BY PAT SABISTON; PHOTOS BY KATIE DeSANTIS
Whether you have a “green” or “brown thumb”, if those fingers are just itching to dig deep into the earth that’s just now awakening from a long winter’s sleep, you don’t need to go very far. Look for the horse on the roof of a building on Highway 77 in Lynn Haven – that’s Sandi’s Feed and Seed. Colorful and eclectic, it is nothing like what you find with “Big Box” stores; plus, the customer service is exemplary. Just walking around and looking at everything that’s on display is an experience in itself.
It’s not unusual for patrons to stand, watch, and listen as Sandi “holds court” in her business, doling out her sage advice.
To have an uninterrupted conversation with Sandi, you have to get up very early in the morning. Mary Sandra (“Sandi”) McQuaig, owner and operator of Sandi’s Feed and Seed since 1979, began our interview at 7 a.m., when her workday begins.Her place of business will remind you of a general store from the old days.
How did you get interested in this business?
My father owned a sporting goods store in Gulfport, Mississippi, but we were city folks, yet I always was a country girl at heart. I started out by raising dogs (German shepherds, beagles, and bird dogs) for 25 years and gradually added chickens and ducks.
My dad and I enjoyed staying in primitive camps out in the woods where the cabins would hang over the bayou. I learned a lot during my childhood about pests, plants, and pets My father was killed in a boating accident and my grandfather died shortly thereafter. I got very close to my grandmother, who instilled in me the love of plants. I loved picking bouquets but, unfortunately, when I picked all the blooms from a neighbor’s yard and my grandmother had to pay for the plants, I got introduced to another plant – the Bridal wreath switch!
When I moved to Bay County, I went to work for Sears in the gardening department and then I worked for Bay District Schools. When this location became available for sale, I thought it was an ideal time and place for Sandi’s Feed & Seed, and here I am 35 years later! Unlike today, at that time this place was so far out in the county, we used to shoot doves behind the building. Now, we are a part of the fast-growing community of Lynn Haven.
How did you gain your experience?
I attended a lot of seminars and read, because there was so much to learn; plus, we’ve had some great Extension Agents in this area, and I belonged to the Panama City Garden Club. Everyone can learn a lot about anything if they’ll just take time to listen. I try to pay attention to what’s being said but it’s really hard for me to shut up, because I love helping people!
My hardest lesson was learning how to raise poultry. I roasted my first batch by accident, because I didn’t know they needed shade. Now, I can actually understand their sounds; if they are chirping, they are warning of potential disaster, but if they’re happy, you’ll hear a low purr.
What’s your Philosophy of Life?
I was raised a Catholic, but I don’t believe you have to go to church to be a Christian; rather, it should show in the way you live your life. I always ask myself: “What would He want me to do?” Also, if you dwell on negatives, it will really bring you down. Don’t allow yourself to have a bad day. I love to grow flowers, which I believe show the true glory of God. And, I like to laugh … a lot! If people on the outside look in at my life, it may seem mundane, but every day is a different opportunity to relate to, or encourage, everyone around you. Truly, love your neighbor as yourself.
What’s on your “Bucket List”?
After 39 years, I’ve gone through a divorce and, at my age (71), I’d love to sell the business, but would ask to stay on as an on-site consultant. I love dealing with people! They’re the only reason I come in each day, because to me, it’s all about serving others … not the money.
I consider myself to be the problem-solver. People bring in limbs and leaves, and I attempt to diagnose what may be going on with the plant; and if I don’t know the answer, I can always contact one of our extraordinary Extension Agents, because no one can possibly know it all.
The biggest problems I see in this area are people who overwater their yards. Most of this area of Florida is sand swamp, not a sand desert, and most plants are indigenous to swamps. Or, they’ll use the wrong fertilizer. You have to know what the pH of the ground is before you plant grass and fertilize it, and then you have to keep it happy; otherwise, you’ll have to ‘pay to play’ to get the right grass to grow, that can be quite expensive with trial and error. And don’t even get me started on the popularity of mushroom compost! What most people get out of a pile is nothing more than dollar weed, morning glories, crabgrass, and cypress vine, that can be great for humming birds, but not much else. Otherwise, I tell them to just buy enough mushroom compost to put in the bottom of the hole when they are planting trees.
What’s the story on the landmark “Horse on the Roof?”
I bought the horse when Petticoat Junction Amusement Park in Panama City Beach went out of business. It sat in front of the store until I discovered that a club of boys in Lynn Haven were using it as part of their initiation. Apparently they had to sit on it naked and have their picture taken. When I found that out, I had the horse moved to the roof. To my knowledge, it hasn’t been used for nude photos since.
Val Cullen, a second generation Bay County resident, and his wife Jennifer live on a mini-farm in northern Bay County.They raise bees, dogs, chickens, and goats, along with having a sizeable garden and orchards.Over the years, their paths have often crossed with Sandi’s.“She was the first Wikipedia before there was such a thing,” shared Jennifer.“Sandi’s was the one place where you could go and she’d ask you about three questions, and then she would impart her knowledge about what she felt you needed to do.It was always fun to bounce stuff off of her, whether it was a question as to the correct time to plant potatoes, or how to de-worm your dog.And, if you go in to buy baby chicks, she doesn’t just sell them to you, she asks what you are going to do with them, and counsels you accordingly.If we lose these mom-and-pop-type seed and feed stores, there will be a huge vacuum, because the knowledge will be gone, which is very sad.”
Walter Kelley, Mayor of Lynn Haven, is very familiar with this business, which he considers to be an extremely valuable asset to his community.“I go in there every year to buy seeds for my own garden and they are always very busy.It’s the same whenever I drive by as well.It’s apparent Sandi has a very good business, and I’ve never heard anyone complain about her services.Quite the opposite! People are very appreciative of her knowledge about gardening but, more than that, she’s a person who loves animals and wants them taken care of,” Kelley said.
As we closed out our discussion, Sandi told me that she’d have to get back to her most recent project of painting the entire exterior of her business, but she concludes with I’m very proud of what God has allowed me to do and what I will do.
Why don’t you go in to meet Sandi and tell her we sent you, because it will be an experience you won’t soon forget? On behalf of all the region’s gardeners and pet lovers, thank you Sandi for all your knowledge and for just being your own unique self!
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