A dairy and beef farm expands into cut flowers

Anna Gauthier, right, sells fresh cut flowers to customers outside Illyria on Main Street July 10. (Thom Barker photo)Anna Gauthier, right, sells fresh cut flowers to customers outside Illyria on Main Street July 10. (Thom Barker photo)
Lindsay Heer checks on some calves inside the milking barn at Robin Creek Dairy July 12. (Thom Barker photo)Lindsay Heer checks on some calves inside the milking barn at Robin Creek Dairy July 12. (Thom Barker photo)
Lindsay Heer harvests peonies at Robin Creek Dairy the first week of July. (Contributed photo)Lindsay Heer harvests peonies at Robin Creek Dairy the first week of July. (Contributed photo)
Lindsay Heer crates peonies for shipment to southern markets at Robin Creek Dairy the first week of July. (Contributed photo)Lindsay Heer crates peonies for shipment to southern markets at Robin Creek Dairy the first week of July. (Contributed photo)
Lindsay Heer with harvested peonies at Robin Creek Dairy during harvest the first week of July. (Contributed photo)Lindsay Heer with harvested peonies at Robin Creek Dairy during harvest the first week of July. (Contributed photo)
Lindsay Heer with harvested peonies at Robin Creek Dairy during harvest the first week of July. (Contributed photo)Lindsay Heer with harvested peonies at Robin Creek Dairy during harvest the first week of July. (Contributed photo)
Lindsay Heer and daughter Penelope, 7, with harvested peonies at Robin Creek Dairy during harvest the first week of July. (Contributed photo)Lindsay Heer and daughter Penelope, 7, with harvested peonies at Robin Creek Dairy during harvest the first week of July. (Contributed photo)
Peonies crated and ready for shipping to southern markets during harvest first week of July. (contributed photo)Peonies crated and ready for shipping to southern markets during harvest first week of July. (contributed photo)
Peonies crated and ready for shipping to southern markets during harvest first week of July. (contributed photo)Peonies crated and ready for shipping to southern markets during harvest first week of July. (contributed photo)
Peonies crop. (Contributed photo)Peonies crop. (Contributed photo)
Peonies crated and ready for shipping to southern markets during harvest first week of July. (contributed photo)Peonies crated and ready for shipping to southern markets during harvest first week of July. (contributed photo)
Lindsay Heer with peonies bouquets created for a pop-up flower sale at Illyria July 10. (Contributed photo)Lindsay Heer with peonies bouquets created for a pop-up flower sale at Illyria July 10. (Contributed photo)
A newborn dairy calf at Robin Creek Dairy July 12. (Thom Barker photo)A newborn dairy calf at Robin Creek Dairy July 12. (Thom Barker photo)

For Lindsay Heer, who now runs a growing dairy and beef operation called Robin Creek Dairy near Quick with her husband Janik Heer, farming did not come naturally.

“I grew up in Smithers, completely removed from any agriculture whatsoever,” she said. “I actually worked for the fall fair for a few years, but I distinctly remember calling up Janik one time to ask him what a heifer was, or a yearling, because I didn’t know what these animal terms were.”

Janik’s experience was quite different, he grew up on the farm he and Lindsay now operate together. His parents were dairy farmers in Switzerland before taking advantage of an opportunity to buy a farm in Northwest B.C. and immigrate to Canada.

Lindsay and Janik have known each other since they were in middle school. They started dating in high school and got married after graduating from college.

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Both studied at Olds Agricultural College in Olds, Alberta, a town of 9,000 people approximately halfway between Red Deer and Calgary. Lindsay focussed on horticulture production (commercial floristry) while Janik concentrated on agriculture production.

In 2009, they started working the dairy farm together. While Lindsay said her passion has always been floral design, between the dairy, starting a family and challenges in sourcing flowers for her floral business, she decided to take a break from that.

Since then, they have grown the dairy operation from 29 head to more than 100; taken over the beef herd, which they have also tripled from 100 to 300 cow-calf pairs; had four daughters, Adelie, 9, Penelope, 7, Bethany, 5, and Eleanor, 2; and have started construction on a state-of-the-art robotic milking barn.

They grow their own grain silage and hay for feed and also bring in grain to sell to other farmers and sell milk cows to families seeking greater food security.

