Station: An organic beauty

Business and agriculture meet in a happy place on the North Cowichan property of Sebastien Martin and Catherine Wedderspoon-Martin - Andrew Leong
Business and agriculture meet in a happy place on the North Cowichan property of Sebastien Martin and Catherine Wedderspoon-Martin
— image credit: Andrew Leong

A forgotten honey pot helped stir the sweet Cowichan lifestyle for the enterprising owners of Wedderspoon Farm.

From 13 idyllic acres off Herd Road — rescued from a logged moonscape — Sebastien Martin, Catherine Wedderspoon-Martin, and their youngsters Charlotte and William, now enjoy Warm Land living.

“The farm’s a vibrant place, and we get lots of energy from it,” Sebastien said in a thick French accent. “It’s a magical place.”

Wedderspoon’s wizardry sees some experimentation to grow various crops using permaculture farming techniques proudly displayed amid cedar-frame buildings, drying sheds, coops, greenhouses, and animal pens.

Mint, lemon balm, lavender, thyme, calendula, yarrow, and rosemary, and hibiscus — from Wedderspoon’s 350 trees — are raised by the farm’s family of eco-minded workers, then made into teas and more.

“They have experience in permaculture and biodynamic movements. We’re benefiting from their knowledge and applying it to our land,” said soil-addicted idea-man Sebastien.

The farm is also headquarters for Wedderspoon Organic Inc., the family’s international manuka honey, and honey-based products company buzzing in the spread’s sturdy warehouses that are already under a space crunch.

But that rare blend of local bucolic lifestyle meets business-world brains makes Wedderspoon’s story so different from Old MacDonald’s farm.

Using social media, and creative niche marketing, Wedderspoon’s stringently organic products — spanning manuka honeys, and lip balm, to cosmetics, bees-wax candles, lozenges and teas — can be made in, and shipped from other countries while Sebastien and his crew cultivate ideas for crops grown in Cowichan’s Mediterranean climate.

“We add five or six products every year.

“We’re visionaries for discovering new properties in the honey. We’ve been consistent in our products; that’s why people like our brands.”

Call it living locally, marketing globally.

Catherine — whose maiden name is Wedderspoon — has stepped back from the booming business to raise the kids.

The family’s livelihood is intricately stuck to what is likely Earth’s best manuka honey — made way down in New Zealand.

The coveted bee nectar, wax and venom is used in Wedderspoon’s hive of organic products — some including their farm’s many herbs — sold in some 110 countries.

Sebastien directs the farm and worldwide marketing, while concocting new products, such as a valley factory to make tea-based Platonic drinks using his farm’s herbs.

“The recipe will be a surprise.”

The couple’s passage to paradise in Cowichan started a dozen years ago while living in Quebec. Catherine’s mom, Diane, visited from Britain but forgot her jar of manuka honey.

“She asked us to buy her some, but we couldn’t find any. We even called local beekeepers,” an effusive Sebastien said.

Diane’s idea of filling the prized manuka-honey market gathered dust — until the couple moved to Cowichan in 2005 at the urging of Cobble Hill friends.

They settled in a log cabin in Chemainus, then moved to Duncan and elsewhere while launching their home-based business to market manuka honey — renowned for flavour and healing properties.

Eventually, they landed a purchasing contract with a master beekeeper in Christchurch.

“We made the plunge using money we made from selling our house in Quebec — we had nothing to lose,” said Sebastien.

Manuka demand hiked. The couple created more products, and built their dream home on rough farmland bought in 2009.

“The land was logged years ago, and they scraped off all the topsoil, but we brought in water and electricity, and built the roads. It was a dead zone with not a single bird, but we made a farm and a Garden of Eden,” he said.

His Elysium cradles his family’s custom-built home, and employs several dozen seasonal workers tending and terracing herbs using permaculture.

The chemical-free technique yields year-round crops fertilized by compost, and fed by water-catchment seen in Wedderspoon’s pond system. They also hire harvesters for wild salal berries used in teas made on site. Herbs are dried then manufactured into sachets.

Sebastien planted about 20 of Canada’s first manuka bushes on their commercial farm. Their pastoral spread also boasts chickens and sheep, including Brutus the Dorset ram.

Wedderspoon may have beehives by next year, too. Meanwhile, he and his family love living on island-thyme.

“The valley is thriving and will change in a good way; it’s going from logging to food and organic products, and wine — it’s endless,” he said.


The Wide World of Wedderspoon:

Wedderspoon won the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce’s Black Tie award for business excellence in 2006

Sebastien and Catherine met in Europe, wed in Las Vegas in 2000, and moved to Quebec in 2001.

Sebastien, 37, was born in France; Catherine, in England

Sebastien was a graphic designer who did work for Bombardier

He gained French farming knowledge about goat cheese and milk from his mom, Chantal, and business sense from his dad, Philippe

Sebastien created the firm’s Queen of the Hive baby products recipe in a home casserole dish, with a repackaged line launching by the end of March

NFL player Scott Fujita endorses Wedderspoon’s organic products

Wedderspoon started marketing Chilean and Greek honey this year

Manuka bushes are non-invasive and used for erosion control

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