You’ve heard of the Slow Food movement, but what about the Slow Flower movement?
Have you ever wondered where the flowers you buy come from? Have you ever thought to ask? Seasonality, locality, traceability and organic practices in the growing of our food is considered by consumers now more than ever before – but it doesn’t seem to cross our minds when it comes to choosing a bunch of flowers.
Anna Vogt and her husband Geoff are owners of Gooseberry Hill Farm situated in the Adelaide Hills. Anna and Geoff grow flowers on their family run farm. And they grow a whole bunch of them. “We grow our flowers organically because we think that’s the best way. For the flowers, for the land, and for the people”, explains Anna.
My Grandma Ben sat down with Anna to find out more about the sustainability of the floristry industry, the challenges she faces and what the Slow Flower movement means to her.
Q: What is the Slow Flower movement, and what does it mean to you?
A: The Slow Flower movement is very similar to the Slow Food movement in its values. Embracing local flowers, preferably organically grown, in a way that gives back to the land at the same time as taking from it. It’s about good, honest, clean flowers that are truly beautiful – even though they may not always be picture perfect. It’s about embracing imperfections.
Q: How do you implement Slow Flower principals at Gooseberry Hill when it comes to farming?
A: Unlike many large commercial growers who specialise in a few species, we grow everything we can get our hands on. Probably around 100 different species throughout the year, and many more varieties within those species. Our farm is more like a really big garden. We also grow organically, with the help of natural composts, seaweeds, worm juice and other organic fertilisers.
The majority of our crops are also field grown – there are no grow lights or heating in sight. Many other farmers will use temperature and light control to induce flowering at the wrong time of year, whereas all of our flowers are grown in season.
Seasonality for me means that there is always something to look forward to. Just when I’m over dahlias, they finish and the chrysanthemums begin. Then all winter long I look forward to the first blossom, the tulips, the bearded iris and the first flush of roses.
Q: What are some of the difficulties and challenges faced by flower farmers and florists today in terms of sustainability, traceability and ethical practices?
A: Pesticide inputs and residues on flower farms are not as regulated as they are for food, making it extremely difficult for consumers to know how flowers have been grown, but also for farm workers who may be exposed to these pesticides. If you want to avoid pesticides, the best way is to know the farmer you’re buying from and to ask.
It is also hard to find out the country of origin when buying flowers, as again there are no regulations. Growing practices in some countries aren’t always what we would consider as ethical or humane to Australian standards, which raises even more issues.
The conventional floristry industry is also a huge producer of waste, with floral foam still widely being used by most florists for centrepieces that is then disposed of, along with the flowers, into landfill. I opt for chicken wire or flower frogs when arranging centrepieces, which I re-use after putting flowers into the compost.
Q: Do you think it is possible to run a sustainable and ethical floristry business in such a competitively growing market?
A: I think we have a responsibility in educating the end consumer. If we don’t make these imported flowers available to them, they won’t be expected. Many people just haven’t thought about these issues of seasonality and sustainability in relation to flowers.
I believe it is possible to be successful in your business if you’re making ethical decisions and sticking to your values, such as embracing seasonality and eliminating imports. Plus, the beauty and excitement get a bit lost if you are used to having everything available all the time.
We still have a long way to go, and it’s not only about the end product. It’s also about how we treat the land and the people working on the land. It’s making sure we don’t deplete the soil, and instead we support and build up soil microbiology. It’s about everything else we do on this piece of land we were given. It’s about community. All we can do is keep growing the best flowers we possibly can.