Embracing endless possibilities

Faces of Ag: Manitoba flower farmer finds niche in natural dye and eco-printing

Lourdes Still in her flower and dye workshop on her farm near La Broquerie in southeastern Manitoba.

It’s difficult to believe that the vivid orange, burgundy and yellow floral print wasn’t painted or printed on the soft, crepe scarf in Lourdes Still’s hands.

Instead, these scarves are dyed into the fabric straight from marigolds, coreopsis flowers, and even onion skins right there on Masagana Flower Farm near La Broquerie.

Still stirred a vat of murky green-blue liquid —indigo dye, grown a few metres away and processed through reduction and oxidization on the site. You can influence the colour based on how it’s prepared, she explains — whether as a “fruit vat” with banana skins (sitting prepared in a plastic pail nearby) or in this iron vat, which is now ready for dipping fabric and may last years.

“Flowers can do this?” Still said she’d thought when she took in her first natural dye workshop at sheep farm and wool mill Long Way Homestead near Ste. Genevieve. That was winter of 2019.

“I was taking down notes. I don’t know what I was, like, writing down… I don’t have context.”

The idea planted firmly in her mind — she had space on her flower farm. She could experiment.

Flowers in Manitoba?

Still grew up in the Philippines and emigrated to Canada where she settled in downtown Winnipeg.

“I was a city girl through and through,” she said.

As she explored her new home, she discovered local farmers’ markets and local food. While working as a wholesale flower buyer, Still corresponded with flower farmers from all over the world, mostly South America. While there, she discovered a flower farm in the Rosenort area.

“So that got me curious,” she said. “A flower farm in Manitoba?”

Meanwhile, Still met now-husband Kevin and helped him start a vegetable garden on the land they now share. They married, and she moved out to the country — a transition she enjoyed — and left her corporate job behind.

This allowed Still to start her own patch of flowers and register as a business with the understanding it would be seasonal work. She trained as a master gardener through the University of Saskatchewan and also worked on the Rosenort flower farm to gain experience.

Lourdes Still in her flower and dye workshop on her farm near La Broquerie in southeastern Manitoba. photo: Geralyn Wichers

In 2019 she returned to an office job and had to minimize the flowers she grew but, especially in summer, her mind was in the garden.

In January of 2020, Still left that job so she could spend time with family in the Philippines. After this, she decided to take another go at flower farming. This was also when she began experimenting with and learning about natural dyes — a skill she realized would allow her to make flowers her year-round business.

Embracing possibilities

This year, Still continues to sell cut flowers while building her dye plant stock.

Still’s flower plots now take up all available space in the spacious yard despite embracing an intensive growing style and growing successive rounds of flowers in some of the plots.

So this year, most of the flowers have dual or triple function. Other than a few favourites, they must meet two out of three criteria, she explained: either they’re good cut flowers, good dried, or are dye flowers.

“As the years go by, I think I’m going to push it – push it until it’s all dye flowers,” Still said.

Among Manitoba’s burgeoning fibre community (e.g. Long Way Homestead, where Still took her first dye course) it’s not uncommon to grow flowers and plants for dye use, said Still. However, in the off-season it’s difficult to source locally grown, or even Canadian-grown dye plants, she said.

“There is a niche market for it,” she said.

Still sells dip-dyed scarves and shawls and eco-prints other garments — these are dyed by printing whole flowers and other botanicals straight onto the fabric, forming soft floral patterns.

She also invites people to come and try the processes themselves, something she markets as the ‘Tinta Experience.’ People can tour the garden, pick flowers and then dye their own wearable art, her website explains.

“I want people to experience their plants and flowers in a whole new way,” Still said.

She wants others to feel the same excitement and surprise she still feels every time she unbundles a newly dyed garment.

“They’re always one of a kind,” said Still. A change in water pH, soil pH, even drought can shift the colours a plant can produce.

It’s an invitation to be open to “endless possibilities,” said Still. “Welcoming how slightly or how different it is from your expectation.”

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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