PROVIDENCE, RI – What Cheer Flower Farm in Olneyville has $500,000 more reasons to cheer as it continues to remediate and redevelop a 2.7 acre site in Providence that used to be home to the Colonial Knife factory, but has sat vacant for years.

Today, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Seth Magaziner announced a $500,000 Brownfields Cleanup Grant to help What Cheer Flower Farm with the revitalization efforts to cleanup the formerly vacant site and turn it from an eye sore into a vibrant community asset.

Federal brownfields investments are designed to help provide local communities with financial assistance to transform abandoned, blighted properties into assets that attract business and community development.

What Cheer Flower Farm is a nonprofit that grows, rescues and gives away over 100,000 flowers annually to hospitals, hospices, food pantries, senior services, recovery centers, shelters, and people who could use a lift.  The organization also offers a variety of educational, cultural, mentorship, and job training programs.

Located along Magnolia Avenue, the What Cheer Flower Farm formerly housed a knife manufacturing company that was built in 1918 before going vacant.  The factory was found to be contaminated with metals, chlorinated volatile organic compounds, petroleum, and inorganic contaminants.  As a result of this contamination, the property’s soil does not allow for flowers to be grown in the ground.  Instead, flower beds with special soil have been built atop a geotextile surface.  The property also houses special areas where sage and eucalyptus trees can be grown in a protected environment.

Earlier this month, What Cheer Flower Farm began the demolition of vacant buildings on its Olneyville property, as part of its environmental remediation project that will transform the space into a headquarters for Rhode Island's first nonprofit flower farm and job training site. 

The $500,000 Brownfields Cleanup Grant, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will help expedite the cleanup and support community outreach activities. 

The federal funding is made possible in large part through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was signed by President Biden on November 15, 2021.  In 2021, Reed and Whitehouse voted to include a historic $1.5 billion boost to the Brownfields program in the IIJA.

“The landscape in Olneyville is changing and improving.  This federal brownfields funding will accelerate budding progress at What Cheer Flower Farm.  The farm and its volunteers have breathed new life into the derelict Colonial Knife site in Olneyville and transformed it into a thriving, inviting flower farm and community asset,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed.  “Rhode Island has had a great deal of brownfields successes and partnerships.  This is another great example of federal funding supporting community-driven revitalization In a way that helps deliver economic and environmental benefits.”

“The EPA’s Brownfields program continues to make important investments in communities across the Ocean State.  With this federal funding for environmental remediation, What Cheer Flower Farm in Olneyville will grow its mission of delivering free flowers to Rhode Islanders in need of a smile, and help stimulate the local economy,” said Senator Whitehouse.

“What Cheer Flower Farm brings so much joy to our community by growing flowers to give to hospitals, senior centers and more,” said Rep. Seth Magaziner. “I am proud to announce this federal funding that will help What Cheer Flower Farm to continue cleaning up this land and growing its beautiful flowers in a safe environment.”

“The Board and staff of What Cheer Flower Farm are grateful to our Congressional delegation, and for the EPA’s brownfield’s program grant, which will allow our organization to expand the production of flowers while growing the environmental, social, and economic capacity of the community that surrounds the farm,” said Shannon Brawley, Executive Director of What Cheer Flower Farm.

“Congratulations to the What Cheer Flower Farm for earning a $500,000 Brownfields cleanup grant this year,” said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. “Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this grant will be used to cleanup the site of an abandoned factory, which will help the flower farm expand operations and services in an underserved part of the City of Providence, providing flowers, greenspace and training to those who need it most.”

Overall, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act invested over $5 billion for superfund and brownfield projects to restore the economic vitality of communities that have been exposed to pollution for far too long.

Now that What Cheer Flower Farm has been awarded the federal grant, the next steps will include working with an environmental consultant to create an action plan for using the funds.  The plan will then be submitted to EPA for approval.

EPA is awarding federal brownfield grants to communities and nonprofits on a rotating basis to assess and clean up brownfield properties and provide technical assistance to restore sites to hubs of economic growth.

According to the EPA, every dollar invested in brownfield cleanup has been shown to yield nearly $19.78 in economic development benefits, including the creation of jobs cleaning up the sites, use of remediated sites for development, and increased property values in surrounding areas.