Meet Ali and Bas: the Central Coast couple bringing high quality, sustainably farmed orchids to our community and beyond.
Since 2018, the pair has managed to transform a Los Osos greenhouse that sat empty for 10 years into a thriving business that delivers orchids across the state. Ali Glasco, a California native with a passion for problem solving, and Bas van Eijk, a trained grower who was born, raised and educated in the Netherlands, co-founded Cal Coast Orchids. Their mission is to produce sustainably grown, beautiful orchids of the highest quality for their customers.
We sat down with Bas and Ali to get to know their unique backgrounds, hear what makes their orchids so special, and learn how to keep these beautiful flowers happy and healthy—no matter how green your thumb is!
You both have fascinating backgrounds that lead up to the birth of Cal Coast Orchids. Tell me a little bit about each of your lives before you settled here on the Central Coast.
Bas: I was born and raised in the Netherlands. I come from a family that’s been growing in general for generations, and I think I was 11 or 12 when I realized I wanted to work in this industry. I went to school to become a grower, and we had to do an internship abroad, so I went to New Zealand. I was tasked with reviving a struggling orchid production that was prepared to shut down their greenhouses. After six months of me implementing a sustainability plan there, everything was flowering and looking great. After that experience I realized that the value of my orchid knowledge was worth far more abroad than in the Netherlands, where so many people have these skills. I had always liked California, so in 2013 I got a job in Carpinteria at an orchid company. I met Ali there, because she was studying in Santa Barbara at the time. Then I got another job offer in Virginia to grow orchids so we both moved, and Ali worked at a company next door working with hydroponic lettuce.
Ali: I grew up in L.A., and when I met Bas it was the first time I had ever stepped into a greenhouse. I had no clue what I was doing, but after getting my job in hydroponic lettuce that really sparked my interest in agriculture. I studied physics at college, and that’s what I thought I was going to be doing with my life. But this type of agriculture involves a lot of problem solving and technology, and I really enjoyed it. You’re in a glass house where computers control a lot of what’s happening: it’s not the same as farming in fields.
We signed the lease for the greenhouse in August 2018, and then jumped right in. With an ability to house about 900,000 orchids annually, we’re already maxed out at capacity and sold through less than a year into sales. So overall, not much to complain about! It’s been crazy what we’ve been able to accomplish in a little over a year, but we’re just two people determined to bring a high quality crop to the Central Coast.
What makes Los Osos perfect for growing?
Bas: I’ve grown all over the world, but I don’t think I’ve ever found a place as good as here. We’ve got the cold ocean breeze coming in which acts like a natural air conditioning. We almost never have fog here, because the fog lines are going to Avila Beach, San Luis, or it stays in Morro Bay. The combination of cold air and light is absolutely unique.
Ali: Giants in the industry who have come and visited us in our greenhouse say this is the best climate they’ve seen for an orchid greenhouse in the world. It just happens to be in sleepy little Los Osos. Also, because the outside temperature is so consistent year round, we can grow very sustainably. We’re not using a ton of heat or energy to cool down the greenhouse. It’s nature doing its thing, and our climate computer just helps it along. We’ve got sensors all over the greenhouse, so the computer is able to track the position of the sun, and then the windows move in coordination with the sun, wind speed and temperature.
Bas: We basically gave the greenhouse brains to think for itself. That’s saving us a ton of energy.
Bas, this one’s for you. What’s your favorite Dutch tradition?
Bas: One of my favorites is King’s Day. It’s a national day off in April that celebrates the birth of King Willem-Alexander. Everybody in the Netherlands dresses up in orange clothes, and it’s like one big party. People just put their speakers in their windows and then set up a DJ booth right there. A lot of those really big international DJs are Dutch, so they all come back to Amsterdam for the holiday. It’s a lot of fun.
What sets your flowers apart from other growers?
Ali: We’re California grown, and we grow our orchids in bark. A lot of the large scale supermarket chains have imported products out of China, Taiwan, and South America, and these plants are potted in moss, because you can’t import bark into the US. But orchids don’t like moss in their adult stage. In nature, orchids don’t grow in pots or in the ground: they attach themselves to trees. Planting them in bark allows the air to go through their root system, just as it would in the wild. If you’re going to a garden center and buying an orchid, they’ll always tell you take it home and re-pot it in the orchid bark, but the plant doesn’t like to be re-potted. It’s kind of like uprooting it from its house, and changing it from moss to bark can put a lot of trauma on the plant. Growing it in the bark means we don’t have to re-pot it on a consumer level.
What do you do to relax and unwind after a hard day’s work in the greenhouse?
Ali: The ocean is five miles away, so we often just go to the beach. We also enjoy the many beautiful hikes here.
Bas: Something I also enjoy is using the scrap wood we have here and to turn it into something new. We needed 28 tables for the greenhouse, so we made them all from scrap wood. I mean, I’m Dutch— we like to think of ourselves as thrifty and creative.
Orchids are often thought of as a tricky plant to take care of— what are your top tips for accessible orchid care?
Bas: The number one thing that I’ve seen people do here in the U.S. is overwatering. They don’t need that much water. We did a test where we didn’t water one for nine months and it still flowered. A two or three year old orchid can be ruined in a few days, just from overwatering. We recommend watching the color of the roots to know when the plant needs water. When the roots are green, they’re happy. If they start to turn gray or white, the orchid needs water. You have to listen to what the plant is telling you.
Do you have a quote or mantra that guides your life and the way you do business?
Ali & Bas: We keep a sheet of paper in our office that lists the differences between being a leader versus a boss. We read it every day. We want to make sure that we’re all equal. Everyone who works here has the same goal in mind—we just have different responsibilities. That’s something that’s really important to us.
What tops your bucket list?
Ali & Bas: We want to travel through South America a little bit more to see where orchids come from. Also, with part of Ali’s family living in rural Tonga, islands in the South Pacific Ocean, we hope to go there too.
Where do you hope Cal Coast Orchids will be in five years?
Ali & Bas: In five years we hope to have a fully automated greenhouse. The goal is to only have people working in the warehouse, and then our climate computer can regulate the greenhouse. Overall, we hope we can continue to provide the Central Coast with high quality orchids. There are major opportunities here.