Building a Better Bloom

Jul 31, 2014

If you buy flowers at the grocery store, chances are they’ve come from Holland or California.  That’s a long way, and the blooms rarely last more than a week, but a Virginia company called Bloomaker has come up with a way to make flowers last longer, and their success could turn  this area into a national hub for flower production.

Joep Paternostre hails from Holland.  He’s a big man - over six feet tall and at least 200 pounds, and since childhood he’s seen the United States as the place to dream big.

“My parents and grandparents were saved by the Americans actually, and my grandfather was in the resistance during the second war, and everything was about America still for the whole family.  I liked the United States.  I traveled several times to the United States .  Business wise it was a huge market for us to open, and I already had a floral company, a bulb company that sold in the United States to companies like Lowe’s and Home Depot.”

So he and his wife spent a year driving across country in an RV - looking for a place to start their American business.  They were struck by the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but that wasn’t what sealed the deal for building in Waynesboro.

“We had a major access east-west and north-south.  We were able to reach 70-75% of the American and Canadian - East Canadian population from this point within 24 hours, and as we were going to set up a floral company, you need to be close to everybody.”

They talked with consumers and grocery store chains, then came up with a technique for making flowers last longer.  It begins with a bulb, placed on a small plastic platform inside a vase, surrounded by pebbles, with an adequate supply of water for the roots.

“During shipping we put them at 35 degrees Fahrenheit and they are in the stores, and there they start growing, and the flowers come in a couple of days later … at least two weeks to see them grown and to see them fully flower.”

On a driving tour of the 20 acre site, Paternostre shows me the greenhouse built  for 8 million bulbs a year, and explains that he is often on the road, meeting with managers of grocery store chains.

“I live at the airport in Waynesboro.  My wife and I both we are pilots.  That’s one of the beauties.  You can live at the airport and have your own plane and fly wherever you want. “

We approach a steep drop-off, but Paternostre keeps on going.  

“I hope we don’t have an accident here.  You better put your seat  belt on.  What, in case we roll over?  I wasn’t planning on that today.”

The tour ends where Bloomaker has begun building a bigger greenhouse and chilling room - covering another acre of ground.  With 100,000 in economic development dollars from the state and county, Paternostre says he was able to get a spur built from Columbia’s natural gas pipeline in Stewart’s Draft to his greenhouse.  That relatively cheap fuel will further boost his business, and - he says - could turn the region into a national hub for flower production.

Greenhouse in Waynesboro.

“Other countries are looking.  We are in contact with other Dutch companies who really are interested to set up flower productions here as well.”

In the mean time, his workforce will grow from 8 to 12 full-time staffers and from 70 to 125 seasonal employees.