Wednesday, 16 January 2013
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 :)