Greenhouses adjust to local demands created by pandemic

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

COVID-19 forced people to spend more time indoors, encouraging them to find new hobbies and crafts to feed their boredom. Coupled with this adjustment was businesses both trying to cater to local demands and remaining afloat.
According to greenhouses in Fort Frances, more people began gardening after COVID-19.
Lowey’s Produce Greenhouse & Market Gardens is run by Blair Lowey, his wife Donna and daughter Nichole.
“People are even identifying themselves as being first-time gardeners due to the pandemic,” Blair said. “Stay- at-home people are having something to do to occupy themselves.”
Blair said even though they had to change to online sales when restrictions were applied, the transition was smooth.
“It was a learning year,” Blair said. “We had to switch to internet sales. It went very well, very smooth. My daughter, Nichole, did a fabulous job.”
Nichole said the online sales shot two birds with one stone because it was an educational opportunity for those wanting to know more about specific plants.
“Some of the feedback I got from doing online sales was how educational it was because we put a lot more work into describing the plants and the care and maintenance of them,” Nichole said. “People were educated before purchasing their plants, so that helped a lot especially because there are more growers this year.”
That being said, Nichole added that there was flexibility as to how people placed their orders.
“We had our website that is very user-friendly,” Nichole said. “People are phoning-in to place orders because some people are not comfortable with technology, orders through Facebook and people stopping by. We were allowed to be open to the public after restrictions were lifted. We never really had an issue with crowds.”
Blair said the bestselling flower this season is marigold because the deer do not eat them and people put them in their gardens. He added that the bestselling vegetable is tomatoes.
Although COVID-19 delayed business deals with partners in the United States, Blair said the local demand balanced out any potential loss in revenue. With the border being shut, Blair said he was not able to get deals with suppliers from Minneapolis.
However, as the local demand of tropicals grew bigger, Blair said he was able to deal with a company that did all the importing from the United States without him crossing the border.
“Everything we have done with our business this year has been strictly solely Canadian,” Blair said. “I don’t think that affected our [revenue], because the way we have ventured into new businesses like with the tropicals.”
Blair said they lost the sales from camp owners in Kenora, Sioux Narrows, Nestor Falls who usually buy flowers for their properties. However, the surge in people gardening, the local demands for new tropicals, marigolds and tomatoes combined ruled out any potential loss in revenue.
Nichole said the 12-acre farm was started by Blair’s grandparents in 1927. She said she enjoyed seeing more people shop local.
“A lot of people were shopping local this year,” Nichole said. “We had more new customers this year, which is nice to see people shop local. It’s important with the pandemic that people are supporting small local businesses.”