What do you see when you see these?
And how about these?
Well, one of them is of beautiful, local flowers grown sustainably (the top ones!) and the other comes from another continent, shipped over and sprayed with potent chemicals such as Round Up and Methyl Bromide on arrival to meet our customs guidelines, and possibly produced by farm workers not earning a living wage. The question is: Do we know where our flowers come from, if they’re fairtrade and if they’re chemically treated? The answer is often “I haven’t got the faintest. I buy because they’re pretty!” And that’s fine. That’s where you might be at today, but knowing there are a few key factors in buying responsibly: It’s time to rethink our flowers, don’t you think?
This was one of the more recent realisations I made a couple of years ago, and many of you will have seen me instagram @lowtoxlife various beautiful, locally grown flowers I’ve bought for family and team members since. It’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while and as synchronicity has it, I’ve made friends with a wonderful local floriculturist – aka flower farmer – on instagram and now have a magnificent guest post for you to get the low down on SLOW FLOWER FARMING. I hope you enjoy it. It’d be a beautiful thing to unite on instagram with the #lowtoxlife #lowtoxflowers hashtags and see what we were all inspired to find out and about choosing a bouquet from locally grown, sustainable flowers.
Take it away Danielle White and Celine Watz from Floral By Nature…
SLOW-FLOWER FARMERS SOW LOW-TOX SEEDS
By Danielle White & Celine Watz | Members of Consortium Botanicus, Australia
While we’re all pretty familiar with the global slow-food movement and the positive effect it has had on our understanding of the benefits of growing and eating local, healthy, low-tox, real food, well, sustainability, provenance, low toxicity and ethics apply to the flower industry too.
Aside flowers that are naturally toxic to humans and animals (Hemlock, Foxgloves, Daffodils and Lilies to name a few), a large percentage of flowers world-wide are sprayed, dipped and preserved using a range of toxic pesticides, fungicides and fumigants.
As a result, many of the flowers we see in florists and supermarkets – imported and Australian-grown – bring with them residual chemicals, flower miles, environmental costs and health and exploitation issues. The true cost of these ‘fast-flowers’ is hidden behind their pretty petals. Not to mention the toll that imported fast-flowers take on small-scale Australian floriculture, our health and our appreciation for what is grown locally and seasonally.
In recent years, these issues have seen the cut-flower industry expand into artisanal, holistic, micro-farms around the world.
Sometimes, it’s not until others show us new ways to view things that we stop and think about what we might otherwise take for granted. For the past decade, three American women have been doing just that and to great effect; Amy Stewart, Debra Prinzing and Erin Benzakein. In 2007, Amy wrote her New York Times’ best-seller Flower Confidential; an exposé of the global flower industry that asks if there is such a thing as a socially responsible flower. Five years later, in 2012, Deborah wrote The 50 Mile Bouquet; a guide to organic flower-growing, gathering and design and, all the while, in Washington’s Skagit Valley, Erin and her family were putting seasonal, artisanal flower farming into practice at Floret Farm; their two-acre cut-flower farm devoted to trialling flowers, foliage and edibles and teaching workshops for fellow farmers, designers and flower lovers the world over. From these beginnings, the American Slow Flowers movement was born and Floret Farm’s stunning Instagram account helped artisanal, low-tox flower farming become a world-wide inspiration.
Back in Australia, while the percentage of flowers imported annually might sit at around just 10%, many of Australia’s large, commercial flower growers make extensive use of genetic engineering and harmful pesticides, which for non-edibles has comparatively little regulation of residue. According to the Organic Gardener Magazine, “The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) indicates there are around 100 different pesticide active ingredients permitted for use on flowers. The list includes highly toxic insecticides such as chlorpyrifos, diazinon and endosulfan (now banned in over 60 countries), persistent herbicides such as simazine (a known groundwater contaminate) and fungicides like thiram, which is a nervous system poison that also causes developmental and reproductive effects.” So, the simple message is, if you don’t know the provenance of your cut flowers then, “it’s probably safer not to bury your nose in among them and, when they’re spent, don’t put them in the compost bin.” * How crazy is that!? Not on our low tox watch, right? (that last bit is me, Alexx, interjecting as I am horrified by this!)
Here to change all that, Consortium Botanicus is the initiative of a bunch of Australian flower farmers, farmer-florists and floral designers who produce and use seasonal, sustainable, bio-diverse, low-tox flowers for their local cut-flower markets. As members of the consortium, we grow flowers on artisanal-scale family properties that range in size from half-an-acre to several acres. Together, we aim to plant a seed that will blossom into a floral renaissance throughout Australia. We hope that mindful eco-conscious flower-lovers, florists, stylists, wedding and event planners and DIY couples seeking an ethical alternative to buying imported, out-of-season, toxic blooms can now source their flowers from Australia’s collaborative bunch of flower farmers via our online Collective Directory. We’re also asking flower farmers and florists who fit with our philosophy to apply to become a member and get a free listing on our website so that together we can promote healthier flowers Australia-wide.
