It’s not every day you get invited to enjoy a 4-course meal in one of Canada’s largest floral greenhouses, yet this past Saturday night I found myself sitting at the most beautifully decorated harvest table surrounded by 1.5 million square feet of dazzling lisianthus, snapdragons, gerbera daisies, and lilies!
Saturday marked the first ever Petals and Plates event hosted by Flowers Canada. This “dinner on the farm” series highlights Canadian flower growers by combining local food, beer, and wine and serving it up in the most unforgettable setting: a floral greenhouse!
This inaugural event took place one of Canada’s premier growing facilities, Rosa Flora, in Dunnville, Ontario. As soon as I arrived at the greenhouse facility I was completely blown away by the magnificent atrium which was filled with not only the most beautiful flowers and plants, but large palms that stretched all across the entryway, making it feel like a mini tropical paradise!
The lovely Grand Oak Culinary staff welcomed us with trays of delectable hors d’oeuvres, including mushroom crostini, sausage rolls with mustard, bruschetta, and an array of local smoked meats and Canadian cheese! All to be enjoyed while crafting our floral crown and boutonnieres!
What I love most about these events is being introduced to new food and wine… and new-to-me Malivoire wine didn’t disappoint! The Gamay paired nicely with all the hors d’oeuvres and was a refreshing start to the evening!
After a little sipping and nibbling the greenhouse tour got started. One million square feet of space is pretty hard to cover in 30 minutes, but farm owner Josh Bulk managed to get it all in, taking us behind the scenes into several of the growing rooms, packing rooms, and cooler.
Like a lot of farms in Ontario, Rosa Flora is a family owned and operated. Started in 1978 by Otto and Corine Bulk, Rosa Flora got its start growing fresh-cut hybrid tea roses. Their outstanding quality and service quickly grew demand allowing them to branch out into several other flower varieties including gerbera, snapdragons, lisianthus, and stephanotis. Today, Rosa Flora has over 1 million square feet of high-tech growing space… just a “small” step up from their 1978 operation! 😉
It was fascinating to hear how Rosa Flora’s team of growers, many of who are internationally trained, bring innovative and new techniques to the greenhouse industry. One such innovation is the use of a biomass boiler. Rosa Flora sources wood chips, that would otherwise be destined for the landfill and them it in their biomass system. The burning of the wood releases only as much CO2 as the trees have absorbed during the course of their life, which is why heating with wood is called CO2 neutral. So not only it is environmentally responsible, it reduces the use of fossil fuels.
As you would expect, water systems are also very important in a greenhouse and require significant investments in storage and treatment. While all the plants may grow indoors, Rosa Flora tries their best to capture the benefits of rainfall. Their greenhouse roof structure is designed to catch all natural precipitation and diverts it into large holding ponds. As the plants are watered from this detention basin they are also fertilized. To ensure the plant gets the most out of the fertilizer, Rosa Flora reuses all the water that is drained from the pots, cleaning it through an elaborate catchment and wetland filtration system before applying it to the flowers again.
Hydration from harvest to delivery is key, which is why flowers are stored and shipped in treated water pails. Rosa Flora has 35,000 square feet of cooler storage where flowers, after harvest, hang out until they are ready to be shipped in one of 18 refrigerated trucks. This consistent refrigeration and hydration is crucial to a flowers longevity once it hits your vase.
As a flower lover, I found the whole growing process truly fascinating, giving me a new appreciation for the Canadian flower industry!
Of course, the night didn’t end there! After the tour, we were whisked away to a far corner of the greenhouse and welcomed to sit at the exquisitely decorated harvest table! Hundreds of flowers were meticulously placed by brilliant florist Nicholas Smith of Opening Night Flowers, making it a true work of art.
During dinner, Chef Jan-Willem Stulp, Owner and Executive Chef at Grand Oak Culinary Market, walked us through each course. Chef Stulp’s passion and commitment to local food was the cornerstone of the night’s menu. From the locally sourced greens in the salad to the Rosewood mead in the chicken dish, Stulp beautifully showcased Ontario grown food in every course!
First up was a Cool Duet of Cucumber and Watermelon Gazpacho, with Pink Peppercorns and Mint Granita. The cool gazpacho was a much-welcomed relief from the warmth of the greenhouse. When the two mixtures came together… perfection!
The second course consisted of Sunrise Greens with Edible Nasturtiums and Cress, and Warm, Smoked Lake Trout in a Cracked Mustard Dressing. Now if you know me, you know how much I love mustard… and this dressing hit it out of the park for me! It was perfect with the slightly smokey trout and the fresh greens!
The main course was just what I’d expect to be dining on in mid-September… A Dry-Rubbed Chicken Breast, marinated in Rosewood Mead with Caramelized Onion Compote, Vineland Sweet Potato and Braised Red Cabbage, in Black Cherry Jus… it tasted just like Fall.
The final course, dessert, was courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Ontario, who challenged Chef to create a locally inspired dessert centered around the dairy industries most well-known treat, ice cream. The result was a delicious Baked Apple and Quince ‘Tatin’, in Lavender & Wild Ginger Syrup. If you’ve ever been in a greenhouse you know how warm it is, so this dessert wasn’t very photogenic for long!
The love, passion and appreciation Rosa Flora, the chefs, the florist and the Flowers Canada team have for the floral industry was evident the moment I walked in the door! Their knowledge was vast and their enthusiasm was palpable! It was such an honour to be invited to share in the celebration of floriculture in Canada and the love of local food! If you are interested in experiencing Petals and Plates firsthand, tickets are now on sale for the next instalment in the series: CosMic Plants.
Disclosure: I was provided with two free tickets to attend Petals and Plates. I was in no way compensated for this post or expected to write about my experience. I wanted to share the details of my night with you because I found it truly fascinating and inspiring!