Monday, June 10, 2013

We've Come a Long Way Baby!

 The Big Guy and I at Prom in 1986

I received an email this morning that I thought I should share with my blogger peeps.  It is from a farmer out in Alberta.  She has a retail greenhouse not too far from a greenhouse we bought last Fall just 70 km outside of Edmonton.  I haven't had a chance to write a blog post about the new greenhouse yet but I will do that in short order, I promise!

When Sigrun heard of our purchase, she was concerned about how that would affect her own business.  Somehow, via my sister's blog, she got in contact with me and we had a nice chat.  This morning she sent me a follow up email with her most recent blog post.  It never ceases to amaze me how blogging can connect people with similar interests from all over the world in a way like never before.

Anyway, here follows a link to Sigrun's post and my response:

Hi Sigrun,

Thanks so much for sending me your blog post link.  As a farmer, I first want to say that I understand your feelings of concern and worry.  Being in business is never without that constant nagging feeling in the back of your head that keeps whispering "This just might be the season where everything falls apart".  As a woman of faith, I constantly pray that I can place my trust in my heavenly Father and accept what He has in store for me, no matter what.

A skit at our wedding in 1987 is all about flowers.  Who knew the roller coaster ahead would be so wild?!

I really appreciate your letter and the title "I'm really upset but I don't know if I should be...." and the openness with which you address your fears and concerns.  I love the fact that you put it all out  there.  You are my kind of lady!

You describe in your post how you conduct your business and what motivates you.  You work hard, you give to your community, you invest in your farm and family and at the end of the day you lay it all on the Lord in prayer.

Believe it or not, that is EXACTLY how I would describe myself and my family.  We started from nothing, just like you.  We took risks that failed, just like you.
Placing a new boiler in 1997 - Not an easy job
 We took other risks and some paid off, just like you.

The Big Guy making sure the boiler is level - The year the bank called our loans!

 And even though our farms don't look exactly the same today, despite being in the same industry for almost the same amount of time, I see that our goals and dreams are the same.  We both want what we do to have a deeper meaning.

It sure has been a long road though, don't you think?!

I have been in business with my hubby since we were married 26 years ago.  He was working for his dad in a small 10,000 square foot greenhouse, selling flowers to our local flower auction in Vancouver, the United Flower Growers Co op which is fashioned after the dutch flower auction in Holland.  My Father-in-law was one of the first members at the UFG.  He built his greenhouse originally with a specific thought niggling in the back of his mind.   He had been through WWII and remembered vividly what starvation felt like while living in occupied Netherlands under Hitler's vicious regime.  In the back of his mind he felt that if he had a small greenhouse in his yard, he would be able to grow his own food if a time of war ever came to his new homeland, Canada.

My in-law's tried many different crops back in those days.  Hothouse Tomatoes and the like were all part of the repertoire.  They tried renting the facility out to other growers.  They ran it themselves.  They tried hiring managers.  Nothing was particularly successful but they kept working away at it.

Jump ahead to 1991, the hubster, or as I like to call him, the Big Guy, was working for his Dad growing a crop of 6" potted cyclamen......
Junior has been helping out in the greenhouse from birth.
which were dying like flies for no apparent reason.  Every day he would walk through the greenhouse and find mature, 9 month old plants completely collapsed on the tables, even though they were perfectly healthy just 24 hours before.  We had no idea what was going on.  We finally found a science student at the University of British Columbia who was interested in solving this mystery for us.  Finding her was a real godsend, since we were at our wits end and had no money to spend on expensive laboratory tests.  Her findings were shocking.  We had an untreatable virus in the greenhouse which came to us directly from our seed supplier in Europe.  There was nothing to do except empty the greenhouses and start from scratch.

We were a young married couple, two little children and one on the way, facing complete devastation.  We got down on our knees and prayed for wisdom.  What should we do?!

What we decided in the end was to switch over to a completely new crop.  We decided to go into BEDDING PLANTS.  Now, at the time, if you were a grower in the Fraser Valley, you were a bottom of the barrel grower if you grew bedding plants.  Mostly back yard operators dealt in that kind of stuff.  A GOOD grower would never touch them.  But........we did it because we could see that it was in demand more than anything else the auction had to sell.

That same year, my father-in-law said "Son, if you want the place, you can have it!" and that was it.  We were in charge and free to do whatever we thought we needed to do.

First thing we did........we bought a fax machine.  I started sending out regular faxes to the local garden centres to let them know our availability.  Pregnant and ready to pop, I drove around in the truck with the Big Guy and dropped off samples.  We were even forced to sell on consignment just to get through the crop.  We worked during the day filling pots.....

Hand filling pots was a labor intensive job back then!!!!!

spraying weeds, picking plants......

I never really thought about germs in those days.  The kids crawled around the greenhouse freely.

and doing all the hard work that comes with being a grower who had no staff left but ourselves.  At night we would hop into our one and only truck loaded full of mature plants and beg stores to try our stuff.  The two oldest kids fell asleep in their car seats while we drove around looking for customers.

