Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Growers of beauty: meet local flower farmer Antonio Valente

This series of "growers of beauty" posts takes a look at where the beautiful flowers are coming from, letting us meet the farmers that work so hard to bring these blooms to market for us.

I am delighted to introduce you to Antonio Valente, a farmer florist based in Thornhill, just north of the city.


I found Antonio this past summer by way of instagram, which seems to be how I meet so many of the people who inspire me these days.  After a quick bout of messaging back and forth, Antonio arrived at the shop with his pick up truck filled with pails of the most gorgeous summer blooms. The girls and I promptly fell in love with both Antonio and his beautiful flowers and we would wait in eager anticipation for every week's delivery. With the growing season over here in Ontario until next spring, we are all suffering deep withdrawal symptoms, so I asked Antonio if he'd mind sharing some of his story and images with us here, to help us make it through the long winter months without him.

Jess: Tell us a bit about your farm and business model- how big is the property? What do you grow? What’s a typical day like for you? Where do you sell to? 

Antonio: I’m often asked how many acres I farm, and most people are quite surprised to learn that I have a tiny half acre plot - that’s it! I employ techniques which allow for small-scale/high-output farming. Many of the flowers I grow are heirloom varieties or pollinator friendly. As one of the “little guys” in the field of cut flower growing, I’m competing with large-scale growers who are producing acres of flowers, so I try to grow varieties that a florist wouldn’t typically find from a wholesaler. This allows me to differentiate myself and compete with the “big guys.” My flowers are also raised in a completely sustainable fashion – another facet of my business that allows me to stand out from the crowd. As for a typical day, there really isn’t one! That’s the thing about being a seasonal grower; my duties change over the course of a season.  My most typical day, however, is also the most fun and rewarding – delivery day! These are the days when I get to load up the pickup-truck with the freshest flowers in the field and deliver them to flower shops and appreciative florists such as yourself!Most of my flowers are purchased by various florists in the downtown Toronto area. The whole locally grown flower movement has been really catching on! I’m so proud to be living so close to a city whose florists have come to truly embrace local flowers.  


Jess:  how did you get involved in this flower world? Did you always know you wanted to, or did it take you by surprise? 

Antonio: I’ve been gardening all my life, but I actually come from a long line of avid vegetable growers. I’m currently growing flowers where my father and grand-father once grew their veggies. While I never quite took to vegetable growing as they did, it certainly left a niche for me to fully explore flower growing. I remember my dad setting aside a small plot just for me amongst his vegetables. It was here that I was able to grow whatever I chose. Like many of us, I grew up, got a typical office job, and had forgotten about gardening for a while. As an antidote to the hum-drum of office life, I decide to once again start gardening and planted a very small cut flower garden. I literally started with 4 dahlia tubers (bulbs) in my first year. That was about 7 years ago, and each year since that cut flower garden expanded. I soon had neighbours requesting bouquets, and a Saturday morning road side stand. It wasn’t long before I was taking my flowers to farmers’ markets. This is where I was discovered by a florist who asked if I would start selling wholesale to her on a regular basis. Word quickly spread among florists and today I sell exclusively to florists with a penchant for locally and organically grown flowers and foliage. 



Jess:  How would you like to see your business grow or change over the next five years? Where  do you see flowers taking you?

Antonio: Oh boy, this is a great question! I tend to really focus on the flower-growing part of my job, which has everyone around me pushing for a long-range plan, and I’m not very administrative. I have so many ideas for this flower-growing gig, but as a one-man-show, time isn’t always on my side. I’d love to expand my growing area, as I simply could not meet the demand from florists this past season. A website is definitely also on the list. I’d also love to combine my love of teaching with gardening and share the joy of flower gardening with others; I’m just not exactly sure what form this might take. But then of course, as with farming, even the best laid of plans sometimes go askew. Had you asked me 7 years ago if I knew I’d be taking my tiny cut flower garden to a level where I’d actually be selling blooms, I probably would’ve just laughed it off.  


Antonio's instagram feed is out of this world, you can feast your eyes on it here.

My thanks to Antonio for so graciously taking the time to answer my questions and share a little of his world with us. 

3 comments:

  1. Amazing story! Lovely post as always Jessica!

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  2. thanks Karen! I love getting behind the scenes looks at the amazing creatives in our industry, and hearing the story of how they got where they are. Glad you enjoyed!

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  3. Jess, thanks for this interview. I LOVE the farmer-florist movement and hope to see more of my brides request locally grown flowers. After all, we enjoy local food and wine, why not local blooms too?!

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