Blossoming business: Urban farms offer sustainable flowers


(17 Jun 2020) LEAD IN
At an urban farm in Brussels sustainability and biodiversity has been extended to the world of flowers.  
Cycle Farm’s flower orchard is a blissful oasis where poppies, bees and crickets live and prosper next to each as part of the same eco-system.

Tulips, allium flowers, grass and insects sketch their own natural painting at Pascale Malilo van Clooster’s orchard just outside Brussels city centre.
Lulled by a soft wind these flowers are a treasure trove for plump bees that dive inside in the avid search for pollen.
Creating a biodiversity heaven for pollinators was one of Malilo van Clooster’s goals when she started her sustainable flowers business four years ago in Linkebeek, a green suburban area on the outskirts of the Belgian capital.
Malilo van Clooster’s orchard is part of Cycle Farm, an urban garden that includes larger land parcels devoted to vegetable farming.
On a sunny June day the flowers are ready to be picked up by environmentally conscious clients who seek a local, pesticide-free alternative for their bouquets.
All flowers here bloom from organic seeds originating from Belgium or nearby France and England.
They’re grown without pesticides and only according to their natural life cycle, Malilo van Clooster explains. This means the orchard is closed in the winter months.
“I plant my flowers according to their blooming season. I don’t sow seeds that wouldn’t be able to blossom at that particular time of the year,” says Malilo van Clooster.
“We have access to a greenhouse that works as nursery and that can help a bit (with the flowers’ development) but the greenhouse isn’t heated and I don’t work out of the seasonal schedule so I can’t say ‘Here, I have large quantities in the month of December’. It’s impossible to do that here in Belgium.”
Pollinators abound in this stretch of land. It’s easy for them to transport flower seeds to the vegetable garden nearby where wild flowers grow in-between snow peas and broccoli.
Sometimes flowers blossom spontaneously.
Spring varieties here include California poppies, Rose campions, dahlia and the Purple Rain variety of the Allium flower.
Their bright red, yellow, purple and orange hues attract a large population of insects, making this place a biodiversity haven.
Environmental concerns are prompting people to embrace sustainable flower gardening and to distance themselves from farming on an industrial, international scale, Malilo van Clooster says.
Much like urban vegetable gardening, this trend has to do with respect of the natural life cycle, she adds.
“Many young florists and new projects no longer wish to work with flowers that come from Kenya, Colombia or from the end of the world, that are transported by plane, put in a fridge for months and months and grown out of their natural schedule. It’s a bit like vegetables; it’s the same thing,”.
After working as an architect and graphic designer Malilo van Clooster took up a new career challenge by training in organic farming and edible flowers. But it’s with sustainable flowers that she found her call and a business that allows her to place trust in the natural world as much as in humans.
“What suits me best is to continue to work with flowers but to have an open system, based on trust, that allows people to come and create their own bouquet, cut the flowers and honestly pay the price by inserting money into a box.”
Scissors in hand, customers come to Malilo van Clooster’s orchard to can cut their flowers of choice and create their own flower arrangements; the price depends on the bouquet size.

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