Unapologetically Canadian
Unapologetically Canadian

Episode 4 · 2 years ago

Wildflower farming adventures with Miriam and Paul


Last summer, I got to speak with two of my heroes, Miriam Goldberger and Paul Jenkins, the owners of Wildflower Farm because the couple were passing through Montreal and stopped to visit Grand Potager. They spoke to me about their innovative product Eco-Lawn, their passion for wildflowers and the challenges of running a business with your life partner. For a transcript of our discussion, check the show-notes at

Genkins with wildflower farm. I'm Miriam Goldberger, also with wild flower farm. My name is Tracy Aeo and I am an apologetically Canadian. So I am so excited because Miriam and Poul are here visiting grand potage, the municipal greenhouses, and we're done that. Are Coop helped establish and these are two of my heroes because I've been using their amazing indigenous lawn seed called equal on, which is a set of five fescues. It takes a lot less water and a lot less mowing than any other lawn that I've ever used. And so of course we began our conversation with me asking them how the heck they started this and what happened for them to create this wonderful product. And at that time we knew nothing about lawn grass. But somewhat arrogantly, we went and collected the seed and tried growing it at our farm and what we got as a result was exactly what you see in a Bush, little clump here and a little plump there, little clump there. So they didn't knit to become a real lawn. But with more research we found that number one, these are fine fescues and fine fescues are actually native to everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere of the planet, and yet traditional Lawn's, Kentucky blue and all this other stuff, they're not. They're all from Europe. So what we did is, at that time as we ended up working with one of the world's top seat breeders and all of that. weirdly enough, it the entire lawn industry is really based in Oregon. Oh really, or an Oregon. It's cool and wet. They're all the time. All the Kentucky Blue, all the Perennial Rye. All the grass is lawn grass, seat as all comes from there. So that's where the top breeders are. And so we worked with Leo Berman and she came up with a few different ideas and we tested them and this formula worked and we tried that for three years at our farm and at other people's places. I would call it friends. It's Ay and I rip a part of your backyard and try this because you have shady, sandy soil or you have this kind of condition. And after three years we have at this works. So we introduced it to the market at Canada blooms in one thousand nine hundred and ninety eight and it's gone ever since. And that's all over North America now. So everywhere we go in North America, it doesn't matter where there are people, allowners, businesses, municipalities with equal line is. It works. What's fascinating is that agronomists, the people who study growing in grains and the farming industry, they know that fine pescues are really the best kept secret in the entire lawn industry because they perform so well in... sun and in shade and in deep shade, and they don't really need to be fertilized. They they germinate fast but they grow slowly. All these different factors that if more people knew about it, the traditional shall roots sod lawns would be basically out of business because they are basically chemical companies that are selling all the different chemicals that you need to support a high maintenance shallow rooted sod style on which is where, initially in Canada and still somewhat in the United States, we get resistance from garden centers who they say they look at it and they think it's cool, but then, and we've been told this many times, it doesn't support the Chemical Fertilizer Product Program Oh my God, those were they make their money. They don't make money selling grass seed, right, they make money selling you spring fertilizers, summer, the lawn character eatments, fall fertilizers, all that sort of stuff. And then the other factor from the production point of view, where the big companies, the Scots and all that sort of stuff, is for the farmers who produce it it. They find fescues produce less seed per acre, right, and the other ones do. So therefore it's more expensive because they've got to get the same money as if they were growing Kentucky blue or whatever they're growing. Right, it's just the way the plant works. It makes less seats, right. Yeah, and so you've been the mean since one thousand nine hundred and ninety eight, was your first year of distributing, and how his the business evolved since then? I mean what I love also about Europe, my one of my programs is creative entrepreneur. So in many ways that's what you've been, you know, right from the start. So can you just describe a little bit about the evolution of the business? Well, it just kept growing and growing. I mean initially it was not a lot we were selling a few palettes a year and then it's grown and grown and grown every year. So there's many, many tractor trailers. Now it's nationwide. In Canada we are at our weakest Quebec. Other than that, other than that, we are in home hardware, which operates under different names in the Quebec but they still part of the same group. People can buy it from home hardware throughout the country and hearing Quebec Right. It's been. It's been out a really interesting process over the many years, trying different venues and different approaches and different populations. The thing is in North America people are strangely passionate about longs. You are really do and we really came into the entire lawn industry in a very backward manner. We are matives and when we were doing a lot of wild...

