What drew you to horticulture originally?
We often joke that we’re accidental flower farmers by proxy. We (myself, my sister Toni and partner Sam) were in the process of succession planning our family farm, when my cousin Jayde and her husband Hayden purchased a farm just outside Geelong that happened to have an established but neglected perennial wildflower and native farm on it. They were only days away from bulldozing the flower paddock when they noticed the flowers were blooming and decided to get a flower consultant in. Needless to say, they found out that the flowers were a really viable business and so with a little love and a lot of hard work were able to get them back to their former glory and have been expanding their flower farm ever since. For us, we’d decided to take our family farm in a completely new direction, being truffles, but Jayde convinced us to also do a trial patch with some proteas and other South African and Australian natives. These all did really well, and so we’ve been planting and expanding ever since also. Our oldest trees are around 3-years old and this is our first year harvesting flowers which has been really exciting.
My corporate background is in change management, business process improvement and product management, and so if you told me 5-years ago I’d be living on our family farm, with truffles and flowers, and working full-time on our own AgTech startup, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s been an obscure journey to get here, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. There are the 2-farms behind Grown Not Flown; ours, Duck Duck Pig, and my cousin Jayde and her husband, Hayden, at Gnarwarre Flower Farm. Grown Not Flown is an online platform and app connecting flower farmers and consumers, globally. It is all about creating community, supporting each other to grow and making it as easy as possible to search, source and connect with your local growers. Grown Not Flown started as a passion project during covid and quickly morphed from our Instagram account into the online platform and app available today. We essentially built what we wished was available when we first started our flower farming journey and have been blown away at how quickly the platform has grown. We currently have over 1,100 flower farms listed on our global map and users in 34 different countries.
What obstacles did you encounter along the way?
Being relatively new to farming, flowers and plants there have been lots of obstacles and lessons learned along the way. As part of the truffle plantation process we had a pretty challenging experience with an irrigation company that cost us a lot of time, money and unnecessary stress. We have a fantastic irrigation person now, and they ultimately saved us from having to spend another lump sum fixing the issues the first company created by providing us with an irrigation plan and system that wasn’t fit for purpose. There has also been a lot of trial and error with the flowers and it can be hard to know what is and isn’t going to do well. We’ve had a really strong success rate with the majority of the plants, but there have been one or two types that for whatever reason, just didn’t like the climate or conditions compared to others from the same flora family. We’re constantly learning and experiencing new things, and the truffle and flower community have been really supportive and helpful when we’ve needed some advice or guidance, which has been great.
Who were your mentors?
I’m someone who takes inspiration and information from all sorts of people, places, situations, and so it’s hard to say who has inspired me or guided me the most over the years. Depending on what I’m working on, I’ll either tap into my professional or personal circle of networks to see who might be able to help me or point me in the right direction. I’m also someone who loves learning, and am constantly consuming information and content through podcasts, books, articles, social media, etc. and find that this is a great alternative starting point for when I’m feeling stuck and don’t necessarily have someone to be able to sanity check or bounce ideas off.
What are you working on at the moment?
We have a lot of different projects on the go at the moment. For Grown Not Flown, we’re getting ready to launch our new podcast “Vocal About Local”, as well as kicking off our new Masterclass series and switching on transaction functionality within our platform and app. On the farm, it’s our first official year harvesting flowers and so we’ve been busy doing that in between all the ongoing farm jobs and general maintenance. We’re also in the very early stages of starting to plan for an event space on our farm so that we’ll be ready to host truffle hunts, flower workshops and other types of events in the coming years, which has been really exciting.
What does an average day consist of for you?
Everyday is different and usually involves a combination of farm, farm admin and working on Grown Not Flown. We tend to dedicate the weekends to farming, which usually involves a lot of mowing, pruning, weed management, and general farm maintenance. During the week, I’m usually tied to my desk working on the backend and behind the scenes stuff that supports our Grown Not Flown platform and social media account. On any given day, I can be creating educational content, replying to emails, working on spreadsheets or planning the release of our next project. There’s a lot of admin and meetings, but I really enjoy having so much variety in my day-to-day, and that I get to do what I love everyday for a job.
I have so many favourites and they change all the time. We grow perennial wildflowers and natives on our farm, and so I absolutely love proteas, especially king proteas, and then also billy buttons and banksias. My Favourite proteas right now are ‘Susara’ and ‘Limelight’, and I adore the Banksia coccinea as well. Another favourite are dahlias. I grow a few different kinds, but they’re really just for ourselves, and I often give them to friends and family when they come to visit the farm or I go to visit them.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I’d love for Grown Not Flown to be the go-to agri-food and tourism app for flowers and produce. One of our goals is to remove the need for micro and small-scale farmers to have to build and manage their own website, as well as helping them to streamline their farming operations and connect with consumers to sell their produce. There are so many incredible reasons to support local, and we want to make that as easy as possible. For our farm, I’d love to have an event space setup to host truffle hunts and flower workshops, as well as maybe some type of farm stay accommodation.
What are your 3 most worthwhile tips that you can give to women who are starting out in the horticulture industry?
I would recommend getting out there and giving it a go, the best way to learn is through experience. Start small if needed, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or make mistakes. If you can, reach out to other people that are already doing what you want to be doing, and ask if you can have a chat or visit their property to see their setup. Learn as much as you can from others, but also, if you have an idea or want to try something new or different, then go for it. There was no blueprint when we started Grown Not Flown, and so you never know what great things might come from those quirky ideas.