Growing Edible Flowers In Stylish Sustainability – The Bumblebee Flower Farm Story
Bumblebee Flower Farm is a small family run flower farm located in Nowen Hill, West Cork. Set on two and a half acres of land, they grow speciality edible flowers and vegetables, working with the flora and fauna that surrounds them. We spoke to Mags Riordan and Emma Riordan Davies to find out more about this sustainable farm.
Mags Riordan and husband Steve Davies are the founders of Bumblebee Flower Farm. Mags worked as a professional florist for 20 years, with a keen eye for detail and an ability to work with what is in season.
As well as growing edible flowers and vegetables, Bumblebee Flower Farm creates bespoke, one of a kind wedding bouquets inspired by the very best flowers of the season.
Bumblebee Flower Farm is the first Irish farm that is dedicated to edible flowers, offering year-round production of unusual and rare varieties, including the silky Dahlia, delicately refreshing Borage and spicy clove-like Dianthus.
The farm places great emphasis on working with nature to grow completely natural and organic produce. This respect for the landscape makes Bumblebee a truly exceptional producer.
Organic and natural methods are used on the farm. The level of care and attention that goes into this farm is like no other. On feeding days, they even go as far to play specific music which gives out a frequency vibration, proven to open the roots and speed up the absorption of the crops.
Food has always been the centrepiece to their family life, with the pair commenting: “It has played a central role in our household. If there was ever something to be marked or celebrated, it was done with good food”.
Remembering the fond memories of the family kitchen and the “great days spent in the kitchen together from a young age”, the family could never have guessed what journey this passion of food would take them on.
Commenting on this, Mags and Emma said: “Little did we know 25 years later, this bond would be strengthened further by building a business together”.
The family affair is made up of parents Mags and Steve, along with children Emma, Jake and Aly. Along with founder Mags, another vital cog in the Bumblebee Farm machine is her daughter Emma Riordan Davies.
Emma started with Bumblebee on a part-time basis while studying a law degree. After suffering a terrible fall, Mags took time away from the farm. The following year, Emma was thrown into the deep end, needing to learn about everything at Bumblebee very quickly.
What they refer to as a “series of unfortunate events” saw the pair creating a formal partnership filled with creativity. Commenting on this amazing partnership, they say: “It’s a beautiful thing to be building a business with someone you truly know and see each other grow personally day to day as the business moves forward.”
The entire family puts their various expertise together to make Bumblebee Farm a success, with each member bringing a unique skill to the business.
Emma highlights Mags’ passion for growing beautifully organic produce, saying: “The herbs and vegetables she produced were incredible. Her kitchen garden became her happy place and she began experimenting with flavours, textures and seasonality.”
Emma now works as a sales representative and in product development for Bumblebee. Her background in retail management gave her a wealth of experience that she brings to the farm. However, it was her years of summer jobs working in cafes and restaurants that gave Emma insights which have been “invaluable when getting to grips with an unfamiliar industry.”
They admit that one of the biggest challenges they faced going into business was stepping into a world they knew nothing about. Being a farm, they rely hugely on the weather, therefore coming out of Ireland’s recent harsh winter saw extreme difficulties on the farm.
Commenting on this, Emma talks about their experiences in the food industry. They didn’t have “a background in the food industry as such. Mags was a professional florist for 20 years, with her horticultural knowledge, she began supplementing her stock with flowers and foliage from her own garden and in 2010, began growing full time.”
So how did Bumblebee begin? Back when Mags was working as a florist, it was a client’s unusual predicament that spurred them on.
Speaking about this, the pair said: “The pivotal moment came about in 2013 when a bride really wanted her two-year-old flower girl to carry a posy, but she was really concerned because she had a propensity to put everything into her mouth and was worried Sophie could become ill.”
Luckily Mags knew some of the flowers she was growing were edible, so she suggested an edible flower bouquet to replace the traditional bridal bouquet. With edible flowers, the bride could relax if she saw the little flower girl chowing down on her organic flower bouquet.
It was in this moment that Mags says the seed was sown for Bumblebee Flower Farms. She went on to research the varieties of edible flowers and learned that 60% of what she grew for her cut flower business was in fact, edible.
Bumblebee Flower Farm noticed a gap in the market for edible flowers back in 2014 when their investigations led them to note that edible flowers were completely underused,” with little more than the obligatory viola being used as a garnish”.
The savvy founders noticed the ever-changing food trends of the time and noticed that “foraging chefs and European trends were changing the perception to see flowers as an actual ingredient.” Going on to say they felt “there was a gap in the market not being utilized as nobody was growing edible flowers as a main crop.”
It wasn’t plain sailing for the business as it took a year to register with the Department of Agriculture. At the time there was no category for edible flowers, something which Bumblebee Farms are delighted to say has since been rectified.
Business has grown since gaining their first customer in 2015 and they now have four distributors in Ireland. Known for their exacting standards on quality, they have earned a loyal customer base.
Positive feedback from these customers spurred them on to trial new and innovate varieties. They had great success with their varieties of radishes, which nobody else in Ireland was growing. These innovative types include Purple Ninja, Watermelon and Green Luobo.
BumbleBee Farm notes the impact the ‘This Is Irish Food’ movement had in their success saying: “It definitely has had a very positive effect on our business, highlighting the benefits of getting your produce locally from those who grow because they love to, and love to see what chefs create with their produce.”
Mags is currently studying the Specialty Food Programme in UCC and the business will be relocating to North County Dublin to expand the farm. As well as introducing workshops, the farm has created a new range of products with allergy free alternatives to pesto, hummus, cocktail syrups and marinades.
With so much success, it’s hard to define what their biggest achievement has been. The girls say being chosen for UCC’S Female Founders Showcase 2017 on National Women’s Enterprise Day was “a very rewarding moment for us”.
As the business continues to grow, it is clear that Bumblebee Farms is still staying true to its humble beginnings, never straying from their values of paying respect to the land and growing gourmet edible flowers and organic delights. Starting in May, they will be bringing their produce to the Honest to Goodness market in Glasnevin, Co. Dublin.
For more information about Bumblebee Flower Farm, their products and history you can visit their website at www.bumblebeeflowerfarm.ie.
[su_note note_color=”#eeede9″]INTERVIEW BY SINÉAD SMYTH[/su_note]