...flower landscaping for many years, we have customers that we had installed these beautiful meadows or wild flower gardens for and that were, of course, exceptionally low maintenance and attractive, butterflies and songbirds and all those those great benefits. But then they would still be faced with these high maintenance lawns and the contrast made it even more clear to them that lawns were really a lot to deal with, and so they started asking as well, can't you do something abouts also, when first started introducing equal on to the market, not being lawn people coming from that part of the industry, I looked at it really not as a lawn for somebody's front lawn. It was more to be a fire barrier for your wildflower meadow. If you have a one acre meadow, the best way to have periodic maintenance on it is a controlled burn. Will you want to be able to stop the burn? There's something that's low and green is going to do it, and it was. I was doing an installation for a fellow of wild flower meadow at his home and I said I want to put fire barrier around the meadow and pathways through it, because you want to be able to walk through. It's really difficult to walk through a four foot call meadow. I said, so I want to use this grass for that. He's well and it's a new home that he was building and he said, well, if you're going to put that grass over there, why don't you just put it everywhere? And it was like really, and so that's where that all sort of began and then it became lawns. Everywhere. It's still used for for with wild flower meadows. Yeah, but that's where is again. We came into it backwards. I wasn't thinking this is a great lown solution, I was just looking at the meadow itself. Right, right. And so you're starting with what? Well, when did you start doing the wildflower part of the business? Late S okay, we've been doing that for a long time and that was just another Miriam is obsessed with flowers. It's very addiction and it's a good thing and we've quickly learned at our first farm, which was in Schaumberg, Ontario, the horrible clay soil. We learned that a lot of traditional flowers just don't work in that horrible clay and between the two of US would sort of into a realization that if you plant native plants, the odds are you're going to be successful. If you grow something that's been growing in Canada for a quarter million years or longer, it's probably going to work for you. And then, you know, at that time I was working full time in Toronto while doing this and raising kids, and Miriam was running the Garden Center and store and she was looking for more...

...low maintenance landscaping solutions to her gardens as well. So we just sort of involved into native plants. And then when we were doing that, almost nobody was doing the plants in the late s early s and the people just thought we were well, the term was given to us as a city. It's because you had lived in Toronto before that and because we were doing something that wasn't normal with to do with agriculture and with you on land. Okay, we're just they just scratch their heads, but you guys are just out of your minds. But that combined with at the same time, the Internet came around in the S and we started selling online and two January, two Tho, and it's just grown and grown and grown ever since. So basically you found your niche thanks to having the Internet, being able to find the people who are interested in each location. Okay, and you made it sort of clear that your life partners as well as business partners. How long have you been together and what since? What? One thousand nine hundred and eighty three, or four men and eighty three? Okay, Toronto. Okay, and you were both in Toronto at that time. Yes, we met in day care. When you mean in day care, at the day care? We were not in day care, our kids were. Okay, okay, so we met at the day care. Okay, together ever since and now that kids are grown in half their own. Yeah, yeah, that's exciting. arents now that's lovely. And is there anything that you would recommend to other people trying to establish a life together and a business together that would with help to what's helped you motivate that, because it's not that easy of a to be together and you know all of your relationships well. I think when we get us that question we usually talk about how we had different areas of expertise and different things that aspect of the business that we were each in charge of. There was definitely some overlap, but it's most of the most of the years we've done quite well. Patients and perseverance, and that applies, I think, to everything in life, m relationship, business, anything you're trying to do. It takes time. I don't believe in overnight success, in overnight miracles, but if you really believe in what you're doing and you just stick to it and keep working at it, I think it works out. Yeah, I mean with what with the wildflower business. As somebody involved with horticulture, you know there's a huge amount of hard work, hard physical work,...

...and you really do have to be passionate about I mean I used to wake him up in the middle of the night to talk about flowers this way. Yeah, and and before he were started working with the farm full time, he was in in advertising and that's that's been a real benefit to so he understands marketing and graphics and design and we both have an appreciation for esthetics and environmental issues. So we really do share a lot of of interests, though our backgrounds initially or very, very yeah, you were talking about getting into your passion about dance. Yes, next, yes, so what do you do in the in the area of dance? Well, I I run a lot of programs that work with variety of populations, particularly people who have Parkinson's or movement disorders or chronic pain or acquired brain injury, really broad spectra of basically anybody who has trouble moving and I work closely with a lot of research scientists that talk about the and research the neurological benefits of movement and cognitive benefits of movement, physical the emotional benefits of movement and really since my s I I and then I got this huge, beautiful distraction of thirty some years of falling in love with horticulture. I believe that there should be expressive therapies centers for different populations, on site and off site, because of the arts really make a huge difference and when I was in graduate school, one of the things that I was really working on putting forward was to include horticultural therapy in with the expressive therapy academic training, because is combines your two exactly exactly, because because horticulture is an art and it is an expressive art as well as having physical and emotional and spiritual benefits. So it really checks all the boxes that all the other expressive arts and therapies do as well. Okay, what a fascinating of endeavor. So what are you doing in that area now with your I tudget? I teach a number of programs. I've been training other teachers as well and we do programming in a number of cities in central Ontario and we're we also do programming in retirement homes and acquired brain injury organizations.

