Vancouver Island flower farmers were blooming as the pandemic wilted everything else

·4 min read

In March when the Dutch destroyed millions of their highly sought-after tulip bulbs, it was evident that the pandemic had sucker-punched the global flower business.

But even as Canadian flower shops shut and flower farmers battled uncertainty, a very different scenario was unfolding for two east Vancouver Island farmers.

Candice Woloshyn’s Merville-based operation, Dirty Girl Flowers (DGF), is just a year old but her family kitchen had turned into a “flower hot spot” during weekends as the pandemic progressed. Mason jars filled with wildflowers were lined up for deliveries.

This year was “busier” for the danseuse-turned-horticulturist as she took up a regular spot at local farmers’ markets in Campbell River and Comox and continued with door-to-door deliveries.

“I guess, people wanted something pretty to look at during the period of isolation,” said Woloshyn, as people in her neighbourhood placed orders for weekly deliveries of fresh flowers.

Bouquets of wildflowers, dahlias, sweet peas and heirloom narcissi became “a sight for their sore eyes” and kept Woloshyn busy throughout the season.

When the pandemic began she, like most flower growers, was “terrified” that all the investments done from the previous season would go waste.

“As a farmer, you are investing thousands of dollars upfront as all the bulbs are purchased the season before,” said Woloshyn.

But the response this season was “overwhelming,” as people responded to DGF’s Instagram post that they were offering free weekly deliveries.

After moving to the Island from the Lower Mainland a couple of years ago, flower farming became a passion project for Woloshyn. She slowly turned it into a business last year. Her clientele now includes young girls from Campbell River as well as upscale families from Comox.

Typically a business year begins in April with tulips and daffodils, then leads to peonies and dahlias and cosmos until the first frost hits in October.

Last week, the first frost of the season marked the end of fresh flowers for Comox Valley-based farmer Lydia Jackson, who runs Hazel Bloom Farm & Flowers.

As she turns her attention to dry floral arrangements for the winter, Jackson looks back at 2020’s fresh flower sales and said her business “doubled” after the pandemic.

Early on she incorporated health and safety guidelines and introduced “contactless deliveries” and expanded her subscription program to Campbell River as well.

For people, the delivery of fresh flowers was like having “something to look forward to” during social distancing. A lot of customers were also sending flowers to their family and friends during this time said Jackson. Along with fresh flowers, she also a witnessed a spike in the sales of seeds and tubers as a lot of Island folks took to gardening and attending to their flower beds.

Jackson – who calls herself an “accidental farmer” – ventured into the flower business in 2018 after she earned the reputation of “being the girl who came to parties with fresh-cut flowers.”

“A lot of people began asking me to make bouquets for them and I realized there was a huge market here,” she said. And since then she grew her business from a single 15x4 foot flower bed to 75 of them.

Both the women attribute their successful season partially to the number of customers who opted to shop local.

“People are very well-educated and aware of the organic food movement, and why buying local is very important,” said Woloshyn. “Customers now understand that flowers that are not grown locally and travel across thousands of miles have severe environmental implications.”

The pandemic also changed the monopoly of imported flowers in the Vancouver Island market as more buyers started opting for seasonal flowers and delicate blooms, said Jackson.

According to her, strong, durable flowers that could withstand travel had a monopoly in the market over delicate blooms. But as their supply dwindled during the pandemic, “delicate” flowers began showing up on the shelves of flower shops as the trend shifted to accommodate flowers that were readily “available.”

Buying directly from a local flower farmer also eliminates the price of the “middleman,” making the prices more affordable, said Woloshyn.

“Flowers are something that everybody should be able to afford.”

Binny Paul, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Campbell River Mirror