Steve Veldstra is and isn’t new to Wagon Wheel.
He is in the sense that he and his wife, Stacey, and their six children, bought the garden and pet supply business from Barbara Walker in May.
He isn’t in the sense that he worked for Walker at Wagon Wheel from 1984 to 1997.
He is quick to assure customers “there will be no major differences.”
Stacey Veldstra agreed.
“A lot of what people know about Wagon Wheel will be the same,” she said.
A point-of-sale system has been installed to help the new owners track transactions, something the former owner didn’t need.
“Barbara was able to keep it all in her head, but I can’t do that,” Veldstra said.
Country-style home décor items have been added to the inventory. A new floor has been installed in the greenhouse. Some of the gardening and pet supply inventory has been organized a bit differently. More varieties of premium dog food are now offered and the Veldstras have increased the variety of animals they carry.
There is a large selection of fish, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, a chinchilla, and reptiles that include chameleons, salamanders, iguanas and lizards, as well as the food to keep them healthy.
On the gardening side, the selection of organic and natural amendments that can be added to the soil has been expanded to include bone, fish and blood meal; green sand; and earthwork castings.
Gardening is the bulk of Wagon Wheel’s business and is exactly “what I love to do,” said Veldstra. His interest in gardening began his sophomore year at Homer High School when he enrolled in an agriculture class taught by Al Poindexter.
“I tried cows for my first FFA project. That went OK, but I didn’t care for it. The next year I did horticulture and I excelled at that,” he said.
Tutoring by local plant expert Darren Williams increased Veldstra’s knowledge, as did working all those years at Wagon Wheel. In 1991, he started Dutch Boy Landscaping, operating it on the side while continuing to work at Wagon Wheel. When he expanded his business to include Christmas Décor in 1997, his schedule became too full to work for Wagon Wheel.
In 2009, the Veldstras sold Dutch Boy and in 2010 the family moved to the Philippines, where they worked to encourage farming. The different climate and different soil also was an opportunity for them to learn new techniques.
“The microorganisms break down the organic material so fast that there is no organic material in the soil we were working with. I was shocked,” Veldstra said of the conditions he encountered in the Philippines. “So we mulched the heck out of gardens there and it made a huge difference.”
After returning to Homer in 2012, Veldstra was hired by the people to whom he had sold Dutch Boy Landscaping. Last fall discussions began with Walker about the sale of Wagon Wheel, “and we purchased it in May of this year, right smack dab in the busy season,” he said.
To help meet Homer’s busy gardening season needs, the Veldstras’children — Ann Marie, 23; Ethan, 20; Tyler, 17; Kailee, 14; Alyssum, 13; and Adams, 13 — helped in the store, as did Stacey’s sister, Kristen Engebretsen, and Laura Barton and Freedom Shepard, both of whom worked for Walker. Ann Marie is now attending Alaska Bible Institute, Tyler is in Wyoming Youth With a Mission, and Stacey Veldstra is home schooling the four youngest Veldstra children.
In January and February, seeds for the upcoming season become the focus. In March, the attention is on tomatoes. Spring is the time for bedding plants. Through April, May, June and the first part of July, baby chickens, ducks and turkeys are available.
“And then we’re on another cycle of summer gardening,” Veldstra said.
Throughout the year, Wagon Wheel offers what pet lovers need, be it lizard food, bales of hay or a leash for walking a chicken. Speaking of chickens, they also sell farm fresh eggs. And for their customers, there are healthy beverages and snacks.
“This is a big learning curve,” Veldstra said. Comparing the operation of Wagon Wheel to Dutch Boy Landscaping, he added, “Retail is different than service.”
McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer who lives in Homer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Owners: Steve and Stacey Veldstra
Address: 1506 Ocean Drive
Monday through Friday,
9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.;
Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.