British Columbia·Point of View

How a hidden flower meadow in B.C.'s backcountry is bringing fresh lessons in sustainability to the city

Hidden in the Squamish Valley is a little plot of land carved out of the dense green forest where a variety of flowers grow in a pollination paradise for bees. This backcountry farm is focused on spreading a sustainable and organic message to flower-loving locals in East Vancouver.

Valley Buds Farm CSA grows variety of blooms using natural methods, distributes them via East Van skate shop

Michelle in rows of flowers. (© Seasons of East Van)

Hidden in the Squamish Valley is a plot of land carved out of the dense green forest where a variety of flowers grow in a pollination paradise for bees.

Naturally fertilized by the stalks and leaves of last year's plants and protected from aphids by local ladybugs, this little backcountry farm is focused on spreading a sustainable and organic message to flower-loving locals in East Vancouver. 

Busy bee at work. (© Seasons of East Van)

At the Valley Buds Farm, flowers such as gladiolas, lilies, cosmos, snapdragons, scabiosa, jasmine nicotina and sunflowers make up a harvest that may not be as familiar to those who have already heard of Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. 

CSA is a subscription-based system that usually brings produce directly from farmers to local consumers. The Valley Buds CSA, on the other hand, provides fresh flowers — and distributes them through a neighbourhood skate shop.

Flowers drying in the heat. (© Seasons of East Van)

Nestled in the front corner of the Antisocial Skateboard Shop on Main Street, between the magazine library and the decks, there's a fridge that contains bunches of blooms ready for CSA members and lucky passersby (some non-CSA flowers are available) to pick up.

The flower fridge at Antisocial Skateboard Shop, nestled between magazines and skateboards. (© Seasons of East Van)

Flowers that are normally grown in places as far away as South America for the large grocery chains are available to buy here the same day they're harvested.

They're grown, harvested and transported by Antisocial Skateboard Shop owner Michelle Pezel and local photographer Alana Paterson, who spend about two to three days a week at the farm. 

Michelle prepping a bouquet in the shop. (© Seasons of East Van)
Beautiful dahlia. (© Seasons of East Van)

Having a sustained interest in both skateboarding and flowers for most of my life, I've long been fascinated by the variety of blooms I would see while visiting the shop, so I arranged to spend a day at the farm this summer while Michelle and Alana harvested flowers and produce — they also grow beans, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas and squash — for the upcoming week.

A big bucket of starflowers. (© Seasons of East Van)

Both Michelle and Alana had previous experience around the Lower Mainland growing and harvesting flowers and vegetables, and they credit their shared love of "skateboarding and seeds" for kickstarting their friendship. 

Valley Buds Farm came about through an opportunity with the Young Agrarians, a network made up of food growers and lovers including farmers, beekeepers, community gardeners, activists and organizations.

A wreath made from some trampled flowers. (© Seasons of East Van)

The night before I visited I received directions through a text message: get off the highway, coupla lefts, coupla rights, 14 kilometres this way, turn at the green truck, and, hey, there's no cell service. I loved that, it sounded like an adventure.

Flowers opening up to the early-morning sun. (© Seasons of East Van)

The winding route through the Squamish Valley led me through lush forests and, as I turned down the last strip of road, a canopy of trees opened into a captivating collection of flowers and veggies. 

Sunflowers under the misty mountains. (© Seasons of East Van)
I stepped out of the car and was greeted by Michelle and Alana, along with a couple of happy dogs (Frankie and Willy) and some misty, forest-windowed views of the mountains. (© Seasons of East Van)

Michelle and Alana were already busy when I arrived, jumping from flower row to flower row, imitating the bees that were also buzzing around, visiting the freshly awoken flowers that morning. 

Left, Alana tying together a bunch of flowers; right, Michelle trimming stems. (© Seasons of East Van)
A bucket of fresh flowers. (© Seasons of East Van)

In between filling buckets with blooms, they helped me learn the names of some flowers and shared some insights into what it means to be a sustainable farm. 

Left, Alana bringing over a fresh batch of flowers to the truck. Right, Michelle putting together a bunch. (© Seasons of East Van)

Michelle, Alana and I talked at length about the importance of tending the land naturally, like not removing grasses and weeds between growing beds, or using ladybugs to take care of your aphid problem instead of pesticides.

Also important is understanding that things in the current season should be appreciated while they are here. 

Michelle hanging out with the sunflowers. (© Seasons of East Van)

Bouquets found in grocery stores often travel thousands of kilometres, mostly coming from the Netherlands and South America to satiate our desire for year-round demand.

Some of the beauty of the changing seasons is lost when we don't consider how these plants are arriving on our shelves in the winter.  

Willy hanging out with the freshly cut flowers. (© Seasons of East Van)

There was a delicate balance to our morning on the farm, racing the heat of the emerging sun while taking time to enjoy the field, telling stories and exchanging ideas.

Alana picking through a row for the freshest flowers. (© Seasons of East Van)

As the sun started to poke through the morning clouds, the truck was packed up as Michelle and Alana had to hurry off for a delivery in Squamish before heading back to East Van to fill the fridge for CSA members, and further spread their blooming message of sustainability.

Loading the truck to head back to East Vancouver. (© Seasons of East Van)

About the Author

In early 2018, Mike started taking photos in the East Van neighborhoods to highlight the changing clothing and culture on the streets. He has collected over 2000 photographs through the seasons which can be seen at www.seasonsofeastvan.com.

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