ROCHESTER — Sharalyn and Damon Peterson came to Washington two years ago with master’s degrees in biology, so it’s no surprise their cut flower farm’s main theme is sustainability and maintaining quality, farmable soil.

The Petersons, both wildlife biologists who were born and raised outside of Chicago, have lived in just about every type of climate in the U.S., traveling from Indiana to Florida to New Mexico and finally Arizona before arriving in Rochester.

Damon, a Ph.D candidate in biology out of New Mexico State University, landed a job with the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife, while Sharalyn was taking a sabbatical for the year. 

The husband and wife duo rented a farm near Helsing Junction southwest of Rochester and decided to apply for a business license in February 2019 to start their new venture, Foggy 48 Farms.

The farm had some flowers left growing from a previous tenant and they just started adding to them. The two had little experience growing flowers on a business scale. Sharalyn had small gardens in the past but nothing like this. She did have a background in farming, however, as her grandfather was a row crop farmer who grew corn in Indiana. And as ecosystem biologists, Sharalyn and Damon had plenty of experience working in greenhouses.

Sharalyn works part-time remotely as the program coordinator for the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides’ Healthy Wildlife and Water program. Her job is to make sure the nonprofit educates people on the reduction of pesticides and which safe alternatives to use. 

It’s a practice the Petersons have put to use on their farm to be eco-conscious. They use zero chemicals to keep their flowers, chickens, ducks, the neighboring wildlife and the small creek that borders their farm clean in a sustainable way.

“We have a bunch of land on the farm that’s forested land that we work with, too, in terms of conservation, to make sure that exotics don’t invade,” Damon said. “The biology ecosystems approach has really informed how we approach the farming practices.”

Instead of pesticides, the Petersons use a lot of mulching, including a method called lasagna mulching, which is rotating a layer of cardboard, compost and hay or straw, which blocks the light to kill off weeds and helps create a healthy soil composition. They also use flame weeding, which is passing a flame over a weed to destroy the cell structure and prevent photosynthesis.

Another method the Peterson’s utilize is never planting the same crops in the same place. They also try to intercrop as much as possible, especially with plants that help with pests, such as planting garlic strategically.

Foggy 48 Farms is nearly 48 total acres, much of which is hay field and forest, and about two acres is used for farming.

“We plan to expand that in the coming years,” Sharalyn said. “We’re specialty crop farmers with the flowers, so we’re trying to introduce more heirloom, other plant varieties and vegetables.”

Their main sellers are dahlias, but they also grow tulips, standard gladiolus, sweet peas, roses, nasturtium and many others. It’s all seasonal, so they tend to put together grower’s bunches of flowers and what they have at any current time goes into their custom arrangements.

“We’re not just growers and producers, we’re also artists,” Damon said.

They’ve done plenty of wedding arrangements and bouquets in the past few months, and most of their business comes from creating selling arrangements, for instance with floral foam, rather than bunches. They have a flower subscription where people can purchase weekly bouquets.

The Petersons also grew pumpkins last year, not so much this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Sharalyn starting her new job, but they hope to get that started back up in the future. They also raise and sell live heritage breed chickens and muscovy ducks.

“It’s all about trying to find your niche,” Sharalyn said. “There are very few people who deal with heritage-breed chickens. It’s fun trying to find that space that makes us stand out.”

The Petersons sell their flowers and arrangements at the Centralia Farmers Market every Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Purchases can also be made by calling them at 360-347-6534 or emailing them at foggy48farms@gmail.com.

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Reporter Eric Trent can be reached at etrent@chronline.com. Visit chronline.com/business for more coverage of local businesses.

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