Kelly Perry - 00:00 - You are listening to the Team Flower podcast. We talk about silos and the people who've dedicated their lives to sharing them with the world. In this episode we have Antonio a specialty cut grower in the Toronto area. He's been growing most of all his life coming from a long line growers. Every flower is at an early age and hopefully today he's living his dream through product differentiation, customer education, and a whole bunch of parts work. Antonio now has a wait list of designers were on standby. There is specialty. You have flowers in this podcast. The Antonio is sharing his top five cut flowers, how he got started in growing business models, taking photos for instagram equipment, investments that really paid off big time plant experience for chilly climate and big challenges for cut flower growers and how he overcame them. You can connect with Antonio on instagram at Antonio Valente Flowers. Welcome Antonio it's so great to have you here on the Team Flower podcast today. Welcome.
Antonio Valente - 01:02 - Thanks Kelly. Thank you very much.
Kelly Perry - 01:04 - Yeah, well have a couple of questions. We sent out some things to your instagram followers and they had quite a few questions, so we're going to try to get into going to try to get to as many of them as we can. The first question is, are there any crops that you've planted that maybe you didn't think would work in your cool climate, urine Canada around Toronto area, but maybe that you tried it anyway? I was curious which ones worked and which ones didn't.
Antonio Valente - 01:33 - Okay, I'm a good question. Um, I'll be honest with you. I've actually been gardening since I was a kid, so I have a pretty good idea of what works here and what won't, so I have that little bit of an advantage. However, last season I did decide to run a little bit of an experiment here. Uh, we typically plant snapdragons in the spring, but I wanted to try a winter planting of some chantilly snapdragons no, if you don't know snapchat because that are planted in the fall. And then overwintered, uh, they tend to bloom earlier the following spring and they're generally more robust. Right. So contrary to what everyone told me that it was just way too cold. Appear to plant snaps in the winter. I decided to go ahead and plant 600 snaps last fall. Wow. Yeah. But I placed many hoops over them or sometimes you, they're referred to like low tunnels, right? Just to give them a little bit of extra protection. Yes. So, uh, now that it's spring, I'm happy and pleased to report that those snapdragons and did in fact make it through the winter. This year they'll be producing a bumper crop of spring flowers.
Kelly Perry - 02:41 - Oh, I imagine. Wow. That's, that's amazing. Well, I'm glad that you went for it and you tried it. Um, and yeah. Great reward on the other end. Would you say that it was kind of a hard winter average? A little easier? What, what was the winter would be like if you were to categorize?
Antonio Valente - 02:56 - I'd say our winter this year was a little bit easier, a little bit kinder, let's put it that way. So, but I mean, testing the boundaries of what we can and can't plant. I think that's just so important up here. And um, yeah, so the snap don't mind her winter is apparently.
Kelly Perry - 03:11 - Okay, fantastic. The next question, are there any investments that you've made in the farm that you really feel like paid off and if you had a do over, would you change the order that you've made the purchases or maybe omit some? What would somebody who's, you know, getting into flower farming and thinking about, okay, I'm going to, you know, make this big purchase. I hope it's, I hope it's worth it. Just wondering what your opinion was for that.
Antonio Valente - 03:37 - Yeah. Okay. Well the first thing I'd recommend starting out with is a good walk behind rototiller. Um, it's really one of the few pieces of mechanized equipment that I have here. Um, but it is a heavy duty model. Um, I'd recommend to anybody, you know, don't waste your money on any of those light weight and wrote a tellers, you know, invest in a really in a really good walk behind rototiller if you can. Yeah. The other thing, secondly, I would recommend investing in is some really good little, a woven landscape fabric as a weed barrier if you've never used, um, landscape fabric as a weed barrier. It is a lifesaver, you know, spend the money on the good quality stuff. It is pricey, but it does last and uh, and then you know, and then if I had to say, you know, thirdly, another, another investment is install a really good drip irrigation system. Um, I started out years ago using soaker hoses from the local hardware store, but um, as my business has grown next to, we switched over to a drip tape and you can actually buy kits. Um, you have to put them together yourself, but they're actually a lot less intimidating to put together then you might think.
Kelly Perry - 04:53 - Okay. And that's great because it gets, we need, we need the water down at the roots, those long, slow, you know, where the water's trickling down to the roots are chasing after them. Yes, yes, yes.
Antonio Valente - 05:06 - Type of watering to do. And actually last summer we had our driest summer on record up here around southern Ontario and it was a lifesaver last year.
Kelly Perry - 05:16 - Good. Good. So good to hear that. Well that's awesome. So the walk behind Rototiller, the landscape fabric and the drip irrigation, the three keys for sure. Perfect. Next question is, uh, in house photo skills are really important for business and we were wondering who takes your photos and what you do to prepare everyone loves them. Um, do you have a list of shots that you like to get or does it just kind of happen organically? What's going through your mind to make sure that you've got photos of those flowers out there into the world so they can get sold?
