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The rise of flower farms in Quebec: a “women’s affair”

Mano Capano was one of the first to own a flower farm in the province 20 years ago. I was a pioneer, humbly admits the little lady, the only employee of her own company, Peonies Capano.

Located in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, its fields have more than 14,000 peony plants from 300 different varieties. In the heart of high season, the sweet scent of flowers, carried by the hot air, is sublime. Colors are too.

When she started her business in the early 2000s, Mano Capano only sold peony plants.

But when she realized that thousands of flowers were wilting in her fields every year, while waiting for the plants to be ripe, she smelled the good deal: it was necessary to exploit the market of the fresh cut flower, and to sell to the florists.

I said to myself: “If a producer from Holland is able to produce and bring flowers to Quebec and it is economically profitable, I don’t see why a producer from Quebec could not sell in Quebec!” So I started like that, on a smaller scale.

A quote from:Mano Capano, owner of Peonies Capano
A woman holding peonies in a basket

Mano Capano is one of the first in Quebec to have founded a flower farm.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Alexandre DUVAL

At the time, recalls the producer, florists offered very few local flowers to their customers.

The florists got their supplies from the wholesalers. Wholesalers brought their flowers from all over the world. The local flower was absolutely absent. Now that has changed, notes Mano Capano.

Dazzling rise

Currently, the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) lists approximately 50 flower farms in Quebec.

They have several things in common. First, most of them are only two to five years old. They then work on land that is generally less than one hectare.

Finally, the vast majority of owners are women. It is very much a matter of women who have decided to have a family life, who have decided to live with flowers, to respect more their rhythm, their values., explains Mano Capano.

Two kilometers further west of Pivoines Capano, on the riverside in Neuville, Geneviève Robert fully embodies this new generation of women who have chosen to grow flowers to afford a better life.

The young mother, who has four daughters, started Fleurs La Garance in 2017. It was following maternity leave, during which she made the decision to quit her job as a communications professional.

We were in traffic a lot, we were very much in “quickly, we have to go get the children from daycare”. We liked it more or less. I have always loved farming […] There is like a moment when we say to ourselves … we do it or we don’t!

A quote from:Geneviève Robert, owner, Fleurs La Garance
A woman crouching in the grass

Geneviève Robert, owner of Fleurs La Garance, in Neuville

Photo: Radio-Canada / Alexandre DUVAL

Geneviève Robert quickly realized that she was not alone. A private group has even started on Facebook, where dozens of female flower farm owners share advice and help each other.

A solidarity that pleases Geneviève Robert. According to her, competition does not really have its place in this industry.

Most farms sell their produce locally, selling to florists, public markets or directly to citizens with subscriptions. I think we have developed a small model that we like, that looks like us, she says.

Large-scale, mechanized agriculture doesn’t speak much to me. I don’t really want to drive a tractor. It’s not something that drives me.

A quote from:Geneviève Robert, owner, Fleurs La Garance

A recognized profession

The company recognized for being the leader of flower farms in Quebec is Floramama. Located in Frelighsburg, in the Eastern Townships, it is also worn by women.

The co-owner, Chloé Roy, can see how much the sector has evolved since she started the business seven years ago.

It made an incredible advance because our profession did not even exist for the Ministry of Agriculture, before, she illustrates.

In 2014, it was impossible for Chloé Roy to be recognized as a floriculturalist. The category simply did not exist, she reports.

It was greenhouse production only and it was implied that it was container growing, like selling plants. The cut flower, as such, did not exist in the MAPAQ boxes.

A quote from:Chloé Roy, co-owner, Floramama
Chloé Roy, co-owner of Floramama

Chloé Roy, co-owner of Floramama

Photo : Stéphane Cocke

Everything has changed since then, especially because the public has a strong appetite for the local flower. Floramama is growing on all fronts: production area, number of employees, turnover.

The subscriptions [pour des bouquets de fleurs vendus au public], we have been sold out even before the season begins. Mother’s Day, we were sold out in January, says Chloé Roy.

A bit of sun

Florists also feel this craze. At Jardins Vitrum Hortis, on rue Saint-Vallier in Quebec City, the co-owners claim that everyday of customers insist on having flowers produced locally.

Even in winter, there are some who ask us for it, indicates Andréanne Girard. In her opinion, the pandemic has also helped make local flowers more popular with the public.

We really saw a difference during the pandemic. People gave each other more flowers, wanted to be at home. People were telecommuting a lot, a lot at home. It was a little bit their sun of the week.

A quote from:Andréanne Girard, co-owner, Jardins Vitrum Hortis
Thalie Charron-Charbonneau and Andréanne Girard, florists and co-owners of Jardins Vitrum Hortis

Thalie Charron-Charbonneau and Andréanne Girard, florists and co-owners of Jardins Vitrum Hortis

Photo: Radio-Canada / Alexandre DUVAL

In summer, approximately 50% of the flowers sold at Vitrum Hortis are produced in Quebec. This percentage is set to increase further, because the local has been in the philosophy of the company since the beginning.

It makes local producers work, explains the other co-owner, Thalie Charron-Chardonneau. These are the people we meet, who are really pleasant, whereas when you order abroad, it takes a lot of transport. There are also transport prices.

Challenges

Despite this undeniable growth, the MAPAQ affirms that the consumption habits of Quebecers are still an issue for flower farms, which are relatively little known.

At the agronomic level, there is a lack of knowledge adapted to our climate and also to more northern varieties., also indicates the MAPAQ, by email.

Moreover, unless greenhouses are built, Quebec flower farms are condemned to be able to produce only a few months a year.

The owners nevertheless try to develop original offers to have income even in winter. This is particularly the case of Geneviève Robert, who offers bouquets of dried flowers during the cold season.

There is a great craze for dried flowers. We sell more and more […] During the holidays, we will make small decorations with dried flowers to embellish gift wrapping. There are glass balls in which we put dried flowers and we can put that in the tree [de Noël].

A quote from:Geneviève Robert, owner, Fleurs La Garance

Mano Capano has no doubts about the viability of his industry, despite the climate challenge. If there are so many flower farms, it is because it is profitable, she slices.

And according to Chloé Roy, from Floramama, this is just the start. The market is not at all saturated, she says.

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