I don’t want to jinx it, so I’ll say this quietly – it looks like we have some semblance of an actual summer this weekend and, now that the sun has come out, we’ve got a great suggestion for you – The Flower Farmers’ Big Weekend.
Organised by Flowers From the Farm, a networking club for, yes, you’ve guessed it, flower farmers, The Flower Farmers’ Big Weekend is a celebratory three-day event that gives us the opportunity to peek behind the floral curtain and find out more about this lesser-known farming industry.
Pitfield Farm, based in Hurstpierpoint in West Sussex, is opening on Saturday and Emma Martin, co-owner with Peter Dell, is looking forward to welcoming visitors.
Supporting Sussex flower farmers
“This is a great chance for all flower growers to open up their doors. A lot of people don’t know that flower farmers exist – I didn’t before I became one – and this way we get to introduce people to what we do and how we do it.” Emma explains.
I comment that our area is beginning to be seriously attractive to wine and flower growers and her enthusiasm for the industry bubbles over the phone.
“Definitely. In fact, one of our main things is to educate people to know there are local flower growers. At the moment 92% of flowers are flown in from around the world for the UK floral industry – we’re trying to encourage people to understand the best that British flowers can bring and to encourage local buying.
Buying local is better for the environment, and, just like food, people are starting to question where their food comes from, it’s the same with flowers,” she explains, “on our open day tours we’re doing three chats during the day which will give people the chance to wander around the farm. We want to explain about seasonality. People are so used to buying things all year round, and it’s trying to reconnect people with what’s available at the right time of the year.”
Peter and Emma’s ethos is to sow, grow and harvest their own flowers.
“When we talk to people it’s great to be able to explain exactly where the flowers came from and be aware of what is available at certain times of the year. We will, of course talk about British flowers. Because we don’t use any chemicals on our blooms that means they have movement. They’re not stiff. A lot of florists want the local flowers because they have movement and charm.
Florists love to get things from us which they’ve can’t get overseas, especially when they’re looking at ways of making natural arches.”
Two years ago the farm was inundated on the open weekend (last year’s was online, and a different set up) so Emma is looking forward to plenty of people coming this year. And there’s a lot to see.
“We have a lovely barn which Peter made with mainly reclaimed items. The studio is upcycled – Peter was a builder, and is a bit of a hoarder, so whatever he’s had he’s been able to repurpose. We’ve got flooring on walls, numerous doors he’d been hanging on to! It looks great though, we’re about the vintage/upcycled/recycled look and I’m really pleased with it,” Emily enthuses.
The duo have recently received permission for a café, workshops and associated retail on the premises, so there’ll be plenty more to see when they begin to open the farm more often to visitors from Spring next year.
Going from strength to strength
Neither were flower farmers before they created Pitfield Barn, but Emily used to be in exhibitions and events as a project manager, so knows a lot about keeping things organised, and with Peter’s background in building, the two went full time on the venture last year.
“We began growing in just one field, then we went into another, we’re trying to grow the business organically and not rush anything. We sow, grow and harvest our flowers. At the farm we have perennials and annuals which provide us with British grown cut flowers.”
As if coping with a pandemic didn’t help with the lack of events and weddings in 2020, a trend which is, thankfully, beginning to swing the other way, farmers are having to manage the impact of global warming, as Emma explains.
“One of our main things is that we grow with the seasons but adapting to the constant changes can be very hard. One of the trickiest things we’ve had to work out going forwards is how to adapt to the changes. For example, last year was baking hot and this year we’ve had the coldest April in 80 years and a very wet summer. Lots of farmers have suffered and I think it’s a big thing about how to adapt.”
The imminent future for Emma and Peter is continuing to work closely with the local connections they’ve made since opening the business.
“We love working with local businesses. We offer a DIY bucket service, so you can have buckets of our cut flowers and then you can either make up the flowers as you like, or we can offer you names of florists we recommend. We’re also involved with The Sussex Peasant, a mobile farm shop, and we supply all their flowers. We have bits and bobs from Franklins Antiques, another local business that works well with our business and we’ll continue to make those sorts of connections.”
On the open day, the gates will open at 10 am, with the first tour at 10.30 am. The farm can be found on Chalkers Lane in Hurstpierpoint – though according to Emma there’s a diversion in place, so visitors will need to come via College Lane or Malthouse Lane.
Tea, coffee and cake will be available on the day in return for donations which will go to the Alzheimers Society.
Contributed by Lisa Brace