NOTE:  Getting in and out of an 8 cart delivery truck while 8 months pregnant is not an easy thing.  On occasion I felt sorry for myself that I was the verbal one in this partnership since that meant the Big Guy was never the one to talk to the customer.  However, the birth of my 3rd child ended up being the easiest one of all since my muscle tone was FABULOUS from all the exercise I got on the job.  
Our third daughter, Rebecca is born.
She just sort of popped out when the time came.

So, was it all uphill that year?  Certainly not.  We ended up just barely breaking even.  I was paying for groceries on my Visa and hoping my car would not break down because the bank account could not support a repair.  Scary stuff, being in business for yourself.

To make a long story short, we faced MANY of these sorts of challenges over the last 26 years including crop losses, power failures, accidents, fires, floods, septic malfunctions and all manner of troubles that would cause a sane man to call it quits.  There are enough stories in our very short history in business to write a book!

Where are we today?  Well, today we are 26 years older and wiser, with 5 kids and 3 grandkids whom we love and adore.  Our greenhouse has grown and prospered, regardless of the enormous challenges we faced over the years.  We see the hand of our heavenly Father in it all.  It's not because we made all the right decisions.  It's not because we were so smart.  It's not because we had all the advantage that other's did not have.  Nope.  It just happened while we went about our daily duties as given to us by our Creator in Genesis 1:28:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Creativity lives in man.  It's what makes us tick.  We work at re-creating things in our homes, in our businesses and in our own personal selves every day anew.  When change comes our way, it's a bit scary but it provides us an opportunity to respond with courage and optimism.  That's why we're here on this earth provided with talents and abilities to use in our Creator's service.

In truth, our business grew from a very small operation to a size we could never have imagined back in 1991.  During the busy seasons we now have at least 200 people working for us, depending on us for their livelihood.  This both humbles and emboldens us.  With so many people counting on the greenhouse to help them pay their mortgages and buy their groceries, we have an enormous responsibility to keep the whole company healthy and in the "black".....or perhaps "green" would be more apt in this case.

I hope you can see by my story here that we are not some evil, multi-national, inhumane corporation with no heart.  We are a family run farm that has prospered in our work over the years.  Our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, and a great many friends work here.  We all go to work every day with the same worries and concerns that every farmer and grower producing live organisms must live with.  Crop failure and human error lurk around every cloudy day or accidental growth regulator application.

Please don't judge us by the size of our greenhouse.  We love what we do. It's our PASSION!

So, in the spirit of the Golden Rule by which we always strive to abide, please let me share with you a few things I have learned in business over the years.  Maybe they will help you understand what decisions you might need to make for your own farm in the future.  Or perhaps they will be things you already know.  Rest assured, they are things that we have learned the hard way.  I hope it can go easier for you!

1.  Be PASSIONATE.  If you love what you do, it is so much easier to face challenges and trials that are sure to come your way, because you are doing what you LOVE to do!

2.  Infect others with your ENTHUSIASM.  If you are enthusiastic about what you have to offer, other's will want to come along for the ride.

3.  Consider any NEW CHALLENGE as a NEW OPPORTUNITY.  We have found that time and again, when a new challenge comes our way, it always leads to new ideas and ways we can improve.  ALWAYS.

4.  NETWORK with a vengeance. We have learned that partnering with greenhouses around the world is the best way to go.  Your competition does not have to be your enemy.  As a matter of fact, they may well be the answer to some of your problems.  Sharing with each other will always be the way for everyone to improve.  Have you thought about how partnering with a bigger greenhouse like ours might help you cut some of your costs?

5. As much as possible, avoid producing crops on SPECULATION.  We grew cyclamen for many years on speculation.  We just HOPED the customers would come and buy.  This tactic ENSURED us the lowest price year after year.  We finally learned to PRE-SELL our crop so that if we grew it, it already had a home to go to once it was ripe.  This gave us the advantage of knowing how much our customer was willing to pay and we could work with that budget ahead of time.  

6.  It's not just "All about the money"!  Our life here on earth is all about living in a community.  Our Creator made sure that we were not alone.  He told us to care for each other, to "love our neighbour as ourself".  That's where the fruits of our labor comes in.  We can leverage our assets, whether that is our time, our wealth, our support, our home or our hearts, to the upbuilding of others.   That kind of connectedness builds us ALL up.

And now, I should really go check on my adorable grandchildren who are visiting for the week.  Their mommy just had a baby......
My Little Angel and her bundle of joy

and she is busy bonding with our newest member of the crew, Wee Three.

Welcome to the world, little Miss Avery!  
I have been put in charge of babysitting.  I am thinking that the addition of an icecream cooler at the retail might be a dangerous one for this gramma!  Wee One and Wee Two LOVE ice-cream.

Wishing my FARMER PEEPS out there all the best!  Want to join in the discussion?  Feel free to leave a comment below.  There is just so much we can all learn from each other......


2 Responses to “We've Come a Long Way Baby!”

Shelley @ Sow and Dipity said...

I loved reading yours and 'The Big Guys' story... it's amazing what you have accomplished :)
Today the newest member of the family made her debut at the nursery, and mommy and baby were surrounded by a circle of cooing smiling women.
It truely feels like one big family here even if your not kin... one I'm very proud to recently become a part of.
Thanks for sharing!

Sigrun said...

I loved reading this. Thank you for the link. Makes me wish I were 20 years younger.