It’s British flower week, a wonderful opportunity to celebrate British grown flowers in all their wonderfulness. We should certainly be looking to raise the profile of flowers grown in this country, to highlight the potential environmental benefits that come from not flying flowers around the world. British flowers can be a class apart – find me a place in the world where you will find more flower joy than in a quintessential cottage garden on these shores.
But let’s not be nationalistic about our flowers. We should differentiate all flowers by the same yard stick – quality, scent, environmental impact etc. Buying British beef just because its British is quite frankly silly, without knowing anything about the animals history, what is was fed and what conditions it was kept in.
The same applies to flowers. The only difference between flowers grown in heated greenhouses here and the Netherlands are the slightly longer miles they travel to get to our shelves. While flowers grown in heated greenhouses in the UK are said to use more C02 than those grown without heat, but flown into the UK from places like Kenya.
Here in Cornwall the fields of daffodils are often seen as an iconic Cornish image, but the truth is these huge monocultures contribute terrible runoff into our waterways, and daffodils are sprayed numerous times with chemical sprays, and provide limited habitat for wildlife.
If you are looking to make the ethical choice when it comes to buying flowers, then try to buy seasonal flowers, grown without heat, in natural conditions and without any air miles. Avoid flowers that have been sprayed with chemicals – look for organically grown flowers. This is not always easy, because flower labelling is not like food labelling, which is a little strange when in reality they are comparable products – although its unlikely you will find organic flowers in the supermarket.
There is only one way to ensure you are buying ethically grown flowers and that is to know your grower, how they grow their flowers and how they then transport them. Locally grown, seasonal flowers grown without heat or chemicals in the UK are the ultimate winner.
And the good news is, British flowers that are grown sustainably are in vogue, while more and more small-scale growers are popping up all the time and people are begging to understand that flowers out of season, grown in heated tunnels and bred to be ‘longlasting’, lack la joie de vivre, and at best have a scent of the cardboard packaging they were shipped in.
Here on our little farm, we passionately want to be part of the shift towards more ethically grown flowers, to not just be farmer-florists, but also to campaign and advocate for better more ethical flowers that literally don’t cost the earth – but thrive in balance with nature.
Still, I doubt a couple of hand to mouth hippies living the good life can lead this shift, and thankfully we are not alone, there are lots of small scale, low-input flowers growers throughout Britain, and florists that only stock ethically grown flowers. Have a search on Facebook or Instagram to find these people near you – then support their efforts, buy their flowers and help educate others.
We have been without a camera for the last few weeks, and so it’s been tricky keeping things up to date on here – at least pictorially. But, don’t worry we have been busy on the farm. In fact, it’s been a wonderful refuge in these strange times of Covid 19.
I feel a little guilty to admit, but we’ve actually been having a wonderful time. Re-connecting, disconnecting, head banging against the wall disconnecting, re-connecting again. We’ve been soaking up the ebbs and flows of family life. And the flowers are thriving in the spring sunshine.
I have to admit, I don’t know what to make of it all. I’m not sure what information to trust and what not to. Charles Eisenstein, in his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, reflects upon how we used to place great trust in governments, science and technology. These were the things that were going to save the world. And while this is the story our governments and media want us to believe, many of us are beginning to question this story and seek out a new story (as Eisenstein puts it).
The green revolution of the 1950’s and 60’s which transformed agriculture to what it is today was then seen as the means to sustain population expansion and low food prices. Yet, it is also the cause or precursor to mass deforestation, hedgerow and habitat destruction, the pollution of our soil and waterways, soil erosion, devastation of communities and local food networks. I could go on, but my point is scientists of every denomination get things wrong, very wrong in fact.
I’m not saying Covid 19 is a hoax. But what I am saying is it could be 50 or more years before we know what this thing exactly is, how it spreads and how it should be dealt with. I’m 99% certain that much of what we read in the mainstream media is misleading, scaremongering and counterfactual. Which is why I’ve turned it off (even radio 4, I mean especially radio 4).
