Highland beef cattle and cut flowers may not go together like hamburger and fries, or gin and tonic, but at Sweetheart Farms they are a working match.
Owned by Niki Allan and James Kaloc, Sweetheart Farms includes two properties, one in West River Station where the 15 cattle graze and one in Rocklin where flowers are grown.
Allan recently provided flowers for a wedding, as well as 10 colourful centrepieces including peonies, sunflowers, calendula, amaranth and sedum, for the New Glasgow Farmers’ Market luau.
“It is exciting and rewarding being asked to provide flowers for events and I put a lot of time into figuring out the best way to use what I have available,” she said.
Last year, with a bountiful crop, she was a regular at the farmers’ market but this year the garden has taken a back seat to family life.
“We’re in the process of renovating the Rocklin farmhouse and we want to be moved in by fall so that has had to be our summer priority,” said Kaloc.
They need a living space better suited to their blended family of five children, ranging in age from two to 21. In the meantime, they spend a lot of time driving the 15 minutes between properties.
“Between the renovations and me going back to work, waitressing at Andre’s Seats, the garden has been neglected in the short term, but we have managed to get a lot of things in place for next year,” said Allan.
That includes an irrigation system and a caterpillar-style tunnel to extend the growing season.
From the shade of the barn floor, against a backdrop of hay bales, Allan looks ruefully out over the 100-ft. by 80-ft. garden bed, disappointed by the lack of flowers blooming. But Kaloc is full of encouragement.
“We’ve seen what you can do with enough time. Next year is going to be so much better,” he promised.
Neither Allan, who is from Amherst, nor Kaloc, who grew up in Pictou County, come from farming backgrounds but they have become passionate about organic growing, from meat to vegetables to flowers.
“We want to have healthy food for our own family and we also sell our beef. Our goal is to avoid chemicals and at least leave the land to the next generation in the condition we found it, if not considerably better,” said Kaloc.
Allan, a world traveler, spent time with an organization that provides work opportunities on organic farms and also studied organic growing methods at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. She was thrilled to later get an internship at West River Gardens.
“I learned so much working with Bob (Parker) and he is still a great mentor. I’ve made my share of mistakes but his knowledge has saved me from many more,” she said.
From there she spent a summer looking after the gardens at Pictou Lodge, developing her sense of what particular plants need to thrive and planning her own garden.
She started growing from seed under lights in her West River Station basement but soon learned wood heat did not provide a consistent enough temperature for many plants.
“For my birthday, James built me a growing bench; a heated, insulated propagation bench. Since then I can rotate plants in and out and the results are much better.”
Kaloc, a mechanic with his own tow truck business, has found plenty of use for his skills in the garden business.
“I’m always building something, trying to find a better way. We’ve learned there is a lot of problem-solving in gardening.”
It was four years ago he jumped into the highland cattle business but he admitted to needing a push toward commercial flower growing.
“I had my doubts. Niki was talking flowers and I was thinking maybe tomatoes, maybe cucumbers. But flowers, seriously? The market for flowers has been a big surprise to me. Another thing I’ve learned is that the people who buy flowers tend to be really sweet people.”
Allan credits a Northern Opportunities for Business program with allowing her to get her market garden started.
Kaloc, who loves draft horses, used his Percherons to break ground for the flower bed.
“I like to do as much work as possible with the horses but no, we have no plans to give up our tractor,” he added.
Much of the pasture land on the Rocklin property has grown over through the years but that makes it a good place for raising highland cattle.
“James has done some clearing, but it suits highland cattle because they are good grazers and will chew the alders down and return it to good pasture land,” said Allan.
Once they are settled at one location, they expect life will be simpler and the garden will also benefit.
“I’ve lost some plants to insects and while there will always be some losses you just have to accept, I think I’d have been faster with the insecticidal soap if I’d been on site fulltime.”
Right now, she is hoping her sweet peas and zinnias, which seem to be a bit late, will soon burst into bloom and she will have a good crop of fall flowers.
“I hope to get back to the farmers’ market soon. It is a really supportive environment and I’ve had great customers in the past.”
One, in particular, comes to mind.
“I was selling regularly to an older woman who had a garden but had to give it up when she moved into an apartment. She told me I gave her back her garden and that just made me so happy.”
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer. She seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you know someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at email@example.com.