#TheGoodTribe Interview with Jenny Fortier, Founder of Northern Wildflowers
Is there really a food shortage problem in the world? Recently this year, according to an article by DailyHive, our favorite (or at least my) potato chip brand, Frito-Lay, had a chip shortage.
So how do we tackle this problem and ensure that we have a sustained food source? Look no further than the mighty bee! According to National Geographic, the number of bees is decreasing at a fast rate due to climate change as well as loss of habitat. There aren’t many plants for these bees to pollinate and get their pollen and nectar, which could remove an entire ecosystem of vegetation.
Encouraging the commonality of gardening within households will not only feed the bees but also supply people with a sustainable food source for their own kitchen needs.
Jenny Fortier is the founder of Northern Wildflowers, a company that provides access to native plant seeds for gardeners within Canada. Northern Wildflowers was founded in Whitefish, Ontario, in 2012 when Jenny chose to be the first few to offer native plant seeds in the Northern parts of Ontario and, at the same time, provide a new career for her mom.
By selling wildflower seeds grown at her farm and ethically collected from the wild, she was also able to carry out multiple community projects to teach others about the importance of protecting the Earth’s biodiversity and food security.
We recently interviewed Jenny to learn more about her journey with Northern Wildflowers and how gardening can be extremely beneficial to Mother Nature.
1. Tell us about your journey and how Northern Wildflowers blossomed (pardon my pun).
There are two sorts of forces that came together and resulted in my starting Northern Wildflowers. In 2002 I had a totally different profession, working at a science center developing educational content. I was working on a workshop series for adults all about greener living and got really interested in some of the information I had read about how gardening with native plants is so important in helping pollinators. In delivering the workshops, I also realized that no one offered native plants or seeds in the area, although the gardening community had so much interest. The other force that came into play was a desire to create a business that could turn into a new career for my mom. At the time, my mom was working a job she didn’t particularly like, and I really wanted to create a business that would allow her to do something she loved- she is an amazing gardener. So, Northern Wildflowers was born. It was this perfect concept of a business that would create products that were in demand, and it was something I was passionate about and also a bit of a gift to my mom. Spoiler alert, almost 10 years later, Northern Wildflowers has grown a lot, but it is still very much a family business. My mom still helps out (she really enjoys the wild seed collections), my partner joined the business 8 years ago, and my young children like to help out at the farm too.
2. Gardening is especially important to you. Why do you believe everyone should plant flowers? What are the benefits? (novice, indoor, the chef, patio, hippy, etc?)
There are many reasons that planting flowers is good for people and the planet. I think the simplest, most important reason is that gardening and planting flowers make people happy. It is a simple, relaxing hobby that you can enjoy in your yard, school, community garden, etc. The other really important reason to grow wildflowers is they provide a nectar source and food for wildlife and pollinators. Maintaining these little pockets of habitat within our cities will be so important in maintaining biodiversity and fighting the effects of climate change.
3. After we spoke, I realized that there are different types of gardeners. Can you tell me a little more about the different styles?
The beautiful thing about gardening is that it’s a creative process, and you can try whatever you want. You can add wildflowers to your vegetable garden to help increase your yields and control pests, switch out some of your lawn to perennials to provide a pollinator habitat, grow a rose garden and add beautiful native grasses to it, or even grow an orchard of fruit trees and use shade-tolerant native woodland species as ground cover; you can create any kind of landscape you want in a garden.
4. Any suggestions you can give to a newbie gardener when purchasing seeds?
Start with short-season, easy-to-grow varieties. Perennials are great for beginners and gardeners that want something low maintenance. Also, when choosing a supplier, consider that you really do get what you pay for when it comes to seed. Much of the mainstream seed available is sourced at exploitive pricing from growers in Asia and Mexico. Avoid these if you can. These varieties will not be adapted to our climate, and these supply chains are doing nothing to support agriculture in our country. Look for phrases like ‘Grown in Canada’, ‘Grown in the USA’ and avoid statements like ‘Packaged in Canada’.
5. Every year you donate 1% of your annual sales to projects that promote food security, enjoyment of wild spaces, and schoolyard greening. This year what is hoping to support and why?
We really support neat projects as we hear about them. So far, we’ve supported the Flour Mill Community Farm, which provides a job, agricultural training, and community building for low-income youth. We’ve supported a not-for-profit science center in delivering a native seed bomb workshop, and we are in talks to donate 1,000 milkweed plants to become part of a new pollinator throughway.
6. Where do your seeds come from, and how is it collected?
Our seeds come in from a few different places. We grow about 40 seed crops on our farm just west of Sudbury. We have our own crew of collectors that ethically wild collect seed from mostly woodland and native shrub species. We employ an additional dozen wild collectors throughout the country that send us seed throughout the year. We employ 8 different Canadian farmers who contract-grow seed for us. We also source varieties we might run out of or that we don’t grow (like grasses) from other reputable growers.
8. What are you working on for 2021 and beyond that you want us to know about?
We have so much coming up in 2022. We are launching an expanded retailer program, so our customers will be able to find our products in a lot more of the places where they like to buy their seed in person. We have our own 100% Canadian-grown vegetable seed line called Cutleaf Seeds we will be launching at the end of April. We have a new retail wildflower seed mix launching in mid-April. We are also on track to completely eliminate our plastic use by the end of 2022, and we are working on a plan to become a carbon-negative company, so I’m really excited about those things too.
What a sweet gift for Jenny’s mother while at the same time teaching the community about the importance of agriculture! Do your part in assisting the environment and protecting Mother Nature’s biodiversity by purchasing your own seeds from Northern Wildflowers!
Start your gardening journey by supporting Northern Wildflowers and checking out the links below!
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