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Whitley Co. Flower Farm Plants Seeds of Inspiration

Published: Friday, October 21, 2022

The following was written by Colleen Baker of Indiana Farm Bureau.

When you step onto Pettigrew Farms on a summer day, you see acres of growing corn and soybeans, but you may also find a variety of beautiful flowers peeking out from the backyard—everything from zinnias, cosmos and celosia to amaranth, dahlias and sunflowers.

Flowers are a new venture for Jon and Tara Pettigrew of Pettigrew Farms LLC. The fourth-generation farm located in Columbia City is run by Jon Pettigrew and his family. It boasts 3,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat, in addition to premium show cattle. Jon also works off the farm at Steel Dynamics, and Tara is a registered nurse. Both are Whitley County Farm Bureau members who grew up involved in agriculture and showing in 4-H.

The two actually met in high school showing sheep. Now they have three kids —Ty (11), Kylie (9) and Brooks (5), who also are involved in 4-H and love showing livestock.

Flowers had always been a hobby for Tara, so she decided to try out a small flower farm in 2021.

"I've always loved flowers and being creative," said Tara. "I followed some other flower farmers on Instagram and saw you could start them in your house using shop lights, so that's what I did."

Now, over a year later, Tara has between 15 to 20 different flower varieties in her backyard on about a quarter of an acre of flower beds. The flower season went from June until late September this year.

During that time, Tara opened her backyard up for U-pick business where visitors can make their own bouquets for events like graduations and weddings. She also has donated bouquets to the Whitley County 4-H Fair for overall showmanship prizes, as well as participated in the weekly Columbia City farmers market where, not only did she gain awareness for Pettigrew Farms, but she also received interest from the local community in doing future private events.

"It's still really new, and I'm always learning," said Tara. "I'm taking flower arrangement classes so I can do more events. I also want to fix up our old horse trailer into a flower trailer, so we stand out at the farmers market."

The flower business is a vehicle for the whole family to take part in agriculture, especially Ty. He has Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition that can lead to developmental and learning challenges, often occurring side-by-side with highly social personalities, which is definitely the case with Ty.

"He is a people person 10 times over," said Jon. "He is the happiest person you'll ever meet."

Ty is heavily involved in 4-H. He has shown pigs and cattle at the county, state and national levels. In fact, Ty showed the grand champion heifer at the 2022 Whitley County Fair and also the reserve grand champion barrow at the 2022 Whitley County Fair. Ty brings joy to everyone at the livestock shows, giving out his trademark hugs to everyone—even the judges.

The Pettigrews want the flower farm to be an aspect of agriculture that Ty can continue to be involved in.

"We wanted to create a safe space for Ty to help out," said Tara. "With his excellent people skills, we thought he would be great talking to visitors and taking part in the business. We want him to have that ownership and responsibility."

The Pettigrews' ultimate goal is for the flower farm to be a place where the special needs community can work or visit.

"We eventually want this to develop into a place where anyone with special needs can join and participate," said Tara.

"We are so thankful we live in a community that loves and accepts Ty," said Jon. "We can't go anywhere without someone—kids or adults—saying 'hi' to him.

"Ty is the main reason we work so hard and do what we do. And as we start this flower business, we just want to give back and help all kids grow and learn."

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