Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden - Chinese proverb

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A Quiet Revolution - With Flowers


According to the biodynamic calendar, Monday was a 'flower' day *. It also happened to be the chosen date for the first ever gathering of flower farmers, so it was an apt, definitely auspicious choice.

I'm not a flower farmer, but having followed Georgie on Twitter, read her blog and happily sported a corsage or three of hers, I was keen to find out more about this side of the horticultural trade. It seems to me we've been having a quiet revolution over the past year or two, where many people have spotted the threat of imported flowers can actually be turned into an opportunity**.

The UK's flower industry is worth a whopping 2 billion pounds a year. It isn't all petrol forecourt and supermarket flowers either***. How about some scented, floral confetti for your wedding? It's a memorable way to get around the ban many churches have imposed on the paper version. Or how about some Pick Your Own flowers alongside those strawberries? I was struck by the many inventive ways the flower farmers I met have spotted (relatively) lucrative gaps in the market. Gaps which they're more than happy to fill.

I also learnt the term 'farm' isn't necessarily the familiar one we picture in our minds. Yes, some flower farmers are found there, but many are using much smaller patches of land for their business. I was also struck how many of them had started very simply (often with a few buckets of roadside flowers) and are using relatively cheap equipment in the form of a mobile phone and a computer to enable their business to flourish.

Georgie is well-known for her use of social media and using it effectively to tell the 'story' of Common Farm Flowers. On Monday I finally saw social media through her eyes. It's her shop window, where she tempts potential customers through the door for a chat. That chat may be converted into a sale - not by pressure tactics - but through giving an insight into her world. It also helps having a product which has plenty of eye candy!

Gill Hodgson of Flowers From the Farm highlighted the strengths of British Flowers which challenge the status quo of all those cheap imports. I heard her words - local, seasonal, different, quality and desirable along with the phrase 'days fresher' repeated many times during the day. I thought she made an important point that those there might view the others present as their competitors. However, by working together and learning from each other, they can compete more effectively with the even stiffer competition from abroad.

I came away from the day extremely uplifted. There's so much doom and gloom in the news about the economy these days, so it was great to attend a meeting full of buzz, excitement and 'can do' attitude' and hear how around 80 people are refusing to give up in the face of the competition. Instead, they're exploring new business models and niches in which to not only survive, but thrive.

Which would you rather have, a bunch of petrol forecourt flowers, or a sweetly scented arrangement like the one pictured at the top of this post? It was sufficient to welcome everyone into the reception area of an extremely large barn :)

The choice is yours.

* = according to Cally who knows about these things. Sadly she couldn't attend, so I was also 'wearing her hat' for the day. Lack of attendance doesn't mean she doesn't have a thing or two to say on the subject. Her thoughtful post, Where have all the (British) flowers gone? is worth a read.

** = if you've ever done any SWOT analysis, you'll recognise where I'm coming from

*** = they're probably going to remain the preserve of those imports from countries like Kenya, Ecuador, Thailand and India, though even here there are some notable exceptions. Waitrose and Marks & Spencer now stock some British grown flowers. Which reminds me, it's time to replenish my vase of Cornish-grown daffodils :)

11 comments:

  1. Sounds like the best of days. Looking forward to hearing more. C x

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  2. I hope the British flower farmers start to get real traction on the UK market. It maddens me that we help pressure African farmers into turning land that could grow edibles for the home market into spray-rich flower farms for the Western market. I know so many people who would, if it was easy, choose UK flowers but because they are busy, always opt for "easy", which often means M&S or some other familiar and trusted brand.

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  3. I avoid imported flowers because I don't know how they were grown & harvested. Bad enough to take money out of my neighbors' hands, but to poison the environment as well is very poor form.

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  4. A documentary not so very long ago highlighted the environmental problems created by flower growing around Lake Naivasha in Kenya. It's ruining the fishing for locals too, as it says in the report at http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/NaivashaReport.pdf. It's great to hear of a home-grown industry on the up.

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  5. Cally - it was a great way to spend a January day. See you soon :)

    Janet - I've seen the effects from the opposite side as I have worked with scientists looking at the ecosystems of Lake Navaisha in Kenya. The cut flower trade nearby is having a severe impact on the rivers and lake habitats.

    Petoskystone - well said. Last night I described to my husband the part if Gill's talk where she pulled apart a bunch of flowers and showed the country of origin of each stem. He was shocked and angry.

    Helen - I've been involved with the research that went into the report. I must look up how they're getting on with the project to restore fish stocks.

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  6. You might enjoy reading 'The 50 Mile Bouquet' by Debra Prinzig and David Perry.

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  7. I would rather have a bunch of seasonal English flowers any day of the week compared to shipped in flowers. I know some people say that the bought in flower trade supports people in Kenya etc where they grow them but to be honest I think we need to revive our own flower trade first. It would be lovely to go back to the days when they shipped boxes of narcissus up to London from Cornwall or whatever was in season.

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  8. Janet - I've found out since (via Heather Gorringe of Wiggly Wigglers) that British flowers comprise around 10% of the market. Therefore there only needs to be a small shift in our purchasing for it to make a real difference to the UK's flower farmers.

    ricki - I met Debra at the Garden Bloggers Fling in Seattle 2 years ago! If you get the chance to go on a photography workshop with David Perry (who took the photos) I can thoroughly recommend it.

    Helen - I think the boxed daffodils still get shipped and that's why I love buying tem as a real treat at this time of the year. It's what happens after then which concerns me, I'd love to be able to continue with that seasonal treat for the rest of the year.

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  9. We still ship our narcissi to Covent Garden from the Isles of Scilly and have done since the 1800's! It is difficult to compete, but we stand by the fact that the quality of our flowers, plus the reduction in airmiles, make them far superior to anything imported. Although selling to florists, we have expanded to sell direct to customers as well, just as suggested in the blog post- finding new ways to push british flowers .

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  10. Scented Narcissi - wow, since the 1800s! Cornish daffodils are my weakness - they bring such a smile in the depths of winter when we no longer have Christmas to look forward to :)

    I do hope this British Flowers initiative takes off - there was so much positive energy at the meeting, it stands a very good chance indeed. I was looking at flowers in the supermarkets yesterday and noticed that most of them (apart from the daffodils clearly marked as such) don't have a country of origin on them. I believe a good first step would be for flowers to be labelled with their origin just like fresh food is. Most consumers are probably unaware of exactly where their bunch of flowers originates from and probably would be as shocked and angry as my husband was when I told him last week.

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  11. A flower, sometimes known as a bloom or blossom, is the reproductive structure found in flowering plants. The best way to send someone's emotion to other. Thanks for this post.
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