Montreal

Made in Quebec: Flowers grown here, not flown here

For decades, most cut flowers in Quebec have been flown in — imported from Colombia or Ecuador or farther afield. But change is blooming.

Flower farmers in Quebec are using a new hashtag on Twitter and Instagram: #grownnotflown

Clémence Rivard-Hiller, left, and Evelyne Guindon started their own organic flower farm in an old apple orchard in Saint-Joseph-du-Lac. (Marie-Ève Rompré/Origine Farm)

For decades, most cut flowers in Quebec have been flown in — imported from Colombia or Ecuador or farther afield. But change is coming.

Already, more and more Quebecers are taking an interest in where their food comes from and where their money is going. They want good food, ideally from a local farmer. And they want that food to be ethically and sustainably grown.

Quebec farmers like Simon White believe the time is right for a similar movement in flowers. White and his partner Malissa Levitsky have been growing flowers on Homefield Farm, their half-acre property in Laval, for two years.
Simon White and Malissa Levitsky have been growing flowers on Homefield Farm in Laval for two years. (Marie Sullivan/Homefield Farm)

In the past, White said, any flowers grown for the retail market in Quebec were produced in greenhouses, and growers would try to replicate the kinds of flowers imported from overseas. But today's movement is different.

The plants are grown in the field, not in greenhouses. Local varieties, such as cosmos, foxglove, sweet peas, celosia, scabiosa, gomphrena and cabbage flowers are replacing hothouse roses and lilies.

"We were told we are the first outdoor flower farm in Laval — the first that l'Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec has registered as non-greenhouse," White says.
Flower farmer Simon White says he's proud his plants and flowers and all grown in Quebec without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. (Homefield Farm)

Less wear on the planet

White is proud that their flowers have not been transported from afar. They are sold locally, through florists or at outdoor markets. No shipping by plane means less pollution, lower handling costs, no preservatives and less wear on the planet.

Homefield Farm doesn't use chemical fertilizers, pesticides or preservatives, which White says are harmful to the environment and not actually necessary.

He says by using bio-intensive methods, they can produce a lot of flowers on minimum land, while maintaining healthy soil.

They also produce flowers "that can't be shipped," like zinnias and dahlias, which are too delicate to send around the world but can be sold at market here the day they are picked.
Simon White and Malissa Levitsky also produce flowers like zinnias and dahlias, which are sold at local markets the day they are cut. (Homefield Farm)

Long-living, local, organic proves popular

"We honestly saw a growing demand for local flowers," Levitsky said. "We were inspired by other flower farms in the United States. We saw a movement growing."

Getting local florists on board was not a problem, Levitsky said.
Malissa Levitsky says Homefield Farm is the 1st outdoor flower farm in Laval, where plants are not grown in a greenhouse. She says more and more customers want to buy local flowers. (Homefield Farm)

Early on in their venture, they loaded up their van and shopped their flowers around to local florists.

"People were shocked," Levitsky said. "They told us, 'We don't get enough local flowers. We want to buy from you.'"   

"We have florists tell us that when they put a sign that says 'local flowers' right next to a bouquet, they sell right away," White concurred.

"It's like the same movement that has happened with food. Organic. No pesticides on food. Or flowers. We want local organic flowers."

Levitsky says there is another benefit as well: "Our flowers last longer. They are cut that morning. With our stuff, they're going to last for a week, even two weeks."

Community-supported agriculture next

Evelyne Guindon, left, and Clémence Rivard-Hiller sell mainly to florists and do flower arrangements for weddings and special events (Marie-Ève Rompré/Origine Farm)
​Clémence Rivard-Hiller grew up in the small town of Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, Que., north of Montreal, and never dreamed she would one day return there to start a business.

She and her partner, Evelyne Guindon, set up their organic flower farm, Origine Ferme Florale, in an old apple orchard.

Now in their second year of commercial production, they mainly sell to florists and do flower arrangements for weddings and special events. Selling directly to consumers on a regular basis proved more challenging.

"It's a more European way to consume flowers," Rivard-Hiller said.

Quebecers are used to buying flowers just for special occasions, she said.

This year, they decided to follow the lead of another local flower producer and start selling bi-weekly bouquets — bouquets you pick up the same way you would your local community-supported agriculture (CSA) basket.

Origine Ferme Florale had 50 places for CSA bouquets this year and were quickly sold out, with a waiting list for next year.

People can sign up for five or 10 bouquets over the course of a summer, picking them up at one of four drop-off locations around Montreal.

"We promise them the bouquet will never be the same," said Rivard-Hiller. It changes according to which flowers are in bloom.
There is already a waiting list to register for Origine Farm's bi-weekly bouquets next summer. Those who sign up have a bouquet waiting for them at various drop-off points in Montreal over the course of the summer. (Origine Farm)

Short growing season

Because the growing season for flowers here is so short, the workload is intense and the pace relentless.

"We had 12-hour days, seven-day weeks, for five months," said White.

"I guess we don't mind the hard work, especially knowing we'll have a bit of a break in the winter."

Only a few farms in Quebec are focusing on growing sustainable local flowers. Some of the farmers plan to meet later this month, to find ways to share information and maybe even to form an organization.

Homefield Farm sells its flowers, during the growing season, at the Marché Sainte-Anne in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and the Marché Fermier at the Laurier Metro station in Montreal.

Origine Ferme Florale distributes its baskets to locations in Mile End and Ahuntsic in Montreal and in Bois-des-Filion and Saint-Joseph-du-Lac.

Another flower farm which provides bi-weekly locally grown bouquets is Floramama, in Frelighsburg.

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