Eleven years ago, John Pieterse made the decision to get a visa and leave his home in the Netherlands to create a new home in the small farm town of Woodstock, Illinois, when a new job opportunity came to light.
“The Midwest was at first not totally my choice,” Pieterse said. But when life presents a new experience, one has to run with it.
Growing up in the Netherlands
Pieterse’s family lived in a town called Aalsmeer, the capital of the agricultural system in the Netherlands. As a child, his family struggled financially. Pieterse and his siblings played a big role in helping with their parents’ business, Pieterse Roses, where they cut and sold roses. He harvested pink roses and worked around the greenhouse to reduce some of the costs for his parents.
“In the beginning, I thought for sure I never wanted to be a grower because that’s way too much work,” Pieterse said. “But when I became 13 or 14 years old, I started to realize that it’s kind of fun to grow something from nothing and make it a nice flower or a nice plant or something people can enjoy.”
This new love and passion for growing plants got Pieterse more involved in the industry. He attended Florence College for an agricultural degree. During his weeks off from school, Pieterse traveled to different greenhouses to learn more. He spent time in Germany, Denmark and England.
Pieterse was also part of an exchange program where students from Europe went to the U.S. to learn more about agriculture. This allowed him to eventually work in Homestead, Florida, for about three months to get experience.
After finishing school, Pieterse bought his own greenhouse in the Netherlands and started a business for himself. He spent 10 years building that until he decided to sell his greenhouse to a neighbor in 2011 to search for better opportunities.
Soon after closing up shop, a new flowering opportunity presented itself.
Pieterse was approached by growers in the U.S. who admired his talent. They offered him a job, and along with that, they sponsored Pieterse and helped pay his legal fees to get a Visa.
The Journey to the U.S.
After accepting the job, Pieterse applied for the Visa Lottery, which is a program where people can fill out a form and randomly get drawn for a Visa. The amount of Visas handed out depended on how many people the U.S. wanted from certain countries.
Pieterse watched as five of his friends got selected from the lottery. After not getting picked, a daunting 200-300 page report sat before him.
For seven months, Pieterse lived in limbo as he went through the taxing immigration process. During this time, he traveled back and forth between Europe and the U.S. to continue working with his new company – until it became too pricey to travel.
Thankfully, the American company also worked with growers in Europe, giving Pieterse the opportunity to work with them to occupy his time before going to the U.S. While there he learned to grow orchids, a nearly impossible plant for just anyone to grow.
Until finally, the long awaited day arrived when he was granted his Visa.
In 2012, it was time to start his life in the U.S.
He was invited to work with Mid American Growers, located in Granville, Illinois. So off to the Midwest Pieterse went.
Over time, Pieterse grew to love the Midwest and the vast space the land offered. He liked the opportunities the different seasons offered for growing a variety of plants. In the Netherlands, the weather allowed for growing year-round roses, which got old over time. But in the Midwest, Pieterse could grow different plants for each season.
“I really, really enjoy it, and it means you’re not focused just on one thing, you can focus on multiple things throughout the year,” Pieterse said. “When I start growing something that’s available for 52 weeks a year, people get done with it. But while you grow, for example, a poinsettia, people buy it.”
He worked at Mid American Growers for eight years growing orchids that were shipped to big box stores like Walmart and Lowes. During this time, Pieterse said he started to feel like he could do something better, something different.
With the previous experience of his own greenhouse back in the Netherlands, he felt that he could start his own retail business in the U.S.
Unfamiliar with retail, Pieterse took a chance and bought his store, Countryside Flower Shop, in 2020. With confidence in his growing and managing skills, along with a good team supporting him, he began his new business, located in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
Countryside Flower Shop
Countryside is a nursery and landscape flower shop. The store is filled with a variety of beautiful flowers, trees, bushes and plants. They offer bird seed and bird feeders, outdoor decorative items like stone figures and signs and seeds to grow your own plants.
Pieterse’s store has grown and evolved over the past three years. He has learned how to take on social media to get people interested. Billboards around town promote Countryside Flower Shop. In 2022, Pieterse bought a second location for his store in Elburn, Illinois. And that’s not all he’s doing to expand and improve his business.
Countryside started a pick garden last year where people can pick their own bouquets. They began to do tours with schools and plant seeds with kids. This spring, they started to do an egg hunt for Easter. The business is also working on implementing more seminars to teach people how to prune and grow plants.
From picking roses at his parents’ business in the Netherlands to picking them at his own business in Illinois, Pieterse has grown to love the Midwest.
“I think that the Midwest gives us the opportunity every season to come up with a certain item and certain product or a certain thing,” Pieterse said. “It’s what keeps it interesting to come back to our facility.”