Kailli Pigott and Zach Johnston of Dancing Dandelion Farm on Drinkwater Road are part of the Cowichan Valley’s exciting and energetic group of Young Agrarians.
Their small, semi-rural farm is fairly noticeable to the casual motorist as it is located on Drinkwater Road, not far from the Cowichan Commons mall and on the way to the Bings Creek recycling depot.
During the season, it’s hard to miss the display of bright and beautiful flowers on their roadside stand. They also sell veggies, but the blooms seem to be slightly more popular.
“This is our third season, and I imagine we sell about 60 per cent flowers versus 40 per cent vegetables,” Pigott said. “We have a variety of sales outlets for our flowers: the farmers market every Saturday and a subscription program. People will sign up for weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly flowers. We have early bird pricing until about Dec. 5. A lot of people do it as a Christmas gift.”
They took the idea from the way a lot of farms offer Community Support Agriculture with subscription vegetable boxes and ran with it.
“It isn’t a unique idea. There are lots of others who do it. We also actually do weddings. This past year we did about 16 and we already have about eight booked. Weddings is one area that’s growing. We’re definitely going to be expanding that.
“It wasn’t originally our intention to do weddings. But when we started growing flowers, people started coming to us and wanting that. We have over 75 different types of flowers, and then within that, there are several varieties.”
Some of the flower varieties include sunflower, dahlia, sweet pea, snap dragon, calendula, cosmos, poppy, anemone, yarrow, cornflower, celosia, ranunculus, amaranth, tulip, lavender, larkspur, viola, zinna and nasturtium. They are all free of pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers.
Unlike some farms that specialize only in wedding flowers, which often means growing the pale-coloured varieties so popular with brides right now, Dancing Dandelion is lucky.
“Sure, they want pastels but, at the farmers market, customers want the bright and the bold. Sometimes I’ve brought whites, or pastels or blush pinks to the market and they don’t sell as well there.
“Weddings, however, are really fun, because you get to work with the brides and make their vision come true,” Pigott said.
Pigott and Johnston haven’t put all their eggs in the flower basket. Their farm also produces garlic, tomatoes, snap peas, bush beans, beets, pea microgreens, edible flowers, squash, carrots, geen onions, melons, and strawberries.
“We grow about 25 things — not as many as flowers, but still quite a number. Beets, for instance, are everywhere now. Chefs really like them because they provide colour. You can make a hummus or a sour cream or a drizzle featuring that real, brilliant colour. The pigment of the colour is what makes them so healthy, too.”
At Dancing Dandelion, you can also find herbs: cilantro, dill, mint, rosemary chamomile, sage, lavender. When planted, they’re compatible with many other plants and deter pests as well.
Their roadside stand has turned out to be in a good location.
Cheerful bouquets of brightly coloured flowers, on sale within a block of Mountain View Cemetery, is a win-win situation as folks often stop to buy before going there.
“It wasn’t planned that way but it really works out very well. I think most of the people that come through are going to the graveyard. I’ve actually found that at Christmas people really like wreaths for the gravesites and while we don’t have wreaths at the farm stand itself, we do have them at the market and we will take orders for them at the farmers market. That’s mainly what we have now at the market. We have dried flower bouquets, Christmas centrepieces and wreaths. For veggies, it’s beets and garlic that are the biggest from now until Christmas.”
Dancing Dandelion is located on 4.82 acres.
“We aren’t using all of it in production currently. We probably have about 1.5 acres in production right now. We don’t have any big animals, just a cat, a dog, and a rabbit. We just wanted to focus on vegetables and flowers. Eventually we might get chickens but for now we’re just really focussed on those crops.”
So they are mowing the hay in the unused area and then “just letting the vegetation drop down. We’re trying to build the organic matter. It’s about two and a half acres. It will be planted. We have to think about what we’re going to do with that area.”
Dancing Dandelion is rather exposed land, part way up the slope of Drinkwater Road.
“It is open. We only have two or three big trees actually. It was like that when we moved in. Previously you might know it was a nursery. I think they sold shrubs and trees in pots.
