Depending on where you are maybe not so much a road trip as a flight or sail. Belfleurken is an azalea grower in Belgium. Their primary market is Europe so we do not see many of their azaleas here in the US. We were there a bit early for the Mother’s Day rush on greenhouse grown potted azaleas so while there were many plants in production, not too many flowers were to be found.
This family business is known for the one-million azaleas grown each year in state-of-the-art greenhouses and their self-watering flower pots. In some way it was nice not to be distracted by 5 acres of Azalea flowers under glass giving a chance to notice the other features of this greenhouse facility. Because the greenhouses were not full, we could see the inner-workings of the facility and for a greenhouse nut like me – this was heaven.
Eco-Friendly (By Law)
Before being distracted by the shiny equipment and stunningly clean facility, I noticed this sign located at the entrance to the greenhouses indicating this company practices environmentally responsible crop production and has been through an organic training certification program. We were on a guided tour with the owner Kris Floré who explained that in Europe the government requires environmentally responsible crop production including water-saving and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices. Belfleurken is certified by MPS, which is an organization that monitors pesticide, fertilizer, water and energy consumption by producers. This organization also offers training classes for growers.
What do Azaleas have in Common with Champagne and Parmesan Cheese?
In addition to being environmentally friendly this greenhouse is part of an area of Belgium known as a Protected Geographical Indication. According to the website “this designation covers agricultural products and foodstuffs closely linked to the geographical area. At least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation takes place in the area.” In this case, or East Flanders is now considered a Protected Geographical Indicator and no producers, except those producing ornamental plants in East Flanders can say their products are from there. This is similar to the Champagne designation in France or the Parmigiana-Reggiano designation from Italy.
This being a family business, not everyone agrees upon what is most fun (or profitable) to grow. One of the brothers in this company has branched off and turned some of the greenhouse space into vegetable production. Outdoors features rhubarb fields and orchards and inside you find rows and rows of organically produced vegetables. We were there in time to witness all shades of lettuces and bright green peas. Not only does growing vegetables diversify what is grown on the farm but diversifies the customer base. The vegetables are distributed via a CSA that offers year-round offerings of fruits, herbs and vegetables from the traditional to the heirloom to the surrounding community.
Of course in this eco-friendly establishment bees of all sorts are welcome:
Slow Season Visits
Sometimes it is nice to visit greenhouses, farms, nurseries and gardens in the off season. It is only during the slower times the owner can take you on a tour of the property and explain the inner-workings to you. This is when he (or she) can take an extra few minutes to explain the environmental rules of the EU and the meaning of various certifications and designations. You begin to notice the inner-workings and the unsuspected details of a business. During the busy production season it is easy to get distracted by the riotous colors and hustle and bustle but a visit during the slow season will introduce you to the enchanting subtleties of minute details concealed during the busier months.