Canadian grower Jaap van Staalduinen

‘The space in Canada is too good to give up’

Van Staalduinen – a name that’s typical for the Westland region, isn’t it?
”Yes, I am originally from the town of De Lier and I emigrated to Canada in 1999. The Netherlands got too crowded for me. I worked as a salesman with Brinkman for a long time, and after that with Pöppelman for a while. I was always on the road and it just got more and more congested, I got stuck in traffic jams a lot of the time. After a third holiday in Canada, in 1996, I asked my wife, Pauline, how she felt about it. I loved the space here. My wife said: ‘If you go, I’ll go with you’. The pace of life is a bit slower in Canada. Although, that isn’t completely true for Toronto. Let me put it this way: if you find space here, you’ll find peace and quiet. I really appreciate this atmosphere.”

And then, you simply switched from being a salesman to being a grower?
”I didn’t want to be a salesman here. It’s not like in the Netherlands. You don’t get your first two weeks of holidays until you’ve worked for a year, salaries are 50% lower and the distances are large. As a salesman in the Netherlands, you can go home at the end of the day, but in North America, you could be away from home all week. That’s why I became a grower. Other Dutch emigrants who’d been in Canada for a while advised not to buy a plot straight away. So, we started out with renting a house and we gave ourselves a year to explore and find a good location. I also worked at a nursery for a few months in order to learn the jargon. I had learned English in school, but I wasn’t familiar with English words like ‘irrigation pipe’ or ‘bay’. Eventually, we bought a plot, built a greenhouse and started growing patio and bedding plants. Since 2006, we’ve focused on patio plants only.”

Why patio plants?
”Nobody in Ontario grew patio plants. You could get a few things in some of the garden centres, but there wasn’t a professional patio plant grower. In summer, everyone lives outdoors here. The nice weather starts in the beginning of June and normally lasts around three or four months. People spend a lot of time outdoors during that time and everyone spends a lot of money on the garden and the terrace. They want it all to look nice. Furthermore, I already used to grow some patio plants in my backyard as a hobby when we were still in the Netherlands. The first year here, we didn’t sell half of our plants, that was tough. From the second year, we’ve been doing well.”

The distribution market is very different here, isn’t it?
„Yes, you have to sell everything by yourself here. I’m lucky that I used to work as a salesman. As a grower in Canada, it’s important that you aren’t afraid to make contact with people. Very different from the Netherlands, where there’s more of a culture of loading a truck and driving it to the auction, in the hope that your produce will sell at a good price. It doesn’t work like that here. We sell directly to garden centres quite a lot. And everything sold to places further than a 2-hour drive away is handled by the wholesaler. Our products end up deep down in the USA and also on the Canadian west coast. There used to be a patio plant grower in British Columbia, but not anymore. So, our plants are shipped to Alberta and British Columbia as well now. It’s crazy really, because that’s 4,000 to 5,000 kilometres away. But there seems to be a market for it.”

What’s your relationship with the Netherlands like?
„We still enjoy visiting the Netherlands. For a party or for business. We get lots of visitors from the Netherlands, too. It used to be that when you emigrated, you really left everything behind. But these days, with all modern communication methods, that’s no longer the case. We still feel like we’re living in De Lier, we just aren’t there physically. A few of my brothers are Feyenoord supporters, I’m an Ajax supporter. The discussions we used to have about this face-to-face, are now being held by WhatsApp. And indeed, our friends in Canada are also of Dutch origin. Friendships with North Americans are generally a bit more superficial. We don’t need that many friends anyway. We’re often too busy with work. Just a few good friends here and a few in the Netherlands. That works for us.”

What do you do in your spare time?
„In winter, I read books. That’s when it gets cold for three or four months, and I don’t really like cold weather. Sometimes we go off on a sun holiday for a week. We’re normally busy until June; when things quieten down after that, we take a dip in the swimming pool and enjoy the nice weather. Another thing I like doing in summer is playing golf.”

Is anyone taking over the business?
„We’re planning to expand next year. We won’t reach a whole 1-ha acreage, but even to Canadian standards, our nursery will be a considerable size. I’m turning 60 next year and we’d like to reduce our hours in the greenhouse. So we’re investing in automation, so that we can do more work with the same number of people. A successor is hanging in the balance, as they say here. For a long time, we thought that there wouldn’t be anyone to take over the nursery. But our youngest daughter married one of our employees, so let’s see if she would like to take over one day. No pressure, though. We could also consider selling the business to a Dutchman with knowledge of patio plants. It’s always best if you can sell to someone who understands horticulture. But selling up isn’t on the agenda for a while anyway.”

Will you ever return to the Netherlands?
„I don’t think so, but never say never. I do believe that I could settle again in the Netherlands. We’ll see. We have a daughter who lives in England and a daughter and a son in the area here. No, I don’t think we’ll be returning any time soon. The space in Canada is too good to give up. We might spend longer periods of time in the Netherlands once we have retired. When that time has come, we’d definitely like to spend more time with our daughter in England.”

About Jaap van Staalduinen
Company: Dutch Flower House
Crops: Patio plants, hanging baskets
Acreage: < 1 ha
Location: Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada