This is the first in a series of interviews with alumni from the School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia which runs learning programs across Australia for people from all backgrounds that have an idea or business with a community benefit. Photo above is supplied by School for Social Entrepreneurs – photographer: Miriam Ackroyd.
Emma Healy is the co-founder of Cultivate Collective, a network of micro-scale flower farmers providing sustainable cut flowers to floral designers and the public. Emma co-founded Cultivate Collective with her husband David Pratt. After meeting in architecture school, Dave went on to study horticulture and Emma pursued a long term interest in event floristry whilst maintaining her career in architecture.
Through her involvement in community development projects overseas, Emma is familiar with the concepts and importance of environmental and social sustainability and wanted to apply her creative design and project management skills to a small scale, local enterprise. She is currently studying at the School for Social Entrepreneurs to develop her business, marketing and entrepreneurial skills.
School for Social Entrepreneurs @Cultiv8Collect facebook
We’d love to be able to provide the opportunity for people who might not otherwise be able to maintain a garden to participate in the gardening process in whatever way they can, and to benefit from the therapeutic and social benefits of having a thriving garden.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
I’d been spending my weekends for years doing wedding flowers for family, friends, and friends of friends but I was finding it difficult to source information about the origin and production processes behind the floral stock I was using in my work. When I started to research how much of our locally grown stock was exported I was shocked. When I realised many of the beautiful flowers I was using for weddings and events had travelled from as far as Europe, Africa or South America and were grown and preserved using all sorts of harmful chemicals they started to look less pretty to me!
Wandering around the suburbs I was noticing a lot of beautiful gardens full of flowers, and sometimes I would ask people if I could barter or buy flowers from their garden. People were only too willing and often gave me flowers for free because flowers and gardening knowledge is something people love to share.
I had inherited a love and knowledge of flowers from my grandma, my dad is a great gardener and my husband is a horticulturalist so it only seemed natural (pardon the pun) to investigate growing some flowers myself. I started talking to other like-minded florists, and following small scale ‘farmer florists’ both in Australia and overseas and realised it was something that many other florists were concerned about or interested in.
Not only are locally flowers more ethically and environmentally satisfying, but they can be better quality, more fresh, and because they aren’t genetically modified to prioritise features like bloom size and stem length they retain other features like their natural scent. There has also been a real shift in floral design to a more unstructured aesthetic.
Please explain your business model.
It is very early days for us, but at the moment we primarily make money from the sale of our sustainable cut flowers directly to boutique floral designers. Our plan is to develop the idea into a series of suburban backyard ‘cutting plots’ that we access and maintain with the assistance of the landowner.
Ultimately, we’d love to be able to provide the opportunity for people who might not otherwise be able to maintain a garden to participate in the gardening process in whatever way they can, and to benefit from the therapeutic and social benefits of having a thriving garden. This might include elderly people living in the suburbs, busy families, people suffering from disabilities or illnesses.
The primary income would always be from the flower sales but in the future we hope to develop the garden maintenance and sustainable gardening education sides of the enterprise also.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
At the moment we’re selling our dahlias which we planted late last year at Dave’s parents property at Mt Tamborine. We were so impressed with the quality of the blooms we were producing for our first season and it’s really exciting building relationships with other like-minded people in the floral and broader community.
We’re also loving the positive feedback we’re receiving on our micro harvest! We’re planning to have some working bees to get some more stock in the ground soon. Some of the feedback we’ve received from our clients is that they’d like to see things like native stock, edible flowers and highly fragrant blooms – so we’ll be working on that!
How do you make ideas happen?
Through persistence, prioritising and good guidance. Everyone who’s in anyway creative or entrepreneurial (everyone I think!) knows what it’s like to be bombarded with a plethora of ideas every single day, but it’s staying focused and committed that’s the main thing. It’s a real skill to be able to look at a mountainous pile of tasks and be able to understand which ones are most important.
I’m lucky to have a really wise mentor through the School for Social Entrepreneurs who asks the right questions and helps me to stay on track. It’s still very easy to get bogged down in irrelevant tasks and avoid the really crucial (and difficult) ones though. It really helps to have astute colleagues and friends who can help you to stay on the path.
What does your typical day look like?
At the moment it is a real mixed bag, but I enjoy it that way. I try not to, but I usually end up doing a bit of all my different jobs in one day. Early in the morning I’ll get up early to feed my chickens and cat, or if I’m at Mt Tamborine I might be harvesting flowers for delivering that day.
If I’m not at my architectural job I’ll spend most of the day in my study at home skyping or responding to emails for a community project I am working on overseas or our private design work. I’ll do some administration for our private design and floristry businesses as well as Cultivate Collective.
I might spend some time working out what seeds we need to get into the ground when. If Dave’s at his nursery job or out and about delivering and gardening we’ll always try to find time to work ‘on’ the business (as opposed to ‘in’) the business too. Because it is in it’s early stages there is always so much to do in terms of business planning, developing business model ideas, marketing, researching, defining our social impact and more. I’ll often get caught up on the blogs of other farmer florists who share their immense knowledge online.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
I’m sure this applies to all emerging social entrepreneurs, not just in Australia, but for me it’s been balancing real environmental and social impact with the need to make your enterprise financially sustainable. Maybe it’s because social enterprise is a younger concept here than overseas there can be a tendency for many of us to feel there is conflict between doing good and making money. I think the notion of ‘vocation’ is a bit of a dangerous concept that has infiltrated many industries; the notion that if you really love something you will/should do it for free. I think that is changing though. I also think people are starting to stand up for their work/life balance too, but it’s something I find a huge challenge.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
I have a friend who does visual impact assessments and another one who’s a visual artist and we were pretty hung up on the idea of a business called VAPID for a while (acronym for Visual Assessment for Personal Impact Dressing). Make of it what you will, but we thought we could provide a unique service for assisting people to make a personal aesthetic impact in a number of complex social and environmental scenarios (if you could see me you may disagree!). I’m sure they won’t mind me giving this one away!
Seriously though some ideas I would love someone else to develop are a flower farming cooperative in South-East Queensland, or a business which provided affordable, bespoke design services to regular people or a better way of designing suburban shopping centres.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
In some cases I’ve used the term ‘my industry’ quite loosely but
The Maisy Day Flower Farm Blog
What about internationally?
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
I think businesses can make a strong contribution towards social change particularly as social welfare becomes a more complex problem. Businesses rely on the support of the public to develop, so if they can communicate their social impact effectively and translate that into sales there is a real way to provide the public with a mechanism for making a contribution through their everyday lives, to causes that are meaningful to them.
With a social enterprise, consumers can do this without having to necessarily ‘sacrifice’ anything themselves. It also builds the economy so it’s win-win-win. Finally, I think if CSR and social impact strategies are driven by people within business who are truly committed to the cause they are working for, they will have a huge impact, because their enthusiasm is infectious. I like the idea of the private sector setting an example for government and holding them accountable, rather than the other way around.
Speaking of affecting social change, is there a particular charity you’d like our readers to support?
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
If anyone would be interested in a working bee gardening day in exchange for a picnic lunch, let me know!
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
If your business model or production processes are complex, what are some techniques for communicating this simply so that people can understand what they’re paying for?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
‘John Mills Himself’ in Brisbane City. Their approach to using locally sourced products appeals to me.
We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?
Sure thing! How about a big bunch of sustainable flowers?