In our experience, once our clients become aware and attuned to the beauty of naturally-grown flowers, the all-too-perfectly-formed, all-too-colour-exact, available in-any-season flowers can seem a bit off-putting. Especially, when compared to field-grown flowers like roses, peonies, dahlias, ranunculus and blossom whose perfume and diversity are precious and beautiful and evanescence is viewed as something that adds value rather than something that needs to be bred-out.
Knowing the provenance and ethics of decorative and edible flowers is just as important as knowing where your milk comes from!
Below are 6 steps to practicing a low-tox botanic life that can help to create a more sustainable, less toxic ‘Australia Botanica’.
I. Shop Truly Local
Just like food and wine, provenance matters when it comes to buying flowers. Buy locally-grown-not-flown, low-tox flowers, foliage, seeds and edibles. Ask your florist which ones are grown by local, small farms. They’ll know! You can often buy directly from the farmers, or find a stylist, florist, wedding and event planner that sources local and sustainable flowers in their arrangements. Think daisy-chain not supply-chain!
II. Support Change Makers
Support the farmers, growers, makers, designers and doers who farm using sustainable, low-tox, ethical methods without harmful pesticides. These small businesses, in turn, help small regional communities and the environment to survive and thrive, build resilience and remain healthier. Support the change-makers and strive to make sustainable, ethical flower farming a bloomin’ success.
III. Ask Questions
Sometimes the unscrupulous use words like ‘Fresh’ and ‘Local’ to trick unaware consumers. ‘Fresh’ might mean not dead. ‘Local’ might mean that they were purchased from the local flower market BUT from a wholesaler who imports them from Africa, China and Colombia where they were fumigated and harvested days ago! When in doubt, ask! Don’t just rely on branding and labelling. How long ago were these flowers cut from the field? Where is that field located, exactly? Does the grower use toxic chemicals? Were they fumigated? Are these flowers in-season in Australia? Get the drift petals!
IV. Go Seasonal
If you’re planning a wedding or event or you just love having flowers in your home or at work, then choose seasonal. Rather than insist on certain florals that are unavailable or out of season and costly (money + footprint) to fly in, ask us or your stylist or florist to let you know which locally-grown flowers will be in season. Botanic designers and event stylists are talented folks so you’re more likely to get a beautiful one-off look. Or, alternatively, think ahead and plan your occasion to occur when your favourite flowers are in season!
V. Buy The Best You Can Afford
Flowers are food for the soul; their perfume reminds us of special milestones and celebrates the joy of life itself. What value do you place on those who farm flowers with your health in mind? Paying a little more for low-tox, local florals brings happiness, colour and fragrance to your special event, home and loved-ones plus it keeps your money in your own economy, which helps grow healthy communities + makes us all smile.
VI. Join Consortium Botanicus
If you’re a flower farmer, farmer-florist, floral designer, then hop on over to the Consortium Botanicus website and apply to join their Collective Directory to help sow and grow the seeds of low-tox floriculture! Resources and links are below! Thanks for having us on the Low Tox Life blog, Alexx to spread the word on SLOW FLOWERS!
And here are a couple of Celine’s beautiful floral arrangements from her instagram @floral.by.nature
Yay! Thank you so much Danielle and Celine for writing this wonderful, simple guide with a couple of great books for you to read if you fancy following up this topic in greater detail.
Here’s to low tox flowers from now on, and enjoy having a chat to your florist about where the flowers are grown and how so we can all raise awareness and vote with our dollars – our florists will buy differently if we start ordering differently.
Pro tip from me if you get asked whether you want a water bath at the bottom in that plastic wrap they do? Pack a small serviette and beeswax wrap so that you can wet the serviette and cover it yourself to keep the stems damp, AND ask for no plastic pre-wrap – Brown paper is gorgeous, rustic and tied with a beautiful bow, it’s all you need!
Low Tox. Happy People. Happy Planet.
Flower Confidential, Amy Stewart
The 50 Mile Bouquet, Debra Prinzing
Cut Flower Garden, Erin Benzakein
* Organic Gardener Magazine, September/October, 2009
Further details contact:
Danielle White – Flower Farmer at Crofters Fold Estate, Macedon Ranges
m. 0408 797 438 | Insta: @croftersfold | www.croftersfold.com.au
Celine Watz – Flower Farmer-Florist at Floral by Nature, Blue Mountains
Insta: @floral.by.nature | www.floralbynature.com.au