“It didn’t matter how stressed or unhappy I was, every evening I was taking care of my flowers….”
As we all know, the journey of life has its ups and downs; its peaks of joy and its deep valleys of doubt. Farmer Jesalyn Pettigrew of Mossy Gate Flower Farm started a journey that is uncovering a passion and dream she would never have imagined. In 2015, Jesalyn was going through a separation. The owner of a small retail store in La Conner and the mother of two young boys, she was facing big changes and a lot of unknowns. With the life Jesalyn once knew changing, she needed to reevaluate where she was at, where she was headed and if her original interests would continue to align with her new reality. With these questions swirling in her head, Jesalyn decided to ground herself in some of Skagit County’s famous soil and took up gardening. With a few bags of dahlias from Costco planted in a 50 square foot bed next to her small house, Jesalyn was surprised to find that laboring in the little garden bed, which seemed huge at the time, was soothing and brought clarity. “No matter how stressed or unhappy I was, every evening I was taking care of my flowers.”
But as she does from time to time, Mother Nature came knocking and her dahlias got powdery mildew. This was uncharted territory for someone new to gardening; but as a mother and local entrepreneur, she knew the Skagit community was a great resource and she reached out via social media in pursuit of answers. Scrolling through her Instagram feed, Jesalyn came across Floret Flower Farm. Stumbling on a page so filled with beautiful pictures and information piqued her interest. She had never heard of flower farming before. The further Jesalyn dug into and learned about flower farming, the more she fell in love with the idea. “My dream of being able to be at home, while providing for my kids, was appealing to me” she remarked.
In 2016 an opportunity to move closer to her parents in Big Lake came up. The move not only gave her more growing space for her burgeoning flower farm, but improved childcare options – a lifeline for a working mother of two. In addition to taking on more growing space, and selling flowers at her own farmstand, Jesalyn was juggling multiple part time jobs at local flower farms, cleaning houses and working other odd jobs to make ends meet.
Later that same year Jesalyn went to the Pacific Northwest Cut Flower Farmer Meet Up, a regional conference on flower farming, where she happened sit at the same table as Vivian Larson of Everyday Flowers out of Stanwood. Through the course of the day, Vivian shared that she needed help on her farm. Jesalyn immediately thought, “I need a job,” and jumped at the opportunity to gain experience on a real flower farm. What started as a chance encounter turned into life-long relationship farming with a woman who would mentor and inspire her own farming journey.
In the winter of 2016, Jesalyn’s third season of running her own farm, she met Harley Taylor. She describes Harley as a carpenter, plant lover, problem solver, cheerleader and life partner who she affectionately refers to as her “Mountain Man.” “He has gotten me and this farm further than I’d ever thought possible in such a short amount of time” she shared. In addition to the support of her Mountain Man, she has also had tremendous support from her family; her grandfather in particular, who has been a financial backer and a major cheerleader when she gets stuck in the weeds.
By that spring, Mossy Gate Flower Farm grew to three and a half acres when another opportunity to move closer to her parents arose. The property was right next to her parents and was overgrown with blackberry bushes. But with help from her parents and her Mountain Man, those blackberries were no match for her goals for Mossy Gate Flower Farm.
Jesalyn is deeply grateful for the opportunities she has had to work with other flower farmers. All the time working alongside others and gaining experience provided her many ideas and concepts to try for her own farm. “I tried farmers markets. I tried selling directly to designers in town. I tried some of my own floral design work. Honestly, I didn’t want to become farmer-florist, I just wanted to be a farmer” she shared. All of these experiments led her to discover that selling flowers wholesale was meant for her. Today Jesalyn is selling her flowers through the Northwest Wholesale Flower Shop in Seattle, a small-scale, farmer-owned co-op that allows her and other farmers to sell direct to local floral designers.
When asked what piece of advice she would give someone entering the farming world, Jesalyn cautions new farmers not to be disillusioned about flower farming. “Flower farming is hard work, and not just physically; you have to have the mental aptitude to keep yourself motivated day in and day out to take care of your flowers.”
With so many things against farmers from the weather to unrealistic expectations of customers, farming can be a lot of pressure. Though no new task is easy, Jesalyn has fallen in love with the challenge of flower farming and finds inspiration in conquering it. This year begins her fifth season of flower farming and she is proud to share it will be her first season where the majority of her time will be spent focusing on her own farm – a triumph indeed.
This journey is far from over for Jesalyn. With her dreams of continued growth and expansion, there is one lesson from Vivian Larson, that she heeds every day. “Just get it in the ground, and stop coming up with what-ifs. Flowers want to grow, your business wants to grow, people want to buy your flowers, and if you don’t take action, you’ll never find that out.”
Being someone who can get caught up in the constant details and small worries, Jesalyn is beyond appreciative of not only her mentor Vivian, but also the Skagit Valley agricultural community. The Valley has great farming diversity yet farmers at all scales are still able to come together and support one another. Jesalyn is deeply grateful for the opportunities she has had to work other flower farmers; Everyday Flowers, Jello Mold Farm, Triple Wren Farms, All My Thyme, as well as at Thompson’s Greenhouse and side jobs here and there over the past five years