Drawing us back to simplicity
I’ve never seen so many people walking and cycling here in Cornwall. The country lanes, footpaths and bridleways are humming. The roads are quiet, and more importantly safe to traverse on foot or bike. What’s more I’ve never heard so much bird song. It feels utopian, like we have gone back to the 1900’s – before the age of the motorcar, the flatpacked office and when rural places were synonymous with vibrant rural life – the non-polluting kind. How can people return to the humdrum, the rat race, living for the weekend, the nine to five after this?
Of course, people will, they need to feed their families, pay their debts. We are the lucky ones, our work is here among these flowers, among the chickens and cows. We can return to simplicity whenever we like.
We still have the debts, the credit cards and consumer hangovers from spending too much time on ebay. But when we bought this farm we were seeking simplicity. This is evident in the way we farm. Our inputs are low – we don’t have a tractor, our chickens and cows mow our grass, and our pigs plough our beds. We grow lots of our own food. We are not Little House on the Prairie, but we are trying to simplify our lives and Covid 19 has shown us why this is so important for us and our family.
I hope other people begin to search out timeless simplicity more often. Connect with the things that are good and wholesome in their lives and communities, so we can become more resilient to these types of events.
One thing we can all do is support local growers and producers who farm sustainably – build up your network and you will unlikely to ever have to go without eggs again, and less likely to have to stand two meters apart in a supermarket queue for 2 hours. And, of course when the jet planes stop bringing flowers from overseas, you’ll still be able to get wonderful flowers from local flower growers like us. (sorry, I had to work a plug in there somewhere!)
You can save upto 50% percent on our flowers by investing in one of our ‘bloom cards’. But hurry, this is such a good deal we can’t afford to sell an unlimited amount.
We have two card options – a UK wide scheme and a local delivery one.
Here’s the breakdown of each:
So Why is this such good value, what’s in it for us?
We are young business and we want more people to see what beautiful flowers we grow so they can spread the word and help our business grow. We want you to be part of our family, our champions, to tell your friends and neighbours about our flowers. Your reward is beautiful flowers that are exceptional value for money.
You can purchase your bloom card in our shop.
Become one of our 20 ‘BLOOM CARD’ members and receive ethically grown Cornish blooms at a super price!
We are launching a pilot membership scheme this year – often called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
Such schemes create a unique relationship between the grower and consumer – offering incentives, such as attractive pricing, additional offers and perks. While also giving you the chance to become part of the Rose Valley family and showing your support to our ecologically sound approach to farming.
The scheme helps us by knowing we will have guaranteed sales and security, meaning we can invest more in the farm and its infrastructure.
To make this work we really need your help. If you are interested in any of the membership options that I outline below, then please let us know. Also, let other people know and help spread the word. We promise you won’t be disappointed because our flowers are always a joy! We need a minimum of 20 members to make this work.
Here are the membership options:
How can we make this happen?
In order to make this happen we really need everyone’s help. To get the local’s scheme off and running we need a minimum of 20 members in and around Falmouth. Any less than this and it will be unviable in terms of the delivery costs etc.
20 members is our goal. It doesn’t sound that hard does it? But we are a new business, some people may not have heard of us, and we don’t have the marketing clout of more established businesses – so please also help promote membership by sharing our content on social media.
Local membership equates to as little as £8 a bouquet, which is wonderful value for a bouquet like this. If you want to become a member and take advantage of the scheme, then please sign-up and encourage other people to sign-up too! Contact us via email (email@example.com), phone (07814975529), Facebook (rosevalleyfarmflowers) or contact us through our website.
Some of the other perks to membership include:
So there you have it... if you enjoy beautiful seasonal flowers, like to delight yourself or others, believe in supporting local small businesses, and are environmentally conscious, be a flower beast and buy our flowers.
It’s been good to get away these past few weeks. A change of scenery is always a good way to get some perspective on things and feel re-inspired. We were rather busy in the garden before we left, thinking we may be faced with an early Spring upon our return. However, the weather now seems far worse than when we left. Still, thinking positively this gives us some rest bite to fully get on top of things in the coming weeks before spring fully shows herself.
If you know us personally, you will be aware that we are not the sorts to jet off to St Vincent and the Grenadines for a full expenses paid week in the Caribbean – as pleasant as that may be. Instead, our pleasure comes from time spent in our little stone house in the Portuguese mountains without electricity, taking our water from the nearby spring, cooking on open fires, and toileting in a bucket (but with a very nice wooden seat).