Antonio Valente - 05:49 - Thank you. Thank you. Know what, this is actually such a nice question because I'm always feeling like I'm, I actually need to up my game on photography. Um, but I actually, I take all my own photos unless of course I'm in the photo myself, in which case I just, you know, I grabbed whomever is close by that can snap the photo for me. But I generally set up the photo in advance for them. Um, typically I also have, um, I have an idea of what the photo should look like or what I want, which even most cases, but I'm very much inspired but white by what goes on around here on a day to day basis. Um, you know, trust me, there are numerous instances where I've just finished harvesting hundreds of daily is. And I'm literally surrounded by beauty, but sadly there's no one around to snap a spontaneous photo of me.
Kelly Perry - 06:43 - Right. Okay. What would you say are the biggest challenges facing local cut flower growers? Is that industry acceptance or distribution? Customer Awareness? This question comes from Christine. Okay.
Antonio Valente - 06:57 - Excellent. Um, industry acceptance was a little bit of a challenge in the very beginning when I started out years ago, which is actually why I started selling at farmer's markets. Um, I remember very early on walking into a couple of flower shops in my area, um, but the floors were generally very receptive to the whole locally grown organic flower movement. Um, but I, you know, it just turned out that they probably weren't the right type of floors for me and that their style just wasn't a very good fit for me clearly because, um, you know, today I literally am at the point now where I can't even keep up with the demand. I actually have a waiting list of florists who want to be added to my availability list. So I think it's something that's really taken off more in sort of the, um, the downtown Toronto area rather than, you know, where I am, which is kind of a little bit on the outskirts.
Antonio Valente - 07:53 - Okay. Yeah. In terms of distribution, this is a little bit of an issue for smaller growers such as myself. I'm the larger flower auctions and wholesalers in the area be actually require that we produce a minimum of product over the season. And I unfortunately, I'm not there yet. So I. Yeah. So I actually personally deliver the flowers to various shops throughout the city with my pickup truck. Um, which can be a little bit time consuming, I'll be honest. Absolutely. Yeah. And then for, um, consumer awareness, I think this is slowly changing, you know, I try to educate people at every chance that I can, you know, and I just, you know, I let them know that, you know, locally grown flowers have a lot less, you know, chemicals that are applied to them in compared to the important stuff, you know, when to let them know that they're supporting their neighbors. They're supporting local farms and farmers. And of course when you're buying local flowers, they're always going to be fresher. Yeah,
Kelly Perry - 08:55 - absolutely. That's great. Well, this next question that we have is coming from Jessica and um, she is asking if you can tell us a little bit about your farm and your business model. You know, what size land are you growing on? What are you growing? Who Do you know who, where do you sell to? Which we kind of covered that a little bit already. But, um, yeah,
Antonio Valente - 09:15 - that's a good question. I'm often asked this question. I'm often asked how many acres do I farm? And most people are quite surprised to learn that I have a very small half acre plot. That's fantastic. I do a lot with it. You really can. Oh my God, you can, you know, you just need to employ techniques for sort of small scale, high output farming and um, you know, as one of the, you know, I call myself one of the little guys in the field of cut flower growing. Um, I am competing with large scale growers who are producing acres of flowers. So I try to grow varieties that florists wouldn't typically find from a large scale wholesaler here. This allows me to differentiate myself and to compete with, you know, the bigger, the bigger growers. Um, my flowers are also raised in a completely sustainable fashion, which is another facet of my business that I think allows me to stand out from the crowd. Um, and as I, as I've already mentioned, most of my flowers are purchased by, you know, florists and the downtown Toronto area. And you know, the whole locally grown flower movement. It's been really catching on. I am so proud and so fortunate to be living so close to a city whose flores have really come to truly embrace this. The local flower movement.
Kelly Perry - 10:35 - Fantastic. Fantastic. Yeah, that's great. It's really encouraging to see that taking off and I just, I think we're going to start to see just more flowers back in homes of everyday people and will be one of the results of this. Absolutely. Absolutely. Well the next question is coming from Deanna and she is asking how did you get your start and flower farming? Was it something that you always wanted to do? I know you mentioned you've been doing it since you were young. Um, but even then, what was it about it?
Antonio Valente - 11:06 - Well, like I said, I've been gardening all my life, but I actually come from a long line of avid vegetable growers. Uh, I'm currently actually growing the flowers were my father and my grandfather one screw their veggies and uh, you know, while he never quite took to vegetable growing as they did, it certainly left a bit of a niche for me to fully explore a flower growing. And I remember growing up, my dad, setting aside a small plot of land just for myself amongst his vegetables every year and it was here that I was able to grow whatever I chose. Um, and then, you know,
Kelly Perry - 11:43 - So, what did you pick; what was the first thing you grew?
