I once faked a broken leg to avoid compulsory attendance at a BBC ‘Team Building’ weekend. Any kind of motivational business meeting, talk of ‘boiling frogs’ and ‘eating elephants’, makes me queasy which is why the Flowers From the Farm AGM is so refreshing, a companionable Corporate-Speak Free Zone. When the Chair starts the meeting with a comic revelation of an expensive cock-up she’s made, you know you’re in good company.
On Monday 6th February 150 flower growers and florists who’re championing our flowers met in an atmosphere somewhere between a rally and a good night out. The venue, an old Edwardian swimming pool, seemed apt with its suggestion of throwing yourself in at the deep end (or even being out of your depth) but doing it anyway. Many growers identify with this feeling, and these meetings bind us altogether both as a network and as people. Information on pricing, business models and efficiency techniques – knowledge that’s regarded as commercially sensitive in most other industries – is freely given. Invaluable when your standard working day involves marketing, social media, accounting, project managing and customer service. Growing flowers is the easiest part of the job. In break-out groups, tips and advise was shared on everything that our work potentially involves – such as growing for weddings, selling to florists, running workshops. You were as likely to pick up tips on how many stems you can cut in an hour (if you’re Claire ‘Scissors’ Brown, it’s 400) as you were on installing ‘Quickbooks’ onto your phone.
If it’s reassuring to feel you’re not alone, it’s enlightening to recognise geographical differences, and that’s not just when you can plant your seedlings outside. There’s understandable interest in what people are charging and my pulse quickened when I heard a price tag attached to a wedding which, where I farm (a former pit village), would buy you a house. We must be paid properly for long hours of labour, and valuing our flowers sends a message to customers that we value our work, but I don’t want to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I’ve done that before, and it lead only one way.
There’s another valuable aspect to these meetings which can’t be quantified. Social media is criticised for being narcissistic, a punishing way of comparing yourself to others. I’ve been following FFtF members throughout 2016 on Instagram, and on Monday I met many of them for the first time. They were exactly in life as they were in their ‘squares’, identifiable by their open faces. Growing flowers commercially can be a lonely business, hampered by weather, pests, time constraints, even illness and knowing you can send out an instant photograph showing the plague of greenfly zapping your just-ready crop, a massive hole in your polytunnel which your dog engineered behind your back, or in my case a regular wail about cold weather and not be sneered at for being a rubbish businesswoman but actually supported for it, makes the annual membership of Flowers from the Farm much cheaper than supermarket own-label gin or therapy.