February is a time when most of us splurge on fresh cut flowers, whether it’s to celebrate Lunar New Year or Valentine’s Day. But where are your flowers coming from? If you’re buying imported flowers, you can bet they’ve taken a long journey by air and ground before they get to the store – in fact, it’s not unusual to fly roses from South America to markets in North America for Valentine’s Day. Luckily, with BC’s mild climate, it’s easy to find local blooms to give to your loved ones. We talked to floriculturist (and dairy farmer!) John Kerkhoven about his flower-growing greenhouse in Deroche, BC located in the Fraser Valley Region. And, we sourced your best bets for local bouquets both this February, and all year round.
WHL: Can you tell us a little bit about your farm and how it works? What kind of flowers do you grow?
John Kerkhoven: I grow a variety of flowers throughout the year but our dominant crop is tulips. I grow about 2.5 million stems in the spring. I also produce peonies, calla lilies, sunflowers and ornamental kale – they’re all cut flowers. Some of those crops are outdoor, some are in greenhouses. We use almost no pesticides because the cycle in the greenhouse is so short. Also, tulips require very little heat.
WHL: What are the growing seasons for a BC floriculture farm – are you constantly growing flowers or are certain seasons busier than others?
JK: There’s only one period that I do not produce any flowers, and that’s from the 15th of December to early January, and that’s really just a conscious business decision. I try to have most of the work wound down and the bulbs planted before that time, and then everybody appreciates Christmas and New Year’s off – and then we kick it back into gear in January and we’re going full tilt by Valentine’s Day. The tulips that we grow from the Northern Hemisphere, we market those between January and Mother’s Day. Sweet peas are marketed between the middle of March through to July. That’s a cold greenhouse crop. Peonies are grown in cold frames, and they start in April and run through till July. And then there are the summer flowers, like sunflowers, and ornamental kale is a fall flower. Finally, tulips from the Southern Hemisphere, their fall is our spring – so we have tulips in the fall from Thanksgiving through to the 15th of December.
WHL: Where do your flowers go once they’re ready to be harvested?
JK: A portion of them go through the United Flower Growers, which is a flower auction in Burnaby. The majority of my flowers go to wholesalers that supply the mass market – like Costco.
WHL: What do you see as the benefits to buying locally grown flowers?
JK: Well, the alternative is imported flowers, and the majority of those come from Ecuador and Columbia, so the obvious benefit is the length of the supply chain. It wouldn’t be unusual for flowers that I pick to be in retail outlets within a day and a half. The supply chain from South America is much longer as the flowers get on a jet plane and fly to Miami and then get on a truck and are driven diagonally across North America and that takes some time. I’m not saying they don’t do it well, but the supply chain (for local flowers) is much shorter; and our local flowers are much fresher than imported flowers. And I think that the grower community in the Fraser Valley does a good job of offering a selection of fresh flowers and potted plants to the market.
To get your hands on some of these locally-grown flowers this February, here are six sustainable shops we love:
To see which local flowers are in season, check out United Flower Growers, a cooperative of over 80 local BC floriculture growers that sells flowers from farmers like John to local florists. Their comprehensive search engine lets you explore in-season field grown and cut flowers grown in BC, and features everything from agapanthus to zinnias. And if you’re looking for more local options, a trip to your farmers’ market is a great place to find out who in your area grows their own flowers or offers a flower CSA: we’ve rounded up our favourite winter markets for you here. This year, when you say it with flowers, you’ll be sure to say it sustainably.