A Matakana flower grower says a protest at the Beehive this month has strengthened the industry, even though growers’ demands were rejected.
Rebecka Keeling was among a core group of activists who set up Flower Growers Aotearoa to mount the protest, which challenged the fact that their harvest is the only perishable crop not allowed to be distributed or sold under Level 4 lockdown.
Protesters arrived at Parliament on September 14 with 3300 bunches of flowers, which they handed out to politicians and officials at the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Primary Industries, including the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Despite the protest, the Ministry of Health turned down an application for an exemption from the strict rules for flower growers.
But Ms Keeling says Flower Growers Aotearoa will appeal the decision.
She says until now there was no national industry organisation to represent flower growers, but now that there is one and “who knows what it might be able to achieve in the future”.
Ms Keeling, the owner of Slow Blooms, says while other sectors were allowed to keep selling their products under strict safety protocols, flowers have been overlooked.
“The definition of essential items seems arbitrary, when supermarkets can keep selling beer, and liquor stores can home deliver whisky, but we are not allowed to sell or distribute flowers at all,” she says.
Ahuroa flower grower Alia Morgan-Guthrie was one of many who was obliged to throw thousands of dollars worth of flowers on the compost heap because she was unable to sell or distribute them.
She estimates she lost about 2000 ranunculus and 1500 tulips.
Ms Morgan-Guthrie, who owns Hands in the Dirt, says flower growers should be treated as an essential service like the growers of fruit and vegetables. While fruit and veggies nourish the body, flowers are equally important as “soul food”.
“I had a lot of essential workers contact me during lockdown who were struggling and just needed something to lift them up. I could not even give flowers to them,” she says.
“It was hard having the flowers, knowing that people actually needed them to make themselves mentally feel a bit better.”
Ms Morgan-Guthrie says the fact that most growers are small businesses and the seasonal nature of the industry means lockdown hit them especially hard.
“We stopped trading in May when our season finished, and we then have absolutely no income until we start selling again in August,” she says.
Aila says another Level 4 lockdown under the same rules could finish her business and many others like hers.
If that happened, florists would be under pressure to source flowers from overseas where often harsh chemicals are used and workers are poorly paid – not to mention the increased carbon footprint of transporting flowers long distances.
“I think we really do need to nurture the flower industry in New Zealand. We can’t keep putting money into these crops only for them to be chucked on the compost heap.”