So, remember this article about my struggle to enter the florist industry because I was concerned about the use of pesticides and imported flowers?
Well since then I’ve been doing my research, looking for local/organic flower growers in the NSW region. Of course there are local growers, but local growers that used organic/sustainable farming practices? Now that was a challenge and seemed to be as imaginary as the tooth fairy.
Until I stumbled across Lindsey Myra and her farm- The Little Flower Farm. Based in Victoria, Lindsey’s aim “to offer a more environmentally sustainable product, to encourage others to embrace the living world within their own lives and lastly, a personal desire to create beauty and lots of it!” was EXACTLY what I had been looking for. Combined with the most beautiful images on her blog/website of not only the farm, but also arrangements, I was completely sold and honestly, overjoyed to know that SOMEONE in Australia was doing this.
I contacted Lindsey immediately and the interview below is what transpired from our communication! I’m so pleased to present this interview to my readers. I hope that it convinces some of you to go that extra step more in not just trying to source your flowers organically or locally, but to at least stop and question the impact of the choices you make for your wedding and beyond.
Here it is:
1. First off, what sparked your interest in the organic flower farming industry?
I had been working as a florist for six years when I began this adventure of growing my own flowers. The longer I worked in the industry and the more I learnt about it, the more concerned I became about the serious impact of conventional flower growing – and shipping – upon the environment and upon our health. I was also motivated by the desire to see a greater variety of flowers in the local market; I wanted to work with the unusual varieties and species that I have been blessed to be exposed to during my life. I became fascinated with the idea of growing my own flowers as a solution to these concerns and as a way to bring the sense of “connection” and community back into our flower experiences.
2. Why is your work at The Little Flower Farm important?
I believe that simply by existing, The Little Flower Farm is demonstrating an alternative way to do things. I aim to raise awareness about where our flowers come from and how they are grown; to educate people about healthy flower choices. I am strongly motivated by the fact that no-one talks about the downfalls of our industry and I don’t believe that the “it’s all fun and flowers” image we promote will serve us in the long run.
“I believe that simply by existing, The Little Flower Farm is demonstrating an alternative way to do things.”
3. What should people be aware of with regards to the floral industry and their practices?
The main issues are the importation of flowers and the lack of industry regulation in countries of origin, the broad-range use of pesticides and herbicides in commercial flower farming and the long-term effects of monoculture farming.
The biggest threat to our local flower industry, to our health and to the environment is imported flowers. The volume of flowers that we import is on the rise. In addition to orchids and tropicals from South East Asia, Australia is now routinely bringing in roses from Kenya, Colombia and India, chrysanthemums and carnations from China, Vietnam and Malaysia and pretty peonies, freesia and hyacinths from Holland. The “flower miles” involved are ludicrous. These cut stems are being flown across the globe and shipped around in huge refrigerated trucks, just so we can have peonies in April or big-fat, genetically modified, synthetic fertilizer-full roses a dollar or two cheaper than local grown ones.
“The biggest threat to our local flower industry, to our health and to the environment is imported flowers.”
The second concern with imported flowers, is one no-one talks about – the chemical heavy quarantine processing. Due to our strict quarantine laws in Australia, all cut flower and foliage imports must be subjected to Methyl Bromide fumigation upon arrival to eradicate insects and sterilise soil particles. This practice has been banned in the EU. Secondly, all propagatable plant matter (such as roses, chrysanthemums etc.) coming into the country must be treated – or “devitalised” – in a solution of glyphosate herbicide. Glyphosate is the active ingredient of Roundup.
The last concern with imported flowers is not knowing what conditions they are being grown under in their country of origin; that is the farming conditions and the human conditions. The last decade has seen under-developed countries, such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, Colombia and India branch out into flower production. In these countries there is less regulation in regards to which chemicals may be employed in the flower growing process and there is less regulation of workplace conditions. In many of the developing countries the extremely harmful and widely banned DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane,) is commonly used in flower production. While farm-workers are given little protection from the chemicals in use, they work long hours and are often paid less than a dollar a day.
As mentioned above, there are further concerns about the detrimental effects of conventional, large-scale cropping even in developed countries but I do believe that most of our local growers do try their best and so simply by choosing not to buy imported flowers, you are already making a positive impact on the industry.
4. What are the advantages of using organic flowers?
The advantage of “organic” flowers is that they are grown within an holistic framework. Not only does “organically managed” mean not using harmful chemicals in weed and pest management and therefore not having nasty chemical residue all over your flowers, left in the soil and entering the waterways. It also means farming in a way that aims to nurture the soil and the natural eco-systems of the land. It is an approach based on permaculture, that builds for the future rather than exploiting the land to the point of it being infertile. I also believe that the end product is better, you are raising strong, healthy plants, naturally and therefore the blooms are more vibrant and the scent is stronger.
5. Is the organic flower industry a challenging one to be in?
Yes, simply because in Australia, it doesn’t really exist yet. The concept is only just emerging and forging a path in unchartered territory is always challenging. The largest challenge is that there is no existing framework to follow and it is very difficult to source raw product for this style of farming. Having said that, it is the most rewarding feeling to go out into a field and pick some of the most magical, delicate and fragrant flowers you have ever seen and know that not only did you grow them, you did it in a way that is supportive of the land.
“There are also significant concerns about the maltreatment of women and children in these industries; as they make up the majority of what is seen as an expendable workforce.”
6. If someone can’t find an organic flower grower in their region, what alternatives do they have?
Your best bet is to track down a small scale, local grower. Most flower and plant people are conscientious of their impact of the land, so check out your local farmers markets and any road side stalls.
If buying from a florist, ask for local-grown. Ideally, “local-grown” should mean grown within your own state but this does significantly limit your options if you are in Queensland or Perth. That is a great start, if you want to go to the next step, ask for “field-grown”. “Field grown” means just that, the flowers have been grown in the open air and not using energy expensive green-housing.
The simple rule of thumb is: the further a flower is from it’s natural season and it’s native growing conditions; the more chemicals, energy expensive growing practices and transport it takes to get it to the consumer.
“…so simply by choosing not to buy imported flowers, you are already making a positive impact on the industry.”
7. Describe your favourite type of bridal bouquet.
That’s easy: wild and whimsical. I like them free-flowing and romantic, like someone just scooped the flowers up from a cottage garden.
8. Which florists in Melbourne do you supply to? Can people buy flowers from you directly?
I supply to Cecilia Fox, Brunswick and North St Botanical, Thornbury. Yes, I sell direct to public and this year I will be offering a Community Share Agriculture (CSA) subscription, where people can sign up to receive seasonal flowers fresh from the farm on a regular basis.
9. What is your ultimate vision for The Little Flower Farm?
The Little Flower Farm, is indeed little at the moment, but for me, it is a step towards a grander plan. I aim to build up to owning a small property, with 2 – 3 acres of perennials and cut flowers. Then I can produce more flowers, both for my own design work and to sell. I think I will always have a CSA subscription but I would like to branch out into supplying non-traditional retail outlets, such as organic grocery stores and the likes too. Hand in hand with this, I see the Little Flower Farm as a rallying point for others who want to make a change in the industry; I hope for the future farm to be a place of learning and sharing.
“…the blooms are more vibrant and the scent is stronger.”
Thank you so much Lindsey!
All images via Lindsey’s website.