicit a hug or a big grin. For strangers, the reaction usually takes a little time because they’re unsure why a random lady wants to give them a free flower.

“As I leave, I watch them,” Zazovsky said, “and they smile.”

Zazovsky, who is married and has four children, has been frequenting the Menomonie Farmers Market for almost 15 years. She has been a vendor for about 10 years and a manager for about five years. At the market, she sells duck, quail, and chicken eggs as well as soaps and lotions made from animal fat. She connects with the vendors because she too is a farmer – she keeps goats, sheep, and chickens – so she knows the struggles they go through.

As I leave, I watch them, and they smile. –Veronika Zazovsky, manager of the Menomonie Farmers Market

When the pandemic hit vendors at the market, Zazovsky said, it was hard to return. She said she almost broke down in tears on the first day of the market because she couldn’t give her friends at the market hugs.

“They want this sense of community,” she said.

The economic impact of the coronavirus, Zazovsky said, isn’t nearly as bad as the emotional toll of the pandemic. But farmers are “the toughest category ever,” she said.

Zazovsky wanted to expand her flower-giving mission, but since the pandemic forced the market to cancel its spring meeting, she hasn’t had the opportunity to ask vendors for permission to donate their leftover flowers.

“It is so important to get recognized,” Zazovsky said. “Our vendors work so incredibly hard.”

Many of the flowers at the market are considered an “add-on product,” she said, and so many of the flowers are left not sold. Usually, people purchase food items – especially ones that can be frozen, she said.

Kendra Flegel, a student at UW-Eau Claire, visited the farmers market in Eau Claire just to “pick out one of the beautiful bunches of flowers.” It’s something that many students find themselves doing in the warmer months of the year.

“The experience was really fun and unique,” she said. “I enjoyed seeing the flowers, different fruits and vegetables, the homemade products, and baked goods.”

Once pandemic restrictions are lifted and Zazovsky has the vendors’ support, she hopes to give flowers to nursing homes and restaurants. She has thought about attaching business cards to spread the word that the beautiful bouquets come from local farmers, and that folks can purchase such flowers from the vendors.

“We are a community,” Zazovsky said. “It’s just a nice way to show that we are together through all of this.”