Grown, Gathered and Shared

Money. It’s really not my thing. I’m not good at counting it, managing it or asking people for it. At times I think it changes people and their brains and closes them off to new ideas. I started growing flowers because I thought it was a simple way to make people happy. Which, at times is true. But the flower trade has an ugly side, and it’s all about money. We wanted to create a conversation about this, so instead of selling flowers, we decided to trade them.

Image by Shantanu Starick / The Pixel Trade
Image by Shantanu Starick / The Pixel Trade

For a while Matt and I were selling vegetables and flowers side-by-side. It was obvious that people rarely thought about where their flowers came from. With vegetables, people were often aware that vegetables have seasons, that organic is better, and that it’s best to try to source locally and directly from the farmer.

But with flowers, few people had ever challenged where they might be from or how they might be grown. It was also incredibly difficult for us to sell flowers at a price anywhere near the time and effort it took to grow and pick them. With vegetables the pricing kinda makes sense; something that takes longer to pick costs more money. For a flower – the pricing structure is completely random. There is one dominant flower market where most flowers are sold, and this market determines the price for all flowers. It’s a monopoly and it’s a market where organics are yet to be discussed.

This is an incredibly difficult topic for me to discuss, because it challenges the way people have purchased flowers for so long.

I think there needs to be more research into the flower industry itself, and the environmental impacts of conventional growing need to be explored and understood. This is what we have been able to discover so far:

1 | The majority of flowers are grown ‘conventionally’ that is, with a whole lot of chemicals. As far as the growers are concerned, people are into it, because of course, their flowers look ‘perfect’. The following quote is from the website of an Australian commercial flower farm:

“Our flowers are planted in to fumigated soil to destroy fungus and insects and then sprayed with fungicide and insecticide to ensure perfection.”

2 | Most flowers are grown in hoop houses, often made of a whole lot of plastic. It’s an unnatural environment, where plants aren’t grown to thrive.

3 | Many flowers are imported, grown in countries where people have low wages and companies are able to use chemicals that are illegal in Australia like DDT and Agent Orange. This is how you can buy bulk Gypsophila from Kenya at a bargain price, or get roses in winter. The use of these chemicals impacts the people working with it, destroys soil fertility, and limits future change in the market.

4 | When growing bulbs such as tulips in commercial farms, the bulbs are planted, flowers cut and bulbs destroyed. New bulbs are then imported from places like Holland and replanted. This happens over and over again. Generally, when flowers grow from bulbs, they can stay in the ground year after year, dividing and becoming more prolific, there is no need to destroy them nor import bulbs.

We started trading to talk about all these things. Just the simple act of leaving money out begins a much needed conversation and it’s created a real community of interest.

How does it work, you ask? For a posie of flowers – you can trade anything you like, whatever you think a posie is worth to you. For a large amount, we chat about the trade. We have been traded all kinds of things from preserves, tea, handmade soap, recipes, cakes, magazines, cases of beer, weaving lessons, concert tickets and photos.

For me, it’s totally worth it. It’s brought the beauty back to what we do. It has made it simple again. People really appreciate the flowers and we really appreciate their trades.

I wont say that I think everyone should base their business on trade, but I do think its important to consider what you have to share with someone else and what they have to share with you. There’s always a story.

All images used in this story are of the Grown & Gathered farm in Tabilk, Victoria, Australia. They were taken by Shantanu Starik of The Pixel Trade. Shantanu is travelling around the world with no money, relying on photographic trades to keep him fed, watered, and housed. He’s been on the road for over two years. Do check out his website – his work is brilliant!

Image by Shantanu Starick / The Pixel Trade
Image by Shantanu Starick / The Pixel Trade
Image by Shantanu Starick / The Pixel Trade
Image by Shantanu Starick / The Pixel Trade