Bonaire) Making it grow

In an arid climate with its low rainfall, high evaporation, year round tropical temperatures, little seasonal variation and easterly trade winds gardening, landscaping, propagating plants, and selling them almost seems like an impossible undertaking. Nevertheless, Green Label, the first and biggest garden center on Bonaire has successfully proven it can be done.

Already working as a self-employed gardener on Bonaire Ap van Eldik started up the islands’ first commercial garden center and service company twenty years ago. In 2016 entrepreneur Remco de Valk took over the business. Freshly arrived from Holland but certainly not a first-timer, because he lived in Central America for a few years and used to have his own landscaping company in Holland, the new director started to reorganize some of the back-office traits of his new business.

Multi-service gardening
Multi-service garden center Green Label is basically defined by four different branches: the shop, the nursery, maintenance, and the landscaping. The spacious shop serves as a physical representation of the company and as a meeting place. Professional or private gardeners don’t only go there to purchase typical garden items and accessories like high quality irrigation material, pesticides, fertilizer, vitamins, tools, and pottery, but also to ask for advice. The two employees working in the shop have been trained on the job, speak several languages and know the business. The nursery is run by the head propagation who has been growing, propagating and nurturing plants for over twenty years. Whether someone wants a Divi-divi (Libidibia coriaria, typical native tree), a giant palm tree
or whatever other indigenous or non-indigenous species, one can buy it at the nursery. He or his two co-workers will tell what’s best and how to take care of the newest boon for the garden.The garden maintenance contracts and landscaping projects are mainly carried out by the field staff. These three staff members repair or layout irrigation systems, prevent or eliminate plant diseases, plant and prune trees and bushes or even help design and layout whole gardens for resorts.

According to Remco de Valk the place you work and the job you have needs to be nice and fulfilling. Happy employees are motivated, make a healthy organization and are good for business. Moreover, they are the key to success. One of the ways to motivate people is to give them more freedom and responsibility. And to make them more self-reliant also means there needs to be a basis of trust, equality and respect. This vision on how to run a company, or manage one’s personnel for that matter, is not commonly shared and the team of Green Label had to adjust to their new boss’ ways at first. Obviously things were changing and the new director expected a different attitude and a different way of handling things. He choose to lead by example. By inviting his employees to share their ideas, organizing meetings to discuss decisions that had to be made, the immediate follow-up on an idea or improvement one of his staff members proposed, and by truly giving them the power and freedom to think, decide and act autonomously, he managed to slowly change the company’s culture. Now they don’t ask him if they are allowed to order some tools that are sold out, for example, they just do. To cut the costs of doing business Remco de Valk mainly reorganized the logistics. By getting the materials and items he needed first hand and directly at factories in Italy and China he didn’t have to pay brokers and agents anymore. Furthermore, he made deals with other entrepreneurs on the island to collectively fill containers for shipment to Bonaire. This way he did not only reduce the time and costs of these shipments but could also order smaller quantities more frequently. Although the management of the logistics now takes up a major part of his working day.

Closed circle and the future
The ambition of the new director is to use, grow and stimulate the development of local and homegrown products as much as possible. So he strives to accomplish what he calls ‘a closed circle’. That’s why the majority of the flora in the nursery is homegrown. Although some of the seeds are being imported from Holland and some of the trees and plants are purchased in Miami.  But their special homemade fertilizer, for example, contains the exquisite manure of chicken farm Punta Blanku and Green Label mixes its soil with local diabase and the compact dung of the goats from Aletta’s goat farm. Beside expanding the line of products of the shop, the nursery, the landscaping branch, and becoming a wholesaler in the future Remco de Valk is also looking for ways to promote, stimulate and support the cultivation of homegrown vegetables and fruits. According to him it would be better for Bonaire, if the island would be a bit more self-sufficient and would depend less heavily on the import of these agricultural commodities. “In order to achieve general support and willingness to actually grow one’s own food, it might be an idea to assemble a group of entrepreneurs and a foundation like Stinapa to make it happen”, he suggests.

The first time Remco de Valk saw Green Label was for sale he immediately had a good feeling and the desire to purchase it. Within half a year the deal was done and he could call himself the proud owner and director of multi-service garden center Green Label. From early on and during his whole career plants had played an important part in his life and now finally all things came together. He always wanted to go abroad and had already lived for several years in Central America. He was familiar with the region and way of life. And last but not least he could use his experience of all his former businesses like the landscaping company, the trading company and even his event agency. Although it is not always easy, the new director feels very fortunate, that he is allowed to do what he loves most: making ‘things’ grow.

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