This week I’ve invited Ivan Van Wingerden to guest blog on Field Position while I’m on vacation. Ivan represents one of California’s “next gen” flower farmers. We are fortunate to have him continue the family tradition of flower farming in California and writing for me while I’m out of the office…
Please leave Ivan any comments or questions you might have and we’ll make sure he gets back to you.
Guest Blogger: Ivan Van Wingerden, Ever-Bloom, Inc.
“So, do you want to be a farmer or a priest?”
Those were the two vocational choices for my grandfather and every Van Wingerden son for the previous 400 plus years. Amazingly, given any other opportunity, both my father and I have also chosen the same path that my grandfather did—and are happier for it. When growing a beautiful product is a family tradition, it builds a support group of multi-generational knowledge and expertise and a green thumb to boot!
My grandfather started with a simple wood frame glass house for his tomatoes and grapes in Holland. When the family transplanted themselves to California in 1967 he started a five-acre flower business with his brothers and giant family support group.
Twelve years later, with the support of my grandfather, my dad bought the plot of land next door and built 14 acres of greenhouses in stages. Some of these greenhouses were in the process of being built as our pit-bull Jupiter dutifully carried my diaper and pudgy limbs through the glass houses for some cooing inspection. Later, every summer after 2nd grade, I was guaranteed a summer job in the packinghouse or greenhouse where I learned what real work was like. Sweating side by side with our employees, I would work in the propagation houses transplanting young gerbera plants or folding boxes in the packinghouse.
After graduating from Cal Poly and taking a year to travel South America with my girlfriend, I was then ready to join the family business full time. The last two years have rocketed by and I am amazed at how many flowers a small group of motivated individuals can grow.
Having grown up in greenhouses and been surrounded by flowers my whole life has been rewarding, but certainly not glamorous. Fortunately, we have our annual open-house tours every April, which injects some amount of glamour into the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to grow gerbera daisies. Like many other California growers who have opened up their doors for this event, I was truly astonished at how excited and eager the 1000+ people were to walk through our greenhouse that day. People kept saying, “I had no idea it took this much work to put flowers onto my table!” The tours were as eye opening to the visitors as it was for us; who ever said growing 275 varieties of daisies had to be mundane?
By far the best part about being in the flower business is working with family. I have noticed that the majority of flower nurseries in California are very much a family enterprise. Not only do I have the boundless support of my father, but I also have a huge support group of uncles, cousins, and many other growers who are all very open about our common challenges, but more importantly, solutions. And while growing is a competitive business, it very much depends upon this community of family.
As an extension of that community, all of our wholesale customers are located within the United States, so we can share our domestically grown flowers within our country. And though the vast majority of cut flowers are currently brought in from South America, it is exciting to see that people are looking for the CA Grown or US Grown label on the products they buy and want to support industry within our country. The livelihood of my family depends upon the ongoing support of people who appreciate the higher quality of a local Carpinteria grown gerbera daisy to beautify their home or special occasion.
As a grower, I urge you to support all locally grown produce and flowers – you won’t be disappointed with the quality or the homegrown family behind them!