Life was fine as a physiotherapist assistant and electrician.
But sequential growth towards concentrating on their nursery business Florae Farms has been a rewarding journey for Marinus and Lisa Huibers.
“The biggest thing is it’s our passion, we are living our passion,” Lisa, nee Ryksen explained. “It’s very rewarding when you plant a tree and watch it grow.”
The business comes naturally to both partners, she growing up on a nearby chicken and cash crop operation, subsequently working for a landscaping entity during summers to fund her college education.
“I really enjoyed the outdoors and working with plants.”
Marinus was even more directly connected, coming home from school along with his three brothers in their native Holland to work on the still-active family horticultural operation, propagating and caring for trees which are then shipped throughout Europe.
“He has a green thumb,” credited Lisa. “He grew up with it.”
Marinus identified potential opportunity in this area, and in 2016 the couple purchased their 385046 Oxford Road 59 (just east of Holbrook’s main intersection) property and began growing towards their future.
“There was not a lot of young growers,” Lisa explained.
Two years ago they were able to begin marketing product, and this year are fully focussed on developing their business.
They currently have seven acres of trees planted, utilize two greenhouses (one for propagation, the other for overwintering and growing) and also have a shop which doubles as cooler space, as required. They began with an emphasis on dwarf shrubs but are evolving along with customer preferences and local market trends toward ornamentals and native species like maple, birch and dogwood trees, an approach reflecting the impetus behind the company name.
Florae is the plural of flora, a word whose Latin origins reference the goddess of flowers, and also incorporates the concept of habitat certain plants thrive within.
“It’s usually the natural plants, that’s what we’re focussed on,” says Lisa, alluding not only to beneficial evolutionary acclimatization to the Southern Ontario area, but also the environmental benefits they can offer.
The Canadian Service Berry for example, either single or multi-stemmed, presents a living magnet for surrounding fauna, preferable to some imported options.
"The birds love it in the spring and the bees think it’s great too,” says Lisa. “That’s just what they’re used to.”
Currently, Florae Farms grows 70 per cent of its product, buys in the balance and can make special orders on behalf of customers, but is looking to increase their ratio of onsite production further.
“We want to be able to grow our own and sell directly to the public.”
Clients can either visit personally or access a virtual store through the company website: floraefarms.com. “Our goal is to modernize our approach,” said Lisa.
Beyond foundational information and varietal descriptions and availability, the website also features detailed planting instructions. For those who prefer an expert-driven start to their tree or shrub’s life, Marinus also offers a planting service via trailer and tree spade.
“He will go offsite and plant for people.”
A majority of sales are to individuals through the retail front, virtually or in person, but Florae Farms also supplies a number of landscapers and wholesale clients.
Their transition has not been without challenge, first and foremost there is the lag between significant initial investment and required time before recouping can occur. Secondly, more drastic weather events, wind, a short planting season and yet still cold winters, and storm events can cause damage to young trees.
“You can’t really control it,” says Lisa. “But that’s for every farmer, right?”
Finally, nursery operations are by their very nature, labour intensive.
“It just takes a lot of time. It’s just a lot of care and it has to be done at the right time of year as well.”
But the couple has few complaints about their own business propagation, enjoying interaction with customers while celebrating growth of an operation focused on just that.
“And enjoying it while we’re on this journey.”