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Alumni and Friends

Going for the Gold

light pink, dark pink and orange flowers
CALS alumnus Kole Andrews won first place last year at the North Carolina State Fair for his lilac-colored zinnia. Photos provided by Andrews.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is everywhere at the North Carolina State Fair, including in the competitions. This year, CALS alumnus Kole Andrews, owner of BlackDog Blooms, is once again competing in the Flower Show, and he’s a tough competitor. Last year, Andrews won first place in the single-stem zinnia contest.

“It was kind of last minute last year,” Andrews says. “We wanted to try it out and see what happened. I just randomly picked out the flower, and I was like, ‘If I get in the top 10, I’ll be happy.’ I went up, and I nearly buckled over.”

Andrews and his sister, Kylie, selling flowers at the Midtown Farmers Market

His sister and BlackDog Blooms’ floral designer, Kylie, won second and third place for her bouquets, and they hope to win big again this year.

“We’re trying to go for the gold again,” he says.

Andrews grows the flowers on his farm in Stem, North Carolina, north of Creedmoor, with the help of his family. With an interest in craft brewing, Andrews initially grew hops for local breweries and later switched to growing cut flowers, a transition he felt prepared for thanks to his time at North Carolina State University. As a student majoring in horticultural science, he worked in Professor Brian Jackson’s Wood Substrates Lab and the Horticulture Field Lab, gaining experience in cut flower production.

A bouquet that won second place at the State Fair
Andrew’s sister, Kylie, won second place for her bouquet at last year’s State Fair.

“My education is my greatest asset,” Andrews says. “I value my education more than anything else because of CALS.”

Andrews started his floral business with sunflowers and zinnias. And sunflowers, along with eucalyptus, continue to be his top seller. However, he enjoys adding new types of flowers and varieties.

“I love to try new stuff out,” Andrews says. “Every year, I try to follow an 80-20 rule. I grow 80% of what I know is going to sell and is easy to grow, and then 20%, I try out that new variety or that new species that I haven’t grown, and just see if it works and see if it sells.”

sunflowers at BlackDogs Blooms farm
Sunflowers are top-sellers at BlackDog Blooms

He also continues to improve the longevity of his flowers, which has been important to him from day one.

“What I’m most proud of about the flowers is that I baby them to death, and my goal is to continually try my best to increase vase life for the customer,” he says.

In fact, his favorite part about growing flowers is interacting with customers. He sells flowers at farmers markets and festivals, as well as for weddings.

“There’s no greater feeling to me than seeing somebody light up when they see the flowers that we grow,” he says.

“It’s paying homage to the people who educated me and the school that really was awesome to me.”

Andrews hopes people enjoy seeing his flowers at the State Fair this year. BlackDog Blooms increased production in preparation for the competitions, and he plans to enter zinnias, sunflowers and elephant ears. His sister also plans to enter bouquets again.

“It’s cool to be a part of state agriculture at the State Fair, especially with my education from CALS,” Andrews says. “It’s paying homage to the people who educated me and the school that really was awesome to me.”