Retirees dig into Dutch roots and come up with tulip farm

Allan Groen and Manja Bastian at their Edwards tulip operation, also featuring 75th Dutch Liberation anniversary orange tulips.

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

EDWARDS — What happens when an accountant and a librarian — not always seen as the most exciting of professions — put their heads together to come up with a retirement project? Something pretty
colourful in the case of Green Corners Farm just south of this rural Ottawa hamlet!

Children of post WWII Dutch immigrants, Manja Bastian and Allan Groen dug back into their roots to create what is believed to be Eastern Ontario’s first U-pick tulip farm where customers can stop by and walk through the rows of colourful flowers to put together a bouquet or buy one already wrapped at the gate. The price ranges from $10 to $15 for 10 flowers.

Readily describing themselves as the “most boring couple you’ll ever meet,” after working and travelling overseas, Bastian and Groen realized they needed to add some excitement to their lives.

Over 160,000 bulbs were planted by the couple who, what with a cold snowy spring and the COVID-19 crisis, kept their fingers crossed they’d get a decent crop and turnout for what has been billed as the Ottawa area’s newest spring tourist attraction.

“It’s been pretty good,” Bastian said, considering the short window revolving around tulips being in full bloom. “People are discovering us through publicity and word-of-mouth. When COVID arrived, it could have been much more discouraging.”

Groen thanked neighbours and volunteers for pitching in to help the budding business get off the ground, everything from spreading straw, picking and wrapping tulips, to providing a tractor to pull the custom planter and helping to install an access road: “This first year has been a community effort.”

Fresh volunteers are always welcome.

As a way of giving back, the couple turned over a 10-acre field not being used for tulips to volunteers with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank for growing corn as part of the agency’s efforts in reducing global hunger. As is the annual tradition, several similar plots are underway across Eastern Ontario.

Three acres are reserved for tulip production which possible expansion to 200,000 bulbs next year; what’s left of this year’s crop including bulbs will be plowed under for a fresh start in the spring. In the name of crop rotation and to extend the season, Bastian and Groen are considering down the road getting into sunflowers following the tulips: “We’ll master the tulips before we take on anything else,” Groen said.

Green Corners has a tie-in with the Canadian Tulip Festival held annually in Ottawa as “official grower”; like so many other events, the festival suffered the COVID KIBOSH; the tulip farm owners hope the relationship will expand in future years.

In another Dutch touch, as part of the festival connection, Bastian and Groen were assigned to plant and grow 100,000 bright orange Liberation 75 variety tulips created to celebrate the 75 th anniversary last year of the Liberation of the Netherlands, spearheaded to a large extent by Canadian troops. With proceeds to be directed to the Royal Canadian Legion, the goal is to cover the country with 1.1 million Liberation tulips in honour of an equal number of Canadians who served in WWII.

Nine other varieties are represented in the field, with 30,000 bulbs given to Green Corners by Ritchie Feed & Seed, and 30,000 purchased from Prince Edward Island’s Vanco Farms, a business the couple knows personally.

COVID-19 safety measures at Green Corners include limited access to the tulip field based on a timed ticket to ensure social distancing, a sanitizing station and protected handling and wrapping of bouquets.

“We hope the beauty of the tulips will be a reminder of better times ahead,” Groen stated.

A gift kiosk at Green Corners Farm.

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