Monday, September 6, 2010

Mistik Acres, Saskatchewan

 A Flower Farm on the Prairies

Nestled among the wheat fields and tree-filled gullies just east of Alvena, Saskatchewan is a farm with a difference – a flower farm. Mistik Acres is the home of Joanne and Pat Halter, and it’s a wonderful place to spend a day, particularly if you’re a photographer (see slideshow at end).

A few sunflowers are visible as we park beside the house, but not very many, and I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed. Never fear! Joanne leads us off to the left, and we begin a long, winding tour of the garden patches.

There is a tangle of flowers and vegetables of all shapes, sizes and colours. I immediately fall in love with the cheerful sunflowers, but there are so many other flowers as well – sweet peas, snapdragons, borage, sea holly, strawflowers, asters, dahlias – and the list goes on and on. A rocky patch has a snug coat of sedum; a row of leeks shelters beside a row of sunflowers; and there are tomatoes, squash and corn amidst the flowers.

The Florists’ Friend
Joanne and Pat sell their flowers, plants and vegetables at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, but they also sell their flowers to a number of Saskatoon florists. “The florists are trying to sell more local flowers,” says Joanne. “They are always excited when we drive up with a truck full of flowers. They come running to see what we’ve brought them this week.”

Dahlias, zinnias and strawflowers are popular with the florists as the blooms last longer. The florists say that Joanne’s lilies are more vibrant than the ones from the coast. Popular accent flowers are bells of Ireland, queen anne’s lace, tansy, yarrow and frosted-explosion grass (looks like miniature fireworks).

“I do a lot of research,” says Joanne, “and I peruse the seed catalogues. There is always something new, and the florists are eager to give it a try.” One of this year’s stars is a chocolate-coloured dahlia.
Peonies are also popular. The Halters cut them at the bud stage, bundle them in groups of 10, wrap them in newspaper and store them in a cooler where they can be kept for up to a month. “Lots of brides want peonies in their bouquets,” explains Joanne, “so the florists are really happy to have our blooms, which arrive after the peonies from British Columbia. We can store up to 1200 peony stems in the cooler at a time.”

Local Flowers for Locavores
Canada “imports huge numbers of cut flowers, with more than $50 million in imports from Colombia alone,” explains Paul Hanley in an August 12, 2008 article for The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon). They are heavily sprayed to kill pests, and they are exempt from regulations limiting pesticide residues.

“Colombia's flower farms use casual labourers who have no job security. Seventy per cent are women who earn just 60 cents an hour and work up to 60 hours a week, often without full overtime pay, before special occasions like Mother's Day and Valentine's Day.

"By many accounts, these workers suffer from a myriad of health problems linked to exposure to pesticide cocktails that are applied frequently. They are sometimes forced to enter greenhouses only one or two hours after they are sprayed with toxic pesticides.”

By way of contrast, the Halters use absolutely no chemicals to grow their flowers, and they are happy to share their harvest with the local deer, squirrels and chipmunks. I know which flowers I would rather buy.

The following Saskatoon florists stock flowers from Mistik Acres:
     Blossoms
     Nosegay
     Bill’s House of Flowers
     Heaven Scent Flowers
     Little Shop of Flowers
     Lorraine’s Flowers
     Jane’s Floral Dreams
     Flowers by Fred

If you would like to learn more about Mistik Acres, sign up for the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market newsletter, which will include another article about the farm, by emailing skfarms@sasktel.net or follow the Market on Facebook. In addition, you can subscribe to the Mistik Acres’ blog.
Mistik Acres
Slideshow

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