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Sept. 18, 2021

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Working in Clark County: Jamie Smith, owner of Jamie’s Dahlias

By , Columbian Staff writer, news assistant
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8 Photos
Jamie Smith of Jamie's Dahlias cuts flowers for arrangements each morning before the farm opens up to the public. She grew up in Portland and taught in Oregon City, Ore., before moving to Washougal. She left the teaching profession to pursue the dahlia business.
Jamie Smith of Jamie's Dahlias cuts flowers for arrangements each morning before the farm opens up to the public. She grew up in Portland and taught in Oregon City, Ore., before moving to Washougal. She left the teaching profession to pursue the dahlia business. (Photos by amanda cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

All it took for Jamie Smith was a bouquet of dahlias on a blind date in 2014.

It was love at first sight, she said, not just with her now husband, Kerry Smith, but also the dahlias.

Seven years later, the couple has three children on their 7-acre swath of land in Washougal. One acre is dotted with more than 200 varieties of colorful dahlias.

“It’s a bit of a love story for us,” Jamie Smith, 33, said.

The dahlias that Kerry Smith took to the blind date were cut from a now-closed farm on Washougal River Road, about 3 ½ miles away from their home, called Linda’s Dahlias.

For about five years, the Smiths would wander the farm, a beloved spot for locals for about 20 years, to bring home their favorite flowers. Then the owners of Linda’s Dahlias, Linda and Bob Merrell, retired in 2019.

Jamie’s Dahlias

https://jamiesdahlias.wixsite.com/2020

Number of employees: 1.

Bureau of Labor Statistics job outlook: Employment of floral designers is projected to decline 20 percent through 2029, while employment of farmers, ranchers and all other agricultural managers is projected to decline 6 percent. The average wage of a farmer in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore., metro area, according to May 2020 data, was $41.35 per hour or $86,020 per year.

That’s when the Smiths swooped in.

“When previous owners told us we’re thinking about selling, I had a dream we did it,” Jamie Smith said, who wanted to keep the variety of dahlias local to Washougal.

“Each variety is so different. You can have tiny 1-inch pompons to a 10-inch dinner plate – the flower is as big as a dinner plate, as big as your head,” she said. “I love the variety the flower itself brings. So keeping that variety here and access to it is really important.”

First, the Merrells listed the stock for sale. Then the couple spent about a month digging up the dahlias to bring them to their property.

Their first year in business was in 2020, opening at the height of the pandemic. Jamie decided to leave her job as a teacher, most recently at Fort Vancouver High School, to pursue the dahlia business.

It’s been an interesting shift, she said.

“With teaching, you can plan your curriculum and have a schedule, and everything goes to plan – if you’re organized enough,” she said. “But with flowers or any type of harvesting, there’s the element of unknown where you don’t have control over the weather, or there’s a rainstorm and all of your flowers are broken. There’s an element of surprise with a garden.”

One surprise was that even though their first year of business was during a pandemic, they had no shortage of customers.

“Last summer, we were really, really busy. Much busier than I anticipated being. It was kind of a steady stream of families,” Smith said, noting that there are picnic tables around the property where people can hang out.

Before people had access to vaccines and during stay-at-home orders, being outside was really the only safe place to be. Parks became busier as people sought refuge in nature.

Their first day back open was Friday.

“We’re kind of interested to see how it will play out this year even though, yes, COVID-19 is still going on. But I think it naturally kind of encouraged people to do an outdoor activity,” she said.

Not only was the pandemic an obstacle but so was “Mother Nature herself,” Smith said. A wind storm took out several rows of dahlias. Then the farm was forced to close for eight days because of hazardous air quality from wildfire smoke.

WORKING IN CLARK COUNTY

Working in Clark County, a brief profile of interesting Clark County business owners or a worker in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. Send ideas to Lyndsey Hewitt: lyndsey.hewitt@columbian.com; fax 360-735-4598; phone 360-735-4550.

Whatever 2021 throws at them, though, the Smiths are ready.

“As a teacher, I’m a natural learner, so I’ve done a lot of research and I’ve really expanded my horizons the last two years,” she said. In the future, she hopes to host workshops about dahlia care and gardening.

“It’s been so fun, so challenging. I hope that we can expand, and I’d like to tap into that teacher side of me that I do miss,” she said.

Columbian Staff writer, news assistant
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