Anyway, enough of this tittle tattle, here are some reflections from our time away…
Portuguese moving away from rural life
The Portuguese have largely moved away from the countryside over the last 50 or so years, and many areas have turned to scrubland or woodland. Rural life was shunned for jobs in factories, as they began the merry dance towards a consumer-based society.
Our home in Portugal was once surrounded by productive olive terraces; the bottoms of the valleys close to the river were filled with grains, vegetables and grape vines. These places were truly abundant and vibrant. Other things grew too, many of our terraces were filled with Camelia bushes – the flowers sold in Lisbon and Porto.
But Portugal’s local producer economy is still more vibrant than ours.
There is a certain irony that while we started a flower farm here in Cornwall, we already owned one in Portugal – albeit hidden under 6ft of brambles.
In many ways it would have been much easier to begin our business in Portugal, as while Portugal has changed a great deal, its local producers are still prospering in many ways. You can still go to the local weekly market and buy cheese, veg, salad etc. from a dozen or more different producers. Local food and grower networks exist, small-scale farming is still celebrated and access to the local market is seen as your democratic right.
In comparison, when we enquired about Falmouth Farmer’s Market (our nearest market) we were told that there was already someone selling flowers and so there would be no space for us! I believe all producers should be able to access their local market. Such Markets should play an important role in building personal connections and bonds of mutual benefit between farmers, shoppers, and communities.
I think lots of farmers markets in the UK are a sham and have lost their true meaning. They are often dominated by people selling things they have not produced or grown themselves. They are expensive and difficult to access. This can make starting-out very difficult indeed and has proved a big challenge for us.
Taking the initiative
In the absence of a structured local marketplace we are going to be experimenting with a membership scheme in 2020 – often called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Such schemes create a unique relationship between the grower and consumer – offering incentives for the consumer (e.g. offers and discounts, farm visits etc.) to back the grower by committing to buying produce on a regular basis, such as through a veg-box scheme. In other places around the world it is also used to sell flowers and so we thought we would give it a go.
Build stronger rural economies and back local growers
It’s time to re-start building and strengthening our local rural economies, to build more resilience in the food chain in times of climate uncertainty, to reduce food miles and become more conscious of where our products come from.
Great local producers do exist, such as Cusgarne Organic Farm, Soul Farm and many others. Interesting initiatives like the Falmouth Food Co-op also help local producers find a marketplace, and by investing in these producers and local initiatives we can really start to see a more vibrant rural economy emerging.
At times it’s tempting to escape to Portugal and be in a place where local growers and producers are still celebrated with great pride. But ultimately, this is our homeland and we have strong roots here. We can produce wonderful things right here in Cornwall and find a good market for them. It feels like a challenge at times, but we really do believe in bringing all local producers together, praising and singing from the mountain tops about each other’s offerings and with that we can create something very special indeed.
I thought we would try and bring some light to these short winter days, by sharing some of our photos taken from over the last 2 years. Neither of us have camera phones, so we have to make a little more effort to capture images. We don't mind so much, but it makes keeping our instagram profile up to date a bit of a task - swapping memory cards and saving images etc. Anyway winter is wonderful, but I think we could all do with some sunshine and magical flowers in our life.
I love this picture of Sarah. Beautiful. She'll tell me to take it down. If it's still here you know I've not got her editorial approval.
This image was captured in our first year. We got lots of compliments about our flowers whenever we included the Rye in our bouquets, and it became one of our signatures. We intended to carry this through to the next growing season, but we somehow forgot to sow it. But don't worry it's destined to return! Although, the mice have already munched their way through two beds of late Autumn sown Rye. We're hoping for more luck in the spring. Fingers crossed.
We also utilised Stargazer lilies quite a bit in our first year. We weren't 100% sure we liked lilies all that much, but we soon fell in love with their heavenly scent and we found when used sparingly they go very well with a variety of other flowers.
Incidentally, we have a book called Flower Confidential that looks at the good, bad and ugly of the global flower industry. It devotes a chapter the Stargazer lily. Apparently, it was first developed by an old and struggling grower in the United States, but ended up in the hands of a large Dutch flower company who went on to make big money from it. Sadly, the grower who created it received nothing and died a pauper. A lesson for us all, perhaps?