“Their purpose was different than ours. For example, they brought in a lot of gravel for drainage. It was actually a challenge for us because in the greenhouse where we wanted to grow our tomatoes we couldn’t plant into the ground because there was at least three feet of gravel there. Instead we brought in small bags that we grow in. The only downside is the moisture: it’s hard to regulate the water. But it actually works fine.”
Any of the new growing areas they have outside of the one greenhouse were mostly pasture before.
“We have a walking tractor, a BCS with a rotary plough and a power harrow. It’s better than a roto-tiller but it’s not as big as a tractor. It works very well for us because we are small scale and a lot of our beds are in fairly tight areas because they were old pasture and there’s fencing around them. It’s easy to manoeuvre. We only plough once when we’re starting a new area. They’re semi-permanent beds. After that we’re kind of ‘no tillage’. We use just a broad fork to loosen the soil every year and add some compost and organic fertilizer.”
Going organic “is something we’d definitely consider,” Pigott said. “It’s on our minds. We’re already doing most of the requirements. It’s just a matter of documenting them. Even that’s not as bad as some people say. I love spread sheets. We have a farm mentor up in Qualicum Beach and he says, you’re already doing so much of the work, you might as well do it.”
The couple have been at Dancing Dandelion just a short time.
Kailli grew up on an apple and cherry orchard in the Okanagan.
“It was a fairly small one; about eight acres. As a kid, my main interest was animals. I was in 4-H. I really like miniature horses. When I grew up I wanted to have a horse ranch, that was my dream. Throughout high school, though, I developed an interest in biology. I went to university and took a major in biology and everything changed. I knew this was what I was meant to do. I really fell in love with plants. I don’t know what prompted me to do that but I’m glad I did.
“I finished university and then worked as a vegetation ecologist for six years, doing environmental consulting work. Then, although I liked that job, as I got up to intermediate level, I found I was doing more paper work and more recording while I wanted to be out doing more field work still. I guess that’s kind of common in a lot of professions. I just decided I wanted to be closer to plants, and working with the plants.”
Pigott and Johnston met when both were living and working in Alberta but they found their way to Vancouver Island because she has several relatives here.
And the climate.
“After living in Alberta for a few years, I was sick of the winters. And because I love plants so much I wanted to be able to grow for more of the year.
She and Johnston looked for farms all the way from Victoria to Campbell River.
“We spent about two years searching for a farm once we decided we wanted to live here. We viewed 11-12 farms during that time and found this one on Drinkwater Road. The main thing we wanted was good soil for growing.”
One of the conditions of purchase was soil-testing, she said.
“We also wanted it to be flat and open, and close to a town, to be able to sell direct from the farm. We didn’t want to be way out in the middle of nowhere.”
They’re enjoying having both her dad and the Duncan Farmers Market nearby.
She’s joined the Cowichan Agricultural Society (CAS) and had the group on a tour of the farm in June.
“I met a lot of people that way. I also know quite a few flower farmers in Victoria through social media. Flower farmers are fairly tight knit. We buy from each other for weddings. They understand exactly what it’s like. During the summer we can be working 12-19 hours a day. There was one week we had three weddings.
“In addition, we sell our vegetables to a couple of restaurants: Unsworth Restaurant and Farm Gate Catering, those are our main ones. They order from us every week. We also sell at Sweet Meadows in Mill Bay, and to Great Greens as well.
“As you can imagine, in the summer, getting all that ready, plus the market, plus weddings, it can get very busy. It’s hard to train someone up quickly, too. Especially for the weddings because it’s more design work. Typically I wouldn’t give someone those tasks if they were brand new. I did take a flower farming course through the winter and I’m actually working on taking an online floral design course through the Floral Design Institute in Oregon. My husband, being nice to me, says I don’t need it. But I like to know those mechanics, those basics, even if I have a knack for it already. I really like education; I will probably always be doing it through my whole life.”
So, it’s onward and upward for these young farmers, as they learn how to succeed in their semi-rural adventure.
“Something that keeps me motivated is seeing the joy people get from the flowers and their emotioinal response. I never expected that; it’s wonderful,” Pigott said.