City Artist to Rural Flower Farmer

How does an artist turn into a flower farmer? Debra O’Connor said it was something her son said. “Suddenly, he said one day that he wanted to be a farmer when he grew up. We were living in Kitchener at the time and home-schooling our three kids. I looked at my husband and said well that’s going to be kind of difficult, how are we going to teach him what he wants to do?”

Debra and her husband decided to launch a home school gardening program for children in the city and turned almost every square inch of their backyard into a vegetable garden. “My daughter hated vegetable gardening, but she loved flowers, so we turned the front yard into a flower garden.” Then a property came up for sale in Zorra Township and The Harrington Garden was born. “We jumped at the opportunity and decided flowers and growing as a family thing we could get behind, so we did.”

Woman smiling beside large sunflowerThe business offers a subscription service that has become extremely popular, but the fastest growing product comes in the form of nuptials. “We have seen an increase in our wedding flower sales since last year with do-it-yourself brides who don’t want to hire florists. They will come in and buy bulk flowers. As COVID restrictions are lifting that is becoming a big part of our business. Our bread and butter are still people who send our bouquets to their friends and family though.”

The business also delivers from London right through to Kitchener, a move that was necessitated by the pandemic. “We had to adapt because people weren’t out and about. We have done more delivery than we would have liked to because of COVID but it turns out it’s helping get the word out about where we are. A flower farm is something people will ultimately come and drive through or visit.”

The farm offers a terrace open from 9 a.m. to dusk free of charge, although pandemic restrictions have closed it for now. “As soon as the government says patios are open, we can open it. It’s basically a park space. Unless someone wants to hold a group meeting there it’s pretty much come whenever you like and there aren’t usually many people there unless it’s a busy Saturday in the summer.” A flower stand is also available when the next harvest is done. “We have already done our early spring harvest, so we are sort of in a lull right now until things start ramping up. We have enough flowers to cover our subscriptions but because we are only in our second year, we still have a lot of products to develop. We expect to be open full-time within two weeks, nine in the morning right until dusk.

Butterflies have also become a unique part of the business. “We love to see them in the field, and we need them to create more flowers. The Butterfly Conservatory in Cambridge stopped selling kits so I looked into it and we absolutely can sell butterfly kits,” said Debra. The kit comes with larvae and the food and everything you need to raise butterflies. “I think we sold 120 of them within 24 hours. Each kit has about eight larvae so just with our sales we are going to release almost 1000 butterflies into the region. It’s fabulous!”

Debra, who is an artist by trade, just doesn’t have a lot of time to do artwork this time of year. “Our entire flower farm used to be a horse pasture. We are sustainable and organic, so we aren’t the type of people to spray roundup and kill all the grass. We are picking out twitch grass, large weeds daily.”

Colourful butterfly held in cupped handShe is currently the only full-time worker, but her husband is planning on joining her eventually and her five, nine-, and 10-year-old children help daily. She said that she has just about the perfect career. “Flowers are pretty. I read a study that proved flowers make people smile. I’m like, you need a study for this. I couldn’t understand it. We all know that you get flowers, it makes you happy. I get to see beautiful things and make people smile. It’s a pretty great job.”

Learn more about The Garden in Harrington here.