Like her mother and grandmother before that, Janet has been flower farming for over 30 years. Her farm is located in the Chehalis area in a small town in Onalaska, WA. I always wondered where the heck Onalaska was. I was excited to go and say I’d been there! Gonzalo assured me her farm was just down the road. I got lost. J And as mentioned many times before, it was a HOT day. Everything was sweating… everything!
The location is picturesque. Exactly where one would envision a flower farm to be on a country road. And of course, at the entry of the driveway is a flower stand where they still sell flowers to this day. Stocking the flower stand from June to frost, they get a lot of city folk who are out and about with weekend activities and want a bouquet of flowers to take home. A favorite memory of hers was of a logger on his way home from a long day’s work who had been thinking about his wife and wanted a bouquet of flowers for her. Ahhhh… isn’t that seriously, sweet!?!
When I knocked on Janet’s door long past my expected arrival time on that very hot day, I thought she might say, “It’s too hot!” My whole day was behind schedule as I got stuck in the dreaded I5 traffic between Tacoma and Olympia. (I seriously dislike that stretch of the freeway!) Bless her heart, she didn’t turn me away! She slipped on her shoes and gave me a golf cart powered tour all the way around the farm! Flower farmers must be immune to hot weather because she handled it like a champ.
Janet and Jim’s flower journey, a classic love story of the farm girl and city boy, began when they settled on their first farm in Everett, Washington back in 1981. With an acre of land, they quickly started selling to local farmer’s markets, taking custom orders for customers, and supplying flowers to a local florist who bought almost everything they grew! As a teacher by trait, Jim had a list of summer projects and Janet was soon working full time on the farm. As this flower passion grew, so did their land. They decided to buy 20 acres in Snohomish County and became well known for the callas, dahlias, pussy willow, cosmos, Queen Ann’s Lace, and more!
Then in 1998, Jim suffered a stroke. By 2001, a decision was made to relocate the farm closer to family back in Lewis County, Washington to where they are now. Again, they rebuilt and now maintain large fields of garden roses, clematis, and other garden flower varieties as well as their prized Calla.
“Our Callas have been in our family for over fifty years; they are the same ones my grandma grew when she was a cut flower grower. She gave starts to my mom and my aunt and many other people too. She was very generous with plants. My mom gave me several starts, which I preceded to kill because my soil was not right for them. Then one day I found the perfect spot for a calla. It was at the end of the wash machine drain, which did not run into the septic tank like most are suppose too. It was very damp. I went and found my last withered calla root; the smallest you ever saw. I tucked it into its new wet spot and it was all history from there!”
I find this story very telling of both Janet and her husband as they have a striking similarity to that last calla root nursed back to the bountiful farm that now exists along the Newaukum River in Onalaska. They each have a strong will to survive, which is exactly what American flower farmers are doing amidst this time of flower imports and global outsourcing.
As my visit came to a close with Janet, I found myself asking more and more questions at a rapid pace because our conversation kept twisting from flower topic to flower topic. She is truly a flower master.
Knowing life twists from one “topic” to the next, now Janet is fighting her own battle with cancer. It was striking how she mentioned it so casually in conversation, like a project on her list of to-dos. And much like her story of the Giant White Callas, I see something much more extraordinary than I originally thought. I see an absolute and incredible will to live on, grow, and prosper regardless of whatever twists and turns life gives you.
This is Janet’s legacy, her heirloom, her gift.
And though she lives hours away from me… maybe more depending on what time of day I drive on I5, I will support the American flower farmer because she is my friend and my neighbor.
A big thank you to Janet and Jim Foss for opening their home to me. It was truly an honor.
The stories, photos, and opinions were sourced from my personal interview with Janet Foss, http://www.jfossgardenflowers.com/, http://slowflowers.com/listing/j-foss-garden-flowers.html, http://seattlewholesalegrowersmarket.com/j-foss-garden-flowers/ and on Facebook at J. Foss Garden Flowers.