Edith and Stephen started their life together on July 7, 1973. Stephen, 23, had just graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in pharmacy. Edith turned 18 on their wedding day. Their hope was to have five children very close together right away.
They were blessed with the answer to this prayer. In ’75, David was born. He was followed by Mark in ’77, Charlotte in ’78, Ester in ’81, and Rachel in ’82. When the ‘kids’ were in school, Edith attended college and studied horticulture.
Stephen built Edith two greenhouses while she was in college in 1989. She raised a variety of plants, from trees to herbs to annuals to perennials to shrubs. With a desire to retire from pharmacy early, Stephen built Edith an herb nursery in the late 90′s. Growing over 600 species of herbs, the nursery incorporated 4 greenhouses Stephen and Edith built with the help of their children and employees. Edith’s sister, Sandra, brought butterfly host plants for Edith’s garden. Watching a butterfly lay eggs on fennel for two days, Edith saw the results of butterfly predators. Determined to save butterflies from predators, Edith brought in Black Swallowtail eggs that were laid on fennel and other plants, raised them inside the greenhouse, and released them into the garden.
Edith met Dan and Kay sometime around July, 1999. Edith told Dan that she was raising butterflies to save them from predators. Dan offered to buy butterfly pupae from her if she had extra. Within a year Dan was buying over a thousand pupae per week. Realizing that she could save more butterflies by selling pupae to support the expenses of raising them, Edith and Stephen changed their product from herbs to butterflies and butterfly host and nectar plants.
As time went on, two more greenhouses were added to the farm as well as labs and other buildings.
Stephen and Edith (with their son David, a web designer) raised many species of butterflies over the next year, raising up to three thousand total mixed species of pupae per week. As Stephen and Edith learned more about butterfly farming (experience is an interesting teacher), Stephen’s background in biology and medicine was of great benefit. The course he took in entomology at the University of Florida was also helpful, to say the least. The fact that he worked two summers (while he was in college) at the Division of Plant Industry, where the insect collection of the University of Florida was stored, didn’t hurt. Stephen built some of the University’s display cabinets those two summers.
During the busiest time of the year, the farm has raised over 6,000 pupae in a week. The preferred average at the farm is two to three thousand per week during spring and summer months. Butterfly and moth host and nectar plants are available on the website ShadyOakButterflyFarm.com. The farm is approved to ship plants and butterflies to the 48 contiguous states and Washington D.C.
Edith and Stephen travel to do educational butterfly presentations. These presentations range from butterfly information in general, butterfly gardens and habitat, and more. Audiences range from school classes, butterfly garden clubs, Kiwanis, birthdays, Altrusa, churches, and more. All presentations include live butterflies, eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises, and adults. A PowerPoint presentation is created by Edith for each type presentation and updated often. They include photos taken at the farm, her garden, and wild in nature to demonstrate exactly each point of the presentation.
In the years beyond the start of Shady Oak Butterfly Farm, several of their children raised their children at the farm. Shady Oak is a true family farm. Charlotte is part owner and is the current manager of the farm. She ran the office during the early years, raising Jonathan and Jacob at the farm while she worked. Next, Rachel worked at the farm for a while, starting the Painted Lady rearing process at Shady Oak, the last USDA release approved species of butterflies raised at the farm. Ester soon started working at the farm. After her first little one, Michael, was born, she left her job at Cardiology Associates to take over the office work from Edith. Soon after, Caden was born. Ester studied nursing while she worked at the farm. After spending several years as a Trauma ICU nurse at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, she is now a Nurse Practitioner. As the work load became more than could be handled with the smaller staff, Michelle started working at the farm and became the office manager for many years. Jennifer has been working at the farm for years. Charlotte’s husband, Matt, grows all the plants and takes care of the greenhouses, exhibit, and the grounds. Rachel worked at the farm while studying to obtain her degree as a teacher.
We incorporated as Shady Oak Butterfly Farm, Inc, in 2012. Charlotte and Edith are now co-owners of the farm. In a few years, the farm will be owned by Charlotte alone. She made it possible for Edith and Stephen to retire and focus on butterfly and moth education and conducting butterfly and moth experiments and research at the farm. They also enjoy visits from all five children, their 16 grandchildren, and one great-grandson.
Side note: Stephen made butterfly shadowboxes while he was in his teens and early twenties. On Edith’s 17th birthday, he made and gave her a set of these shadowboxes with this statement; “On our 25th anniversary, you can open the center box. Behind the butterflies and the lining is something little for you to see.” Two days before their 25th anniversary, their five children surprised them with an anniversary dinner and a mandate that the box be opened two days early. All five children could not be at the house on their 25th anniversary.
Behind the lining were their initials ES+SS, spelled out in pennies and nickles. Priceless!
On their honeymoon in the Smokey Mountains, Edith took this photo of butterflies puddling near a stream.