“That’s another thing that’s happened with COVID, is that all of a sudden the demand for milk cows skyrocketed,” Lindsay said. “People want their own milk supply, their own food supply.”

The pandemic has created challenges for Robin Creek Dairy, food production being among, if not the, most important essential service.

“We had to adjust with social distancing and ensuring safety of staff, but the baseline production was still happening, so that was a real challenge to be still operating at full capacity, but then suddenly having four children home full time,” she said.

NEW BLOOMING

On top of that, this was the first full year of a brand new business for the Heers.

A few years ago, Lindsay ran into John Kerkhoven at a dairy conference. Kerkhoven is a dairy farmer, who also has a commercial cut flower business called Nicomen Nursery in Deroche, B.C., a railway and farming community on the north side of the Fraser Valley just on the other side of the river from Chilliwack.

The two hit it off and Lindsay saw the perfect opportunity to diversify and get back to what she loves best.

“He had actually been looking for a partner to grow northern peonies; he had this vision of growing peonies outside the normal, standard Fraser Valley season,” she explained.

“I always had the interest, I had the design experience, he had the growing experience, together we could combine to market these flowers.”

Within a year, Kerkhoven travelled to the Bulkley Valley with peony rootstock. They planted 5,500 peonies on a 1.1-acre plot at the bottom of the hill from the current milking barn.

In the first two weeks of the season this year, the first year of production for the peonies crop, they harvested approximately 14,000 stems.

Most of that is destined for commercial sale to florists and wholesalers in southern B.C. and beyond, but that is because of the scope of the crop, she explained.

“Tens of thousands of flowers you just can’t sell in a month in Smithers, but I would love to sell as many locally as I can,” she said.

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To that end, she has teamed up long-time friend Anna Gauthier, operator of WildCreek Family Farm approximately 13 kilometres from Robin Creek Dairy, to create the Creekside Floral Collective.

“We grow different things and we have different skills and rather than trying to compete, we wanted to join forces and build up the local flower movement,” Lindsay said.

On July 10, they did just that with a pop-up bouquet sale at Illyria, a new boutique home and lifestyle shop on Main Street owned by local jewellery maker and interior designer Eleanor Stewart.

“We were shocked at the response and how excited people were, how many people came out to support us,” Lindsay said. “It was just so rewarding; it was so great to see the end-user with your product.

“We had children there that were picking out flowers to take to their grandmothers or their aunts and that was really heartwarming. A few women said their mothers burst into tears when they got their bouquet and we were not expecting that kind of response at all, so it was really affirming that growing something other than food is pretty valuable too.”

Lindsay and Anna are already planning the next pop-up and thinking about other marketing opportunities in the valley.

“We’re open to all kinds of things,” Lindsay said.

Although Lindsay was not born into the farm life and said even living outside of town and losing her summer vacation was a huge adjustment at the beginning, she has fully embraced it now.

“I think there’s a lot of pride in producing your own food and producing healthy products for other people to enjoy,” she said.

“It comes with a lot of responsibility, but I think we’re very fortunate that we get to raise our children out here, especially during this time of coronavirus, it’s a pretty amazing place to be stuck in quarantine. We have nature, we have privacy… we get to have our family around, we get to work together and, that’s not always easy, but it’s the freedom we have of building our own life and when an opportunity arises, like the flowers, [that] we have the land and the space to do it is pretty awesome.”

And the children are already involved.

“I think it’s really important that our children learn the value of hard work and that you can have big dreams, but have to put the work in behind it to make that happen,” Lindsay said adding when and how much responsibility to put on kids is a balancing act.

“There’s always a very fine line of trying to include the children, but also keeping safety top-of-mind and making sure we’re not expecting things of them just because they’re born onto a farm that are quite beyond their age and their scope,” she said.

“That’s another reason I like the flowers because just naturally it’s a little less dangerous than being around animals or machinery, but we do include them in feeding calves, they help with barn chores… but it’s pretty simple stuff and it’s not things they really do on their own.”

People who are interested in following the Robin Creek Dairy and Creekside Floral Collective stories can do so on Instagram: @robincreekdairy and

@creeksidefloralcollective.



editor@interior-news.com

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