By Chris and Juanita Draaistra
We had experience in construction, facility management and the nursery business before we bought a landscaping franchise in 2012 with The Grounds Guys in Abbotsford, B.C. Our combined background prepared us well for serving residential and commercial clients in our community, but there was also still much to learn.
I grew up in Dunnville, Ont., a small community on Lake Erie. I’m the youngest of five siblings. While I had no real idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, I followed in my dad’s footsteps by working in the construction and greenhouse industries. I didn’t move away from Dunnville until I was about 19, but I do remember visiting British Columbia on vacation at the age of 14 and thinking, “I would love to live there one day!”
When I moved, it was to attend Redeemer College in Ancaster, Ont., where I studied ecology and biology for two years, but then decided science wasn’t my thing. I headed to Mohawk College in Hamilton for a three-year child and youth work program, with the intent of working in group homes or youth detention centres.
While I was at Mohawk, I lived with my friend Phil, who had just gotten engaged to Juanita’s sister Carla. Juanita came to visit Carla in the summer and that’s how we met. I asked her out soon afterwards and we began a long-distance relationship, writing letters and spending hours on the phone to keep in touch.
Using my degree, I worked for the Scott Mission on Spadina Avenue in downtown Toronto. I was assistant director of their camp program for nearly three years, which included after-school sessions for economically disadvantaged children, as well as a camp in Caledon, Ont. I also worked for small construction companies in and around Hamilton and Niagara, Ont.
I was born here in Abbotsford and raised just one kilometre down the road from where we live now. My family owns Van Belle Nursery, which had one farm back then and has since expanded to four sites. My parents still live in the same house where I grew up.
We all helped out with the family business. I was weeding at five years old. While I played volleyball in the fall and basketball in the winter, I never played sports in the spring because that was the nursery’s shipping season.
I was a happy, outgoing child who loved living and working out in the country. I enjoyed growing plants and being part of a team. Growing up on the nursery was a bit like life on a farm.
That said, when the time came for my post-secondary education, I wanted to try living farther away for a different experience. I found out about Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, through our church and went there to study plant science. The course was very different from what I’d learned at home, as Iowa’s agriculture was focused on soybeans and corn. I shifted my area of study to international agribusiness and learned Spanish, so I could travel even farther away. I spent a semester in Costa Rica.
When I look back at that experience, I realize I picked up a lot of business knowledge from my own family, but college was how I got to learn more about other people and how the world works. Having gotten a taste for that, I didn’t want to just come back to Abbotsford for my summers. So, I decided to join my sister Carla in Hamilton. I got a retail job at a garden centre not far away, in St. Catharines, Ont.
That was when I met Chris through Carla and her fiancé. Chris and Phil were roommates at the time.
Chris called me and asked me out. We dated from that point on. It became a long-distance arrangement because I still had a year left to finish in my schooling.