This year’s award recipients will be honoured Tuesday night during an awards reception hosted by Flowers Canada Growers.
The 2012 Flowers Canada (Ontario) Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to long-time grower and industry volunteer Otto Bulk of Rosa Flora Growers, located near Dunnville, Ontario.
|Congratulating Otto Bulk at last year’s reception were Ted McMeeken, then the Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (at left), and awards presenter Stuart van Staalduinen of Bayview Flowers (at right).|
This award is presented to a grower, distributor or retailer who:
• During their lifetime have demonstrated forward thinking and ideas that have strengthened their business and the industry.
• Contributions can be in growing practices, leadership, mentorship, business and/or marketing.
• Has spent at least 40 years in the floriculture industry.
Past Winners include Jim Myers (2009), Jim Pepetone (2010), and Jim and Clemens VanderZalm (2011).
Stuart van Staalduinen of Bayview Flowers outlined Otto's accomplishments, excerpted below, during the awards reception.
Otto Bulk certainly has a lifetime of experience in the flower sector. As he says – he was born between the roses. Otto was actually born in Holland, but grew up on his family’s 3,000-square-foot greenhouse farm where cut roses were grown.
Although that seems small by today’s standards, everything was done by hand back then and he remembers very well helping to water with a hose after school every day. Following graduation from horticulture school, Otto had plans to take over the family farm from his father.
At the same time his brothers were sending back good reviews of their new lives in Canada.
About the time that his father turned 65, and Otto was ready to take over, an Italian grower offered to purchase the farm. Even though Otto’s wife Corine did not have any family in Canada, they were drawn to the thoughts of moving.
After prayerful consideration, they decided that God had helped make their decision by sending that buyer for the farm at the same time as they were thinking of moving.
BEGAN IN CANADA WITH BRANTFORD GROWER
In 1977, Otto started working for Stuart VanStaalduinen in Brantford and was very open with Stuart that he would work for one year and that on April 1, he would like to be on his own. And so in 1978, with three guiding values:
• To enjoy what he worked at.
• To satisfy his customers.
• To have good relationships with his employees.
Otto began building his first 1,500-square-metre greenhouse in Dunnville, Ontario. He began growing cut roses in these greenhouses and kept close contact with new technologies in Holland.
KEEPING UP WITH LEADING EDGE TECHNOLOGIES
Once a year he would travel back to visit family and see what new things he could bring home with him to help him grow roses better.
During this time, Otto and Corine raised six children. “Boy were we busy,” is his comment to sum up those years where life revolved around church, work and children.
However, he always took it one day at a time and every week he knew that another Sunday would come to slow down and relax for a short time.
CONTINUOUS GROWTH AT ROSA FLORA
Rosa Flora grew steadily over the years as Otto perfected the art of growing high quality cut roses efficiently. He always tested and adopted new technologies early and watched carefully as cut rose farming started to evolve in South America in the 1980s.
At first he noticed that the roses being imported from Columbia were not of the quality that was being grown on his and other’s farms in Canada, but over time that quality improved.
He recognized the growing conditions in Colombia were more temperate all year long and that yields could be consistent 12 months of the year down there. Even though the yields in Colombia were half what he could produce in his greenhouses in the winter and spring, the Colombians could never be beat on costs of production.
MOVING INTO NEW CROPS
One day he heard from a wholesaler that they could get any amount of roses they needed any time of the year for 49cents a stem. And since roses could now be transported long distances in planes, he started to realize that to continue to thrive in Ontario, Rosa Flora would need to grow different cut flower crops.
The bottom line for Otto became – whatever is easy to transport is doomed to fail here in Ontario.
This type of forward thinking helped Otto change what he grew in his greenhouses so that now the two staple crops being grown in the 1.5 million square foot RosaFlora greenhouses have become cut gerbera and snapdragons.
Otto has also been a leader in the greenhouse sector with regards to energy. His thought was always that if he could save even one per cent on the cost of electricity or natural gas, then that was one per cent that was in his pocket and not in someone else’s.
In 1992, Rosa Flora was first accepted in the Non-Utility Generation (NUG) program and started a cogeneration facility to produce heat and electricity. This has become even more advantageous over the years as the price of electricity has risen.
And of course, anyone driving by the farm on Diltz Road cannot help but notice the investments he has made in biofuel for the boilers and wind turbine generation of electricity.
Otto has often remarked that “time sure does fly by.”
Thinking back to when he was 50, Otto remembers thinking how he could continue to work until he was 65. Even though he is not 65 yet, he continues to come to work every day.
In the past couple of years he has sold the business to some of his six children, which has given him a bit more freedom to come and go at his leisure.
However, he can still be seen at the farm every day with his rose cutters hanging on his belt, ready to help cut stems if needed!