Are Many, many different applications of this kind of work, and now I'm at the very beginning phase of developing community based art programming in Central Ontario and setting up a headquarters for that and working with different stakeholders and creating a hopefully aboard and all of these things. As I are in a startup, I am, but at the same time I'm also retired and in a lot of ways and wanting to spend time doing things that happy, healthy retired people do. Well, you're you're more or less retired from wild flower farm, but yes, you're really busy with all the other stuff. Yes, it's not like we sitting around. I don't, I don't do the sitting around thing. Right, right, and so you're really taking care of oild polar farm. Now, wild flower farm. I mean it. For many, many years we operated a native plant nursery. We had a landscaping crew, you know. So there was a lot of stuff and we did that for many minute with twenty five years, and then seven years ago I just closed. I looked at our numbers and said, you know, ninety percent of our income is online or business to business, and ninety percent of our headache is being open seven days a week. Our kids grew up with older friends had summer holidays. They didn't have a summer holivie have a garden sider, you can't have a summer holiday. Yeah, you're take a winter holiday if that. I I close down the retail things seven years ago and made it strictly seeds online and business to business, and it's made my life a lot calmer and easier. I'm still working, but I work obviously three or four hours a day, so I'm sort of semi retired with full income. So you're not quite at Tim Ferris is for our work week, but close. I mean the most time consuming part of what I do is answering people's questions, whether by phone or by email, right because we all know different things and some people are just getting into horticulture for their very first time. And as Miriam was saying earlier about lawns, it is an obsession in North America. I mean we sell lawns and I still don't, to be honest, really understand the obsession that. I think it's okay to have a small bit, you know, like everyone needs a little bit somewhere, but I and I'm happy to sell it, but I never understand when somebody buys ten acres of lawn. All right, I just like it's a waste of land. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's fascinating. So and then, as you know, my old well I should mention you're on this wonderful trip where you're going to small towns in between your home and my home and then beyond Ontario, been through Quebec and then down through Vermont in Massachusetts and then back up...

...and trying to do most of it not on major highways. Right. Yeah, so very pleasant. This is the kind of trip you were saying that retired people do. Yeah, I mean it's a great trip. What a wonderful idea. But my last question, as you know, is do you can still consider yourself Canadian and if so, what does that mean to you? And want each one of you to answer it separately. So which one was to go first? I well, I'm definitely Canadian. Was Born in Canada and my ancesters go back more than four hundred years here in queback. So I'm definitely Canadian. I think Canada is the best place in the world to live. It is cold, but everyone else in the world wants to live here. You know, it's a fabulous place and we're politically probably the only country left. It's sort of central center liberal, you know what, we're not turning all right wing like the rest of the planet. So, and can you talk a little bit about your what when you say the best place to live, that means, I think, in all aspects. You know, I think we in Canada live a better life and lifestyle than anyone in the history of humanity ever has. And we have everything. You know. So I think this is the best place in the world to be. So we have everything. Like, what's everything? Everything? Sorry, we have everything. Worse somewhere else other than you know, I'm not a fan of winter. That huddle in winter and you know. Yeah, so how about you? With you, how do you? Do you consider yourself a Canadian? Absolutely, and what does that mean to you? It's become a critical part of my identity and I think about being Canadian quite often. We talked about it a lot. You chose I I. Yeah, I I became a Canadian citizen, I guess about I'm thinking fourteen years ago, and I was originally an American and I just feel like I'm so lucky I ended up here. I I feel that it's being in Canada is very much reflects the values that I grew up in, in the communities I grew up in and the way I was raised as basically a liberal east coaster, and it's I like the intelligence of Canada, I like the compassion of Canada, I... the openmindedness of Canada. I like the beauty of Canada. There's there's so much here. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. No one saying it is, but it continues to be a light, a beacon for a lot of people and written an inspiration and I love living here. Thank you very much. I really appreciate you coming to visit grand potage and really appreciate you taking time to talk to me for UN apologetically Canadian to thank you very much. Thank you for listening to an apologetically Canadian. Please consider supporting our podcast Fort Hun hundred and ninety nine a month joint select listeners and get additional episodes every month.

In-Stream Audio Search


Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (58)