Antonio Valente - 11:44 - Oh God. You know what, okay. I initially I did start out going growing vegetables just to appease my, my father. And I remember when you're doing artichokes, which was kind of unique tomatoes, Brussel sprouts, but, and then it just slowly shifted to more flowers rather than vegetables.
Antonio Valente - 12:06 - Yeah. And so, uh, you know, over the years, like many of us, I eventually, you know, I, I grew up and got a typical office job and I had sort of forgotten about gardening for a short little while and then, you know, as an antidote to set sort of humdrum office life. Um, you know, I decided to plant a few of my own cut flowers just for myself. And uh, I remember that first year, this was maybe about seven years ago. I literally started with four Dalio tubers in that first year. And um, ever since then, my cut flower garden has expanded, Eh, you know, I assume had neighbors requesting bouquets and I had a Saturday morning roadside stand.
Kelly Perry - 12:48 - And how old are you at this point? Oh, when the business begins and you're making these bouquets and things for neighbors.
Antonio Valente - 12:55 - Um, you know, mid, mid twenties. Yeah. Uh, when, when you sort of enter the, I guess when I sort of started entering the workforce and I kind of needed something else that I was passionate about I suppose. And um, so like I said, I, you know, it wasn't long before I started attending farmer's markets to sell my flowers. And then this is where actually a fourth first discovered me. She said, you know, I love her flowers or where do you get them from? And I told her, I said, well, actually, I grow them. And so she was actually the first force and asked if she could start purchasing my flowers wholesale. And then, you know, we're just quickly spread amongst florists and uh, you know, today I actually sell almost exclusively to florists who, you know, have an appreciation for locally grown flowers and foliage.
Kelly Perry - 13:44 - Fantastic. The last question is coming from colleen, who is in that place where she's growing some flowers for herself at home. So she asked for the home gardener. What do you think are the top five cut flowers
Antonio Valente - 13:57 - to grow? Okay, good. Question number one. Daily is where you got your start. Exactly. That's fantastic. That's what got me into this whole mess. So they have this special place in my heart, uh, and they're just so luxurious and productive. You can't go wrong with Delios, right? Secondly, I would say are Zinnias and they happen to actually be the second cup flour that I started growing and I was using them as filler flowers to the deal. Yes. When I would go to the markets,
Kelly Perry - 14:28 - well the color variety in them is so fantastic. I mean, really any color under the sun, bright, too muddy. There's such great color ranges in there, so surely you can find, you know, and very easy to grow. They're. Yeah.
Antonio Valente - 14:42 - Beautiful. So beautiful. The new colors that they're breeding right now. Yeah. Uh, thirdly, I would say any one of the open faced snapdragons like the chantilly or the Madame Butterfly series. So cute. So pretty and sent completely a fourthly, I would say I'm asters or the ministers. Um, I don't know if you've ever grown them, but the amount of flowers you get per plant is insane. Like you will look like a pro in no time and you know, and gone are the days when the only came in like fluorescent pink. Some of the newer colors that they're breeding are gorgeous. Uh, you do however need to six sessions. So then if you want a longer season,
Kelly Perry - 15:26 - just what, how much space between the plantings do you think? Four weeks. Three weeks to,
Antonio Valente - 15:32 - um, you could probably do two to three. Okay. Yeah, yeah. You can give them a little bit of space. Yeah, at least three weeks for sure. Okay. And then lastly, my fifth choice is actually going to be a type of foliage. I'm going to say ninebark or feisal. Carpet. Yeah, a grow. Every variety you can get your hands on. I know when I started out I tended to ignore the planting of foliage is in the beginning, but it's such an integral part of design and florists are always asking me for good foliage and it takes a while for a shrub to fully establish itself. So plant them early on. Just when you're starting out and you'll, you'll have them for years, you'll be snipping away for them for years to come are so useful.
Kelly Perry - 16:21 - Wow. Yeah, I love that foliage. I have the dark one and the it actually it grows natively here in boone. So you'll see along the road sites these huge swaths of it if you needed to do big arbors or things like that. So yeah, I never thought to to, you know, look around for it. But I had it in the garden first. Then I was like, wait a second, I think, I think, I think that's it. I see it.
Antonio Valente - 16:47 - But bring your slipper snippers with you.
Kelly Perry - 16:49 - Yeah, exactly. Oh, well that's perfect. Thank you so much for sharing all of this great information with us. It's been so fun to have you here on the show and I'm really looking forward to all that's ahead for your business. Is there anything else that you would like to share with everyone before we sign off here today?
Antonio Valente - 17:07 - Um, no, I think that's everything, but uh, yeah. Thank you so much. This has been awesome.
Kelly Perry - 17:13 - Perfect. Good. Well, and thank you so much to everybody who's tuned in to listen. We'll see you next time on the Team Flower podcast.
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