At an afternoon open house in a light-filled East Van studio, people mill about sipping wine and perusing a selection of artfully wild local bouquets. A few blocks away at Antisocial Skateboard Shop, customers browse a farm stand filled with fresh produce and brightly coloured flowers.
There’s a new breed of florist in town: young, ethically conscious, with a passion for the beauty of plants they grow themselves. This generation of urban farmer believes that building community and reconnecting with nature are especially important for city dwellers.
Elly Rakhmetouline runs Late Bloomers Flower Farm, growing flowers and food on a one-acre farm in Richmond. Having worked in urban farming for years, Rakhmetouline started looking for a city lot to develop a small urban farm on.
“I started out simply wanting to grow hyper-local vegetables, but, over the years of looking for land, it morphed into wanting to start the conversation about flowers and the florist industry and how important it is for folks in this field to start moving toward buying as locally as possible,” she says.
Her business partner, Michelle Pezel, had worked for several farms in Pemberton and Burnaby. They both knew how to grow vegetables, but wanted to try “growing flowers on a larger scale and join in on the burgeoning flower farmer/florist movement that’s picked up momentum in the last few years,” led largely by the Pacific Northwest, Rakhmetouline notes, and, more specifically, a woman named Erin Benzakian, who owns Floret Flowers in Washington’s Skagit Valley.
Together, Rakhmetouline and Pezel searched for land for almost two years, and everything kept falling through. This spring, a lot finally became available in Richmond.
For Rakhmetouline, sustainability and buying local are central to her perspective. “I love working with flowers, but I got into this business to start conversations about how detrimental the floral industry is to our planet.” She explains that beauty should never come at an environmental cost. “Many local flower products are now available at the auctions, but it’s still not enough. The product you buy that’s been shipped from abroad is grown with chemicals that then go into the earth.”
Late Bloomers sells flowers and vegetables at Pezel’s skateboard shop, Antisocial. There are usually bunches available in the cooler, and on Saturdays, they set up a farm stand outside the shop. They also sell at Federal Store and do special orders for friends.
For Rakhmetouline, “Being able to grow what you eat or the product you work with is really satisfying and incredibly empowering.” She hopes urban farming continues to show people they too can grow produce year-round.
“People want to buy local, and seeing how happy someone is getting a locally grown bouquet or pint of tomatoes really warms our hearts. Hearing someone say they’d rather buy from us than go to Whole Foods is a big deal. It means things are shifting, which is something we desperately need on this planet.”
Kate Freeman runs Weekend Flowers, often delivering her bouquets by bike. She started her company in 2015 “as a way to make flower connections and gain access to products and information after years of developing interest through tending a small flower patch.”
She now has a full-service studio in a Mount Pleasant live/work building. Interest in her garden-style bouquets is growing. She worked on a few “incredible weddings” this summer, and says her focus is shifting towards special events and custom orders.
Freeman grows her flowers on a rented rooftop, which she shares with Rakhmetouline, as well as on her patio at home. “Otherwise, I buy my flowers wholesale, and definitely local – with rare exception.”
She references several other local florists and growers she admires: Twigs Twisted, River and Sea Flowers, Forage and Bloom and Rogue Florist.
She also looks up to Rakhmetouline “for her commitment to local charities and the honour stand system.”
Freeman says she loves “how much [flowers] can transform a room or special event in remarkable ways.”
To put it simply, “Flowers are joy.”