Wednesday, 7 February 2018

#britishflowers 2018

Those of you who regularly read this blog will not be one bit shocked that I am about to talk about British Flowers. It is a regular post in my year of posting and every year I promise to do more to support the British Flower growers with whom I talk across many social media platforms.
Small production has a special place in my heart, not just of flowers but generally. Farmers, makers, flower growers are all amazing people, fighting for their industries and supporting the local economies of small towns and villages across the country. I have long yearned for my own patch to grow, and whilst my own career has seen me walk a different path, this dream is one I hold dear and hope to make reality at some point.
All these photos were taken at Common Farm Flowers in Somerset by my dear pal  Andrew Jones

However, it is at this time of year that is becomes particularly poignant as we see the florists on every high street and online gearing up to send out a million roses, all brought in from flower farms across the world in places as far away as Africa and South America. Covered in chemicals, they barely even look like the garden rose we know and love but instead always remind me of a cartoon rose. Sometimes they even look as if they are a little dog eared around the edges, with their long, straight stems and inability to open properly. Last year there were some studded with fake diamonds. They will last fleetingly, and briefly be a reminder that the special person in our lives has gone to the effort of buying a gift, but do these chemical ridden roses with their huge carbon foot print really say I love you?
Stunning, jewel like Anemones

They are a part of our consumer habit. Just like the food we throw into our trollies in the super market, we know deep down that the claims made about them are untrue. In the same way as we know that a certain chains so called farms are just a marketing ploy to make you feel as if you are making ethical decisions, so the flowers we buy are the same. The idea that they are expensive at this time of year means they must be ok? And yet year on year we hear dreadful stories in the press about the reality of these equatorial flower farms, where mainly women work long hours in hot and enormous polytunnels, where mists of chemicals are often sprayed whilst they are in the houses and with little or no personal protection. Always there is an outcry and yet still the high street and online florists struggle to buy enough to get through the day. It's as if we know, but feel compelled but he greater force, the force that is consumerism.
In Africa Lake Victoria, bordered by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya and once supporting the livelihoods of 30 million people in those countries, is dying. Choked by algal blooms it is widely believed that some of the reason for this is the huge flower farms surrounding it, as they allow run off from chemical and fertiliser applications in to the lake. But the demand from the west is so huge it continues whilst keeping the workforce in those countries in poverty and ill health.
Soon to open double tulips that are scented!

And it is because we are consumers and we can do nothing to counteract that. Or can we? Can we fight for a world where we are at least ethical consumers? Where we know that when we give a farmer or a maker our hard earn money rather than it disappearing into an off shore account to be given to a shareholder, that that money supports a family and a community.
And the answer is yes we can. By supporting local veg box schemes, community supported agriculture, local farm shops and farmers markets, we can of course make more ethical choices. By buying through online markets such as Fresh Range and Farm Drop we can avoid the supermarkets and ensure we support great local producers. And although it might appear to be more expensive, by committing to great produce, from great producers who care about the food they are growing, whatever it may be, we will commit to less waste and ensure we get the most from the food we buy. Ask yourself how much you throw away from your supermarket shop each week? A simple menu plan and shopping list will stop this. Trust me. I know. It's how I shop and our bill is always more if we end up in a panic shop in the supermarket.
Stunning Ranunculus

But back to flowers!. There are no flowers in season I hear you cry. But there are I cry back at you. Narcissi, tulips, ranunculus, anemones and more are all flowering like crazy and available right now. it may not be an easy thing but ask your local florist what is UK grown and refuse to buy from the Dutch markets, which are the bottle neck between the large foreign growers and our high street and online stores. Or look at the British Flower Collective, Flowers From The Farm, both of whom can find you your nearest florist that supports our UK growers or your nearest flower grower so you can buy direct. And if that's not enough you could look on websites such as Common Farm Flowers and buy beautifully grown British Flowers direct by mail order, to be delivered to your love wherever in the UK he or she is.
In the UK we spend £2 billion per year on flowers and at least 90% of that is for flowers that are flown in from abroad. Our British growers are mainly running their farms to agro ecological standards, just as small food growers do. Not only are they supporting themselves and the communities they are surrounded by, but they are also supporting our world, our environment and all the other creatures that we share the earth with. There are no algal blooms at Common Farm but there are earthworms, slow worms and the bird song is orchestral. Flower farms across the country are doing the same, creating a better world for all.
Wonderful spring blooms

Recently I have found my voice wavering. On social media I have been told I am wearing rose tinted glasses, looking back to a time through romantic eyes. That I have no idea of the pressures of family budgets. That I should be quiet. Sit down and say no more. For a while I felt silenced by the haters. But in the last few days I have remembered the voice I have and why I need to use it, and I will support small business for as long as there is breath in my lungs. We must begin to celebrate those who work on the land, or with their hands, creating beauty all around us. We must support them to move forwards, as a movement and in doing so lead lives where the really important things, family, community, eating together, kindness and love are what are seen as the important things in life, rather than the newest gadget. So why not start by saying I love you this year with a bouquet grown with love, kindness and hope?

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