My journey to becoming a flower farmer
As an environmental artist, my work is about reconnecting people back to Nature, back to the Earth, back to our innate knowing of these connections. My work in galleries usually involves working directly at a site as well as bringing natural materials and artifacts to the gallery from the site, and inviting viewers to visit the natural site from the gallery. Collecting and bringing the natural materials into a public space elevates them from obscurity, from the unseen world, and presents them in a way that makes them accessible for viewers to discover and contemplate. I love my work but, after years of creating new work in response to different parts of the world, I began to feel an increasing need to reconnect with the Earth in a more personal way. I would suddenly find myself overcome with a deep sense of wanting to lie down on the Earth, to listen with my entire being for the heartbeat of the Earth. I yearned to feel the earth in my hands, to be present to the energy of the Earth and Nature in a non-art-making way.
When I was fourteen years old, I joined the 4H Garden Club. I would have preferred the 4H Pony Club or even the 4H Calf Club but my parents had sold the farm in Lantzville a few years before. We were living in Victoria, in a city house. I dutifully went to 4H meetings at Mrs. M’s house, taking notes on gardening. I still remember the day she solemnly handed shrivelled tubers into my eager waiting hands. My very first dahlias entered my life that day. I babysat those tubers and followed the directions I’d been given to the letter. Tended them, coddled them, and made special bug potions for them from garlic, chili peppers and water that sat on sunny windowsills, brewing. My sister, Anne, says I was obsessed—it was true. I wanted to grow the very best dahlia I possibly could. And, my, how they grew and grew, winning first and third prize ribbons at the 4H Pacific National Exhibition competitions in Vancouver! I was hooked on growing flowers. For years, everywhere I lived, whether in a tiny apartment or in a house, I grew flowers, upon flowers, but for some strange reason never dahlias.
I moved to Salt Spring Island in 2009—the Island felt like home as soon as I arrived. I had no idea how my life would unfold, what the Island had in store for me, or where the Island would lead me. I met my husband, Robin, a fellow gardening enthusiast here in 2011. Initially I moved into his mountaintop home, with views for miles, but we both dreamed of finding a property where we could grow things in abundant soil. Our house on Mount Tuam sat on rock and the only soil in our mountain garden had to be trucked in and renewed yearly. We searched for a new home for two years, hoping that something would come up in the fertile Fulford Valley. In August 2015, we bought a rundown piece of property that had once been a farm, and began to create Alchemy Farm. Within our first year we opened a farm stand and officially became a farm. We were new, freshly-minted farmers in love with working with the energy of this amazing property.
Our first year, we filled the hoop house we’d made with peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, lettuce and salad mix, eggplant and herbs. The Hugelbed became home to zucchini, pumpkins, eight kinds of squash, beans and corn. Somewhere along the way, dahlias entered my world again. I’d made some kind of orbit, a circling back to my roots, as I planted 20 tubers in June and waited. As I waited for the dahlias to emerge, I staked out another flower bed and in mid-July planted zinnias, cosmos, calendula, bachelor’s buttons, baby’s breath and Queen Anne’s Lace—I thought it was too late to plant them, but decided to take a chance. Six weeks later, and on our first year anniversary of buying the farm, I was making bouquets to sell in our newly opened farm stand. Two weeks later we were at our first Tuesday Market in Ganges.
I was nervous as I put my first bouquets out in my market stall. I’d planted the seeds, tended, weeded, and babied the flowers. I’d picked them early that morning to create bouquets. My bouquets sold out in less than an hour. What a relief! As I met the people buying my bouquets, I was struck by how happy the flowers made them. When they found out that I had grown them from seed, picked them that morning, and made the bouquets myself, their reactions made me feel like I had become a conduit between the flowers, the Earth, and the receiver. I felt like I was in a new gallery, creating a new series of works, as a flower farmer. I was creating work as an environmental artist in a new way, from a place of deep authenticity and purity. Alchemy Farm Studio & Gardens was born in response to my wanting to share with people where their bouquets were being grown. The Studio sits in one of our cutting gardens and is open Friday to Sunday from 1 to 5 pm from May 20 to October.
As I began to learn more about growing flowers, I also began to discover where the bouquets I’d been buying for years came from. I always had fresh flowers in my home but I never thought to question where the flowers were grown. I was astounded, and disturbed, to learn that most of the flowers we buy commercially are grown far, far away from us. They come from Israel, South Africa, Ecuador, Colombia, and the list goes on. I still can’t quite believe that flowers fly thousands of miles to get to our local grocery store or florist. Many of these flowers can be grown locally. Better yet, more interesting flowers can be grown locally and seasonally with far less environmental impact.
It is staggering to think that $483 million worth of flowers were imported into Canada in 2016! Some of the countries that sell and ship to Canada use child labour, have terrible working conditions and use toxic pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. Importing flowers from other continents is just not sustainable, nor is it necessary. When you make the choice to buy local flowers, you are supporting the local economy, while shrinking your carbon footprint. You are supporting people getting paid fair wages and supporting local farmers and businesses. You are also helping the environment and local pollinators, like bees and butterflies, who feed on local field-grown flowers. The flowers from your local flower farmer are also fresher, they don’t travel for weeks to reach you—they are usually picked hours before you purchase them.
We all need to do what we can to move toward sustainability. It may seem like a small thing, but buying locally grown flowers helps the environment—every little bit counts.
We grow beautiful, sustainable, heritage, local flowers here at Alchemy Farm, and there are other local flower growers here on Salt Spring Island, including, Bullock Lake Farm, Flowers by Tali, Plants & Posies, Flowers by Raeanne, and more. We are all working toward a more sustainable and local source of beautiful seasonal flowers. If you don’t live on Salt Spring Island you can find local flower growers at your Farmers’ Markets.
Visit my artist website to see some of my environmental art projects: ingrid-koivukangas.com I’m also the creator of the Eco Heart Oracle bringing forward messages from the Earth and Natural World, and the author of, Hunters of the Dream, a fantasy fiction trilogy. I teach a few retreat workshops a year at Alchemy Farm. Visit the Salt Spring Arts Council for more information on workshops taking place on Salt Spring Island.