Every day, Vidalia Fiedler, 3, feeds her chickens and collects their eggs with her mom, Liz. Then, every weekend, they walk them together down their driveway to their roadside stand, called Sunny Mary Meadow. Vi, as she is affectionately called, is the sixth generation to live on her family’s century farm near St. Stephen.
Named after Vi’s paternal grandmother, Mary Fiedler, Sunny Mary Meadow is just as magical a place as its name suggests – bright sunny fields and vivid blooming gardens tucked in between quaint barns and outbuildings with plenty of room for Vi to ride her red Big Flyer trike or skip through the sunflowers singing her songs.
Liz tends the flowers which she beautifully arranges in recycled vases or mason jars and sells along with Vi’s eggs and their neighbor’s fresh honey. She also offers classes in flower arranging, a skill she developed in FFA during high school and since has honed in her spare time.
Besides farm life, Liz also works as a nurse practitioner, having earned her doctorate degree in 2019. Caring for both the land and the people in it are qualities she shared with her husband, Josh, and the philosophy on which they based their life together. After they married in 2014, they purchased and moved to Sunny Mary Meadow.
“Josh’s mom died in a farming accident in 2010,” Liz explained, “and this is the place where he most felt her presence. It was important to him to raise his family here where he grew up and where he felt closest to his mother.”
Josh believed that “life is about the experience along the way and the people with whom we share a path.” Unfortunately, his path ended all too early.
In December 2020, Josh, 39, died unexpectedly of a heart attack while exercising on his lunch break. The day after his funeral, Liz found out she was expecting their second child, a girl, due in August.
“Josh and I both liked to talk – a lot. We talked about everything. So I knew what he wanted and he wouldn’t want me to give up. He would want me to try to make this work as an option for the girls to grow up on this farm. I plan to stay here because I feel the same way he did. I want to raise our girls here,” Liz said.
Liz took some much-needed time off from work to grieve and get a handle on how to move forward. During those first months, she found it healing to put some of her thoughts down on paper. A beautiful story emerged from the pages, a way to tell her daughters about their dad.
“It was very therapeutic for me. I know he wouldn’t want me to just sit around. I know he would want me to continue the life we had planned. He wouldn’t want his daughters raised as victims. Yes, the truth is a terrible thing happened but we are still going to have a good life. We can move forward and honor him with the life we live.”
That story turned into a children’s book, “When Flowers Bloom,” which is illustrated by Cold Spring artist Dan Mondloch. The book was slated for release in August.
“If we want to have beautiful flowers in every room, we have to be patient and know God picks when they bloom,” the story tells.
Of course, there are things that are hard for Liz. Vi rode a horse for the first time this year.
“That was very emotional for me. Those are moments that hit me that he’s not here for this. He’s never going to see all those firsts,” Liz said.
“I had to decide, am I just going to avoid the painful things? Am I not going to let my daughter ride a horse because it’s too hard on me? There are going to be a lot of moments that are going to be sad because I’ll wish he was here. The day this baby is born, their graduations, their wedding days. But I know what he wanted for them, for us, and I want that, too.”
Liz said Josh was all about building relationships with people, whether at work, with family and friends or with someone he met for the first time.
“Not just relationships but really meaningful connections,” she said. “He had the gift of conversation. He was also a good listener. When he talked to people, he had a way of making them feel important.”
He worked at Compeer Financial, formerly AgStar, and loved helping farmers, Liz said. So, when he passed away, the family established a memorial fund to help fulfill Josh’s lifetime goal of creating a scholarship to assist rural students who want to attend St. John’s University, Josh’s alma mater. He also volunteered there as a sideline reporter for GoJohnnies.com.
Josh was a lifelong member of St. Francis Xavier in Sartell and had a natural gift of teaching confirmation. He also served as an usher and lector.
“His faith was very important to him and he loved sharing it with others,” Liz said. “I can’t imagine what things would be like if I didn’t believe he was in a better place. As the book says, we don’t get to pick when we bloom. And while I don’t understand God’s plan, I trust it. I know Josh is in heaven.”
Liz uses her gifts to carry on Josh’s legacy and to care for the land he left for them. She offers build-your-own-bouquet flower classes for both adults and kids.
“My favorite thing about the classes is being able to share the hobby and space we have created. So many people think their passion needs to be ‘all in’ and you can’t be successful at multiple things. My classes might give someone the incentive to start a garden or whatever other hobby they have been holding back from. I love the fact that I have multiple passions. I can be a nurse practitioner and a flower farmer and a mom and an author and a friend all at the same time.”
Liz also sells subscriptions where people can pick up an arrangement each week. One of the subscription packages she calls “Buy one, give one.”
“For every flower arrangement sold, I bring a second one to a ‘nursing home of the week.’ I chose a different local long-term care facility each week and gave the flowers to the staff to distribute to the residents they felt would most benefit.”
In 2020, they delivered 201 arrangements to residents at St. Benedict Senior Community, Chateau Waters, Country Manor, Assumption Nursing Home, Serenity Place on 7th, Good Shepherd, Ridgeview Cherrywood and Edgewood.
“I try to do something every day to bring us happiness,” Liz said. “At first, it was maybe just as simple as going to the carwash. Then some friends started getting me outside to go cross-country skiing. But it was intentionally being active and doing something to bring a bit of joy. I believe that it’s not time that helps heal, it is intention. By being intentional, I can truthfully say that I now have more happy moments in my day. I have yet to have a day where I’m not sad at all and that’s not my goal. My goal is to strive for more moments of happiness than sadness.”
The “When Flowers Bloom” book, will be available for pre-sale at www.sunnymarymeadow.com starting in September.
To contribute to Josh’s memorial fund, visit www.csbsju.edu/sjualum/givesju. Be sure to put “Josh Fiedler” in the final box when prompted for “Additional Comments (In Honor/Memory of, etc).” A portion of each book sold will also go to the scholarship fund.