Skeena Voices | The life of a flower farmer

·5 min read

Ask Margo Peill, 29, what her favourite flower is, and she has a hard time picking just one.

“I like sweet peas a lot, I love cosmos and I think probably Dahlias, Dahlias are a pretty special flower, they come in a ton of different varieties like different colours, different shapes, different sizes and the plants get huge,” she said.

“Here in the northwest we have to dig up the roots in the fall and then re-plant them again in the spring but the amount of growth that happens from late April or early May right up until October is insane, the plants can get four feet high, super bushy and them they just pump out these huge gorgeous flowers.”

Peill and her partner moved onto an acreage north of Terrace two years ago and started Fernweh Farmstead. This year the farm will produce 50 varieties of different flowers on around a quarter-acre of open field, with a hoop house.

Last spring was the farm’s first growing season, with flowers ready to sell in mid-summer.

“By the time July hit we were getting messages from people, and people reaching out asking if we had any flowers, how they could get our flowers and when we would be at market, so I think that was the biggest surprise of our first year was that we were just absolutely blown away by the support for the farm and for the flowers,” Peill said.

“People were going out of their way to make sure that they got local flowers and make sure that they were supporting us and especially in a pandemic year, flowers are not an necessity for people.”

Long before Peill was farming flowers, she was a student on the other side of the country. Originally from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, she studied at the University of King’s College and Dalhousie University in Halifax, obtaining a degree in health promotion.

“To really boil it down it’s about keeping people out of the health care system so it’s all about preventative health so lifestyle, health and wellness, injury prevention, those sorts of things,” she said.

At school, Peill became close friends with a fellow student who was born and raised in Terrace and decided to fly to Terrace to visit after she graduated. Peill had a job lined up on Vancouver Island. She had done the interview and was waiting to hear back.

“I decided to come up here for the weekend to kind of kill some time and then I still hadn’t heard by the end of the weekend so I cancelled my flight just because I thought that I would re-book it as soon as I heard and head on down to Vancouver Island,” she said.

“It was Wednesday or Thursday of that week that they phoned and said that I got the job and that I should come down as soon as possible, by then I had fallen in love with Terrace and I said ‘I’m actually going to stay here instead and not come down to Vancouver Island, sorry!’”

That was nearly seven years ago, and Peill has been here ever since.

“That weekend I met a lot of her friends and it was just a really sort of instant group of people that I got along with really well who were super welcoming and really kind and really open.”

Peill met her partner shortly after starting out in Terrace — they both had an agricultural background and wanted to do something in that field.

In 2016 they went on a road trip to California and volunteered on a farm for six months to learn more and get some experience. Farmers there planted flowers alongside vegetables.

“We just kind of incorporated what we could into our own little backyard garden, so I started planting flowers then and working them into our veggie garden.”

Before starting Fernweh Farmstead, Peill had the opportunity to do some “informal market research” during her role as the farm market manager for the Skeena Valley Farmers Market. In that job, she was able to meet farmers and learn about their operations, gaps in the market and make new friends.

She has also became entrenched in the local agriculture community working for the Public Health Association of BC supporting its Farm to School BC program, which connects schools to local farms and food resources.

“That program is all about getting healthy local food into schools and getting students connected to hands on learning opportunities, so school gardens is a really big piece, field trips to farms, those kinds of things.”

Two years ago Peill and her partner found an acreage that had flat sunny land, some garden space and a walk in cooler, which is important for cut flower production because the cool space makes the flowers last longer and stay fresh.

“We just thought we are good friends with a lot of people growing veggies in town, it would be nice to not directly compete with them, no one is doing cut flowers on this kind of scale with this kind of production so that was the route we decided to go.”

After a successful first season, Peill gave birth to her first child in October.

“We’ve been super lucky, she’s very easygoing so she is happy just sort of watching what’s going on, hanging out, being outside, she’s pretty chill which has been really nice.”

While focusing on growing a child, Peill is also building up her stock of perennial flowers. The farm has a couple of small weddings planned for the season and hopes to partner with local businesses to do some workshops. Peill is also focused on growing more flowers this year. She might even get some pet goats in the future.

“I love goats, I love the animals themselves but we did a little research and in order to get into the milk production and in order to do it legally to be able to sell it and to get the infrastructure to make cheese is very expensive.”

Ben Bogstie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Interior News