It’s a spring afternoon, the weather is already hot. I am driving to Frelighsburg, a small village 1.5 hours from Montreal where many pioneering ecological movements have been taking shape for several years. Chloé Roy, whom I am about to meet, is one of them: Floramama is the first organic-intensive flower farm, created by women and launched in Quebec in 2013. The young entrepreneur is committed to a philosophy of the land, ecological well-being and local economy. It is also an inner journey that Chloé defends in her values, as she discovers herself in this adventure.
Mariette Raina: You first studied at the Jardins de la Grelinette with Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Hélène Desroches the biologically intensive vegetable production, then you applied it to your flower farm. Can you explain to me how?
Chloé Roy: Well, the bio-intensive technique is the idea of using the available plot of land as much as possible to intensify crops instead of constantly growing up by expanding the farm and generate more income. “Intensification” is the idea of doing “better and better”, rather than “bigger and bigger”.
This technique requires observing each variety to understand how the plants interact: could I bring them a little closer, or on the contrary, should I give them more space from each other? We are always in “fine-tuning.” We try to put as many varieties of plants as possible on a board, without overwhelming it, otherwise, they will catch diseases, their system weakens or insects can attack them. This is the process of intensification.
As for organic, we do not use any chemical inputs on the farm, they are all organic certified. This is crucial for the ecosystem, for the wildlife that is on top of the ground, but also for the one that lives underground. All the biodiversity that comes from the soil is rich and must be taken care of because it nourishes the plant. And of course, it’s also important for the health of the humans who work here on the farm.
Your approach to your farm and your way of looking after flowers, is it actually a way of thinking, a philosophy even?
Yes, indeed. For me, when I started this flower farm, it was important that it was an echo of my values, that they were put forward. Working with nature means respecting it from the start to finish point of the work chain. For example, we mainly use hand tools so as not to disturb wildlife with the noise of motorized machines.
Imported flowers that you see in florists are often very straight, very “perfect”. For us, if let says there was a lot of wind in the spring and our flowers have their heads bowed a little, well, we will find it even more poetic. We want movement in our bouquets, we want them to reflect nature: in nature, not everything is growing straight.
How does it work on a more classic flower farm?
The imported flower market is terrifying. The majority of the flowers you see at the florist’s come from Holland, South Africa, Israel, Guatemala, Ecuador or Colombia. Of course, there are “fair trade” labels, but the application of the rules is not the same in these countries as what we have here in Quebec… so yes, it is better than nothing, but that does not mean that it is perfect either. The flowers grow in large heated greenhouses that require a lot of plastic use. Chemicals are often aerosolized on flowers while people are working, so it is very harmful to the workers’ health. The factories stretch for miles, they occupy the agricultural land, so the locals have nothing to eat. The organic residues are fed to the cattle, so the chemicals present in the production end up in the milk and meat. Land and waterways also end up being contaminated. Basically, the ecological impact that the flower industry generates is enormous. It’s awful, but nobody thinks about it. Fortunately, the awakening of consciousness begins, and we see more and more questions arise.
Do you feel that people’s mentalities are evolving?
Yes, a lot! We always had volunteers who wanted to come work at the farm, but since the start of the pandemic, the number of requests has exploded. Then, some realize that the work is more intense than they thought and realize that it is not a life for them, while others are ready to embark, learn, and transition. I have the impression that with everything that happened this past year and a half, many people really started questioning themselves to know: “What am I doing? Is it really what I wanted to do, or did I just embarked on the train of life and have never stopped at any station?”
For people who seem to want to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle and be closer to nature, your journey is inspiring. What advice could you give them?
Actually, to follow their instinct. For myself, that’s what I’ve been doing from the start, and I just kept going. I believed in the project. I also think that I’m super naive (laughs); that’s why I went for it! I never asked myself if I was going to be able, but rather “how am I going to achieve my aspirations.” So there may be a question of temperament in the equation as well.
I also had a good foundation, in the sense that if you want to go into agriculture, for me, the “must” is to work on an efficient and profitable vegetable farm. It is important to start with the basics: learn the techniques of farming, but also to understand and feel the rhythm of a farm, because it goes very quickly, it’s intense! If you imagine that growing flowers is to put on a hat, take a small basket and go picking, you will quickly be disappointed because that is not that at all. Bouquets, we only do 10% of the time, the rest of the time we scratch the dirt and crush worms, so there is nothing glamorous about it. It really is agriculture.
To go towards a product and find a niche, I think it depends on one’s own interests. In my personal journey, it was agriculture first. I was not a girl who bought flowers. I’m learning, I’m actually taming them, and I find it great because I’m more of a tomboy. Fowers confront me with my femininity; for me, it is not a coincidence, I really needed to work on that side of myself. So, I think that following your instinct is essential. You must not let go. You have to follow your feelings, discover yourself in the process and be as authentic as possible.
About the Author:
Mariette Raina joined the Never Apart Center team in 2016 as a monthly columnist. Her writing focuses on spirituality, art and environmental issues. Mariette has a master’s degree in Anthropology. She is also teaching yoga and photography that she approaches like self-reflective and introspective mediums.
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