Niagara-on-the-Lake is rich with family businesses growing flowers under glass.
But what was a thriving local industry a short time ago is threatened by COVID-19, as flowers come into bloom, ready to be cut and sold, but nobody to buy them.
Orders of cut flowers have largely been cancelled, says Tim Moes of Virgil Greenhouses, as they approach what should be their peak season.
Pim Boekestyn and his brother Tom started growing freesias all year round almost three decades ago, and Virgil Greenhouses has become the largest producer of cut freesias in North America.
Tom has since retired, and Pim has brought his son Peter and his son-in-law Tim Moes onboard.
Their cooler is now full of thousands of cut freesias and ranunculus, ready to go to market.They cut about 7,000 a week, ready if orders do come in, but they have no hope of selling the numbers they are growing.
With four acres under glass, at least one greenhouse is full of flowers that will not be harvested — there is no point cutting what you can’t sell, says Moes.
Last week, The Watering Can in St. Catharines came through in a huge way for them, lowering prices, as did the greenhouse, to sell 2,500 freesias in 24 hours. But with the shut-down of essential services, Moes says, as of Tuesday there was some confusion over whether florists were allowed to stay open — live produce can be grown and sold, but they were waiting for clarification about whether flowers were included. Some florists have shut down already, others are gearing up to take orders online and deliver them to porches.
Moes says they’ve been dropping boxes of cut flowers at lower income housing and long-term care homes, just leaving them outside, and other greenhouses are doing the same.
They are also selling flowers from a roadside stand set up outside their Hunter Road greenhouses, and after posting a photo on Instagram last week, Moes says he’s been “blown away” by the response. “We didn’t expect we’d get this kind of support.”
They’ve organized it as a drive-through flower shop, with no need for drivers to get out of their car, and they are in the process of setting up payment online so there will be no money exchanged. They will continue to sell from the stand unless they learn they are not permitted to do so.
They were expecting seasonal workers to arrive last week, but that didn’t happen, and at this point, it’s just as well, Moes says. They don’t have work for them to do, and without a crystal ball, no way to know what will happen in the coming weeks. “At this point, it’s not looking good.”