Janelle Johnston is the only organically certified grower of edible flowers in Australia.
About 15 years ago she certified six-and-a-half hectares of her family’s farm on the outskirts of Byron Bay with Australian Certified Organic and has since grown organic fruit, vegetables and edible flowers.
With a science degree specialising in botany, Janelle featured nasturtiums and marigolds in her salad mixes, inspiring local chefs to request other organic edible flowers as no one else in the region was doing it. She now supplies to the Sydney and Brisbane wholesale markets.
“One of the challenges is that you get a lot of wastage in flowers – more than 50 per cent – so I’m certainly doing this for the love rather than for the money.”
The edible flowers can last for up to 12 days if picked and packed on the same day and properly refrigerated throughout the supply chain.
To retain freshness, Janelle packs the flowers in sealed 20-gram punnets that retail for $8–10. Flowers that are delicate and difficult to pick, such as violas and pansies, are sold in 10-gram punnets.
“Being organic and not sprayed, the flowers tend to retain freshness a lot better. You have to know what to pick and when to pick it.”
Janelle uses her website byronbayorganicproduce.com.au to market this niche enterprise and educate people about edible flowers.
“We have to show the buyers that certified organic flowers are a better product as they’re not sprayed, they last longer and they’re the way nature intended – you can taste the difference!”
Cafes are turning to edible flowers to bring beauty, fragrance and colour to dishes and are receiving awed reactions from customers.
Melbourne florist Lindsey Myra says she entered the cut flower industry to make a difference and she’s working hard to become certified organic. She says, “To my knowledge, nobody who is operating as I am is certified. I believe that this is due to a lack of certifiable inputs for this industry, the difficulty of certification when one is dealing with such a wide range of product and the costs involved. Personally, I would love to be the first to overcome these issues and pave the way for more people like me but it’s baby steps at the moment.”
Established in 2012 as The Urban Flower Farm in a Melbourne backyard, The Little Flower Farm is the first of its kind in Victoria, with heirloom varieties preferred, companion planting standard practice and no genetically modified seed or bulb stock purchased.
“I was very concerned about the environmental impact of our industry. I was also disillusioned by how ‘disjointed’ our idea of giving flowers has become. I was motivated by the desire to see different things being produced,” she says.
Lindsey says the success of the farm hinges on getting the product to the right people.
“I use the terms ‘lovingly home grown’ and I market an idyllic, abundant lifestyle, overflowing with old fashioned flowers,” she says.
“I started this little journey with a Facebook page on which I documented my attempts to grow some flowers. Nearly all of my early support came from other florists who also felt the need for change in our industry.”
To make this business financially viable and authentic, Lindsey says the key is to have as few links in the supply chain as possible.
In the future she aims to create a community share agriculture program for getting flowers direct from farm to flower lover.
“It will work like a vegie box in that you go online, select a value and how often you would like to receive flowers and then once a week I come to town and distribute whatever is happy, healthy, seasonal and blooming at the time,” says Lindsey.
“I have had enquiries from cake decorators wanting edible or just ‘food-safe’ blooms. I have had enquiries from events stylists and restaurants for the same things: food-safe rose petals to put in cocktails, chrysanthemum flowers for Asian cooking – the list goes on.”
Lindsey says that there is definitely scope for more locationally specific small-to-medium-sized organic cut flower and edible flower markets. She thinks the public might be prepared to pay 10 to 15 per cent more for an organic option in a traditional flower retail outlet.
“I believe the receptiveness for these markets already exists and is growing among the public; we need to get our farming and processes up to scratch to make the most of it.”