“Catherine, you have to check out Dahlia May on Facebook,” urged my friend Sharon Bugg, adding her husband Gary – who doubles as one of my top tomato mentors – taught Dahlia May’s alter ego Melanie Harrington at East Northumberland Secondary School.
“Catherine, have you heard of Dahlia May,” asked another friend, Ang Young, who is head of the art department at ENSS.
I hadn’t, and in fairness, at that time, Dahlia May didn’t have a gazillion followers on social media. That was all of two years ago. By now, tens of thousands have heard of this flower phenom, whose story we share in this issue.
What isn’t as well-known is the company Melanie keeps. When we started talking about doing an article, Melanie immediately suggested we include her fellow flower farmer Sas Long, of Floralora Flowers. “She’s magnificent,” said Melanie, high praise indeed.
Sas, continuing the adulation of her contemporaries, mentioned her friend Aaron of Blue Wheelbarrow Farm in Bloomfield. “He’s doing amazing things on his one acre, growing organic vegetables. There’s such an entrepreneurial spirit in agriculture in this area.”
Sas loves attending the Toronto Flower Market once a month, where she vends with flower farmers from across southern Ontario. Melanie’s business is locally based, and her farmgate is always busy. It’s easy to find her at the Codrington Farmers’ Market – just look for the crowd.
Melanie is in good company, as she quickly agrees. For a region known as a retirement destination, young hearts are turning the tide, building new businesses, and carrying on old traditions. Melanie’s market colleague Jennifer Dorland and her husband Justin recently took over the family dairy farm. Their three young daughters are the ninth generation of the same family to call Maple Lane Farm their home.
Not far down the road, Jenny and Chris McRae operate Empire Cider, a sensation on the craft beverage radar. They hit the road to attend festivals, vend at local markets, and have penetrated Toronto restaurants with their liquid sunshine.
Back at Dahlia May, Melanie and her husband Alex have a creative incubator in their barn. Alex runs Mystic Wood from his studio, and their friend Kurtis creates his custom Anderson Knives. Alex’s brother Ben assists all three with their pursuits.
When he’s not helping Melanie or Alex, Yan Skoba and his parents have Honey For You, a beekeeping honey operation nearby.
Not far away, at Campbell’s Orchards, Matt Oskamp and Amelia Campbell, inspired by a visit to London, England, married their new love of hard cider with the family business, and recently launched Apple Falls Cider.
Youth is in the air. Melinda Chalmers came home to launch the Black Rhino Gallery. Her brother Ben has West Lake Wakeboarding School. The fashionable and ubiquitous Alex Fida is renovating and rejuvenating Picton, one board, one fascinating find at a time, with his House of Falconer, and using every available social media channel to promote his own work as well as his hometown.
Then there is Ryan Williams who brings everything together under the Bay of Quinte and QuinteVation banners, who has seemingly inexhaustible energy and ideas, and needs a cape for his community superhero status. While Ryan’s reach is broad and aimed at tourism and innovation, his efforts are mirrored by Chris King of Quinte Economic Development Corporation, who’s spotlight is on attracting, retaining, and expanding manufacturing and technology companies.
Probably not one of these stars has 40 in their rear-view mirror. They are a worldly bunch, these kids, blazing new trails by exploring, learning, building on traditional crafts, creating new reasons for people to visit our region, to play, to work, to appreciate.
Our future, the future of the best region in the best province in the greatest country, is in good young hands.
We’re honoured to share some of their stories in this issue.
Thanks for turning the page.