Company of Flowers
Urban farming with the Company of Flowers in Dunedin.
After graduating fine arts school, Esther Bosshard was reflecting on the role of work in her life. Outside of paying bills, Esther identified that she wanted her work to be interesting; to provide for her community; positively impact the environment; and to provide an opportunity to work outdoors – and it had to be in the Dunedin city area.
Quite by chance she stumbled across a book, Floret Farm, by Erin Benzakein, which planted the idea of growing flowers. As a formally trained painter she could see the opportunity to add significant value through arranging the flowers and selling bouquets.
So how does a young woman in a city with no land go about growing flowers? Esther was aware, and curious about ‘urban farming’, a movement for growing produce in densely populated urban areas. The growing movement recognised that access to land and capital for set-up were major barriers for many young people who wanted to enter the primary industry sector. Further the benefits of growing on the doorstep of your market, was the reduced carbon footprint/air miles of the produce. Esther looked to the work of the successful urban farmer, Canadian, Curtis Stone. Stone has a commercial urban farm, Green City Acres, using environmentally sustainable methods and succession planting. Stone farms fast growing, high-value herbs and vegetables for direct consumer market streams within a short distance of his plot.
He sells his produce — like microgreens — at farmers markets, and to restaurants and retail outlets.
Esther was drawn to Stone’s model, “It's a system which fosters community relations and allows people to create small and sustainable businesses who might otherwise not have the opportunity. It also enables low carbon enterprises to develop, and encourages the growing and eating of local produce.”
Inspired, Esther placed an advertisement in a local community paper looking for unused backyards and gardens she could grow in. In return she offered property owners the opportunity to have their gardens cared for at no cost.
Esther was struck by the generosity of people who were only too happy for her to turn their backyards into flower farms. A Ministry of Youth Development grant then provided the capital for seed stock, perennials, tools and a gazebo for a market stall. Further mentorship in all the various aspects of beginning the business from plant care, to marketing advice, to general elbow grease, has been provided to her by family, friends and a fellow flower grower.
Three years on and Esther has approximately 250m² of flowers growing across a number of Dunedin city backyards. In a win-win she has also revitalised compost bins ‘that weren’t working’, in the gardens she grows in.
She works around 30 hours a week at present and is just sustaining herself week to week – though she acknowledges COVID-19 was a struggle and she does need to grow her business in order to be able to better survive shocks, and the quiet season over Winter.
Esther grows and sells flowers from Spring to late Autumn. She chooses flowers suited to outdoors in Dunedin. Over the last 12 months she has been mapping her flowers and growth, in order to extend her season either side.
Esther supplements her stock through foraging for additional flowers in the wild such as pussy-willow, forget-me-nots, elm seeds, yarrow and eucalyptus.
The Company of Flowers predominantly sells bouquets through the Dunedin market – picking and arranging is carried out on Fridays. Like most urban farmers, Esther utilises her own home for her work. She arranges her flowers in a shared work-room with 6 others, in her flat in Dunedin. She refers to her Toyota Corolla as her ‘garden shed’.
Esther is picking up more specialised work for weddings and has a couple of contracts providing fresh arrangements for cafes. To grow her business she wants to double her flower plots and she has been working to add to her income stream with dried floral arrangements – particularly for the winter months. In looking to increase her growing area, she is becoming more discerning. In the initial days she said she was quick to say ‘yes’ to any offers of land, now she looks for good growing conditions, and larger plots in order to avoid the travel and time involved in having a number of smaller gardens dotted around the city.
Showdown Productions Ltd. Rural Delivery Series 16 2021