We seem to be prolific at growing Dahlia's. We've just dug up some tubers so we can separate them in the Spring and they are like footballs. Cafe Au Lait in full force here.
What can I say - such a sensational mix of flowers and colours. What a joy for the butterflies and bees!
Both our daughters are named after flowers. Here's bluebell in her strawberry patch. I'm convinced that one day she might be a strawberry farmer - she absolutely loves strawberries. I can vouch for these they tasted very sweet. We try and grow quite a bit of fruit and veg. This year we are aiming to grow more to sell alongside our flowers at farmers markets. Perhaps...
This a lovely simple wall hanging idea for an event, party or wedding. We'll be experimenting more this year with flower garlands, wreaths and arches.
Six buckets of flowers for someone's big day.
We grew lots of lupins last season and soon fell in love with them for cutting. They are not quite as delicate looking as delphiniums, but lavishly striking all the same. I think that has to be one of the advantages (among many!) of British grown seasonal flowers - you get bouquets that include cottage garden stalwarts like lupins and delphiniums that don't transport too well and are not suitable for supermarket sales because of their shorter shelf life. But remember when you buy direct from a British grower the shelf life of flowers is extended - no long freight journeys from other countries and no sitting around in warehouses etc. Just a point worth making.
Our youngest daughter Marigold. Barefooted and in flower bliss. When the children are picking flowers, making posies and arrangements, it gives us a breather to get on with jobs. They often get lost for some time doing this and its a joy to watch.
Mind you it's easy to get lost in a world of flowers, quite nice too, especially in deep winter. I hope you enjoyed these musings.
“No we don’t have a business plan, we need to find our feet first, test the water a little and build from there” – I have found myself saying this quite a bit over the last two years. Usually, people look at you like you might be insane, or at least naïve but are too polite to say so.
We did begin with a general direction of travel, we had a broad vision, but was it wise to pin down every step of the journey we need to take. I’ve been involved in start-ups before and often the business plan is what kills off a new business – it stops you seeing the wood from the trees, your ideas can become too prescribed, and as a consequence costs can spiral.
Ok it’s clichéd, given we are organic flower growers, but an organic, more patient, gentle approach to growing our business has taken shape – resting on a belief that the smallest seeds grow the strongest roots. We have spent the last two years learning, exploring and reflecting.
Blooming good and blooming bad
Has our approach worked? Yes and no, but overall Yes.
I mean we have been in a fortunate position, because one of us has worked away from the farm to subsidise what we do on it – so while we have been impoverished, we have not gone hungry. But the business still exists and is thriving in its own little way. We have not ploughed our life savings into something, that has then failed.
But while one of is away from the farm, progress slows down. Especially with 3 home educated children at our beck and call. The weeds and the children grow as fast as each other and sometimes its hard to find a balance.
We live 100 meters from the farm, but at times that 100 meters may as well be 1000 miles because some days there is just no way of getting the children ready and off. It’s a battle, but we keep going.
We are not just building a business, but also a farm – which means infrastructure, such as fencing, polytunnels, staging, irrigation, ponds, barns and sheds. We started with a blank canvas – even without a water supply. We still don’t have our barn (it’s coming!) and our water supply is troublesome – but its all in the pipeline and when things like this start to be ticked off the list, it’s a massive boost.
I can’t wait to get our barn up, to organise our tools properly, dry reems of flowers and create a studio space for floristry workshops and flower arranging. Icing on the cake – that’s what we are aiming for in 2020.
Learning never stops
We’ve learnt a great deal in two years – about flowers, about ourselves, about each other. We’ve fought and made-up, we’ve cried, pulled our hair out and laughed – sometimes all on the same day. We’ve got things wrong, we’ve got some things right. But most importantly, we love growing flowers, we love enriching the land and seeing a monoculture start to become incredibly diverse.
Time to grow
We’ve laid our foundations, and now we are much clearer where we want to take the business. We are so glad we’ve had chance to reflect, learn and explore. It’s made us feel ready for the next stage – bringing focus to what we want to do and how we might go about it. But we don’t ever want to stop learning, reflecting and growing, because if we do what might we become…?