Petal to the metal
ENTERING THE FAST-PACED WORLD OF THE HIGHFIELDS FLOWER INDUSTRY
VALENTINE’S Day is almost upon us – that magical time of intoxicating romance, decadent chocolates and spectacularly colourful bouquets.
So, as you gaze at that incredible floral arrangement sitting on your desk or delivered to your door, spare a thought for the local people who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make it happen.
Let me introduce a couple of them – the dynamic duo of Floranda Flowers, director Steve Randall and co-director Nicole Mengel.
Back in 1981, Steve’s family’s flower farm in Evan’s Road, Cabarlah was a small, burgeoning business.
Today, with 18,000sqm of greenhouses, state-of-the-art hydroponics and his own transport fleet – the once cottage enterprise is now a high-tech, industry leader.
“I’m pretty sure we’re the biggest gerbera farm in Queensland and we employ 18 staff all from the local community,” Steve says.
It makes for a high-paced environment where Nicole excels.
Bringing a wealth of marketing, advertising and sales experience, Nicole co-ordinates the demanding day-to-day operation of shipping orders around the country and meeting customer expectation.
And, just like their ever-popular gerberas and baby’s breath, Steve and Nicole are proving the perfect partnership as they share a strong commitment to the environment.
“We’ve reduced water consumption by 87%, fertiliser usage by 40% and slashed heating and spraying as well,” Steve says.
The team has also introduced an integrated pest management system – which sounds bafflingly complicated until Steve explains with a smile, “You get good bugs to eat bad bugs”.
The simplicity is as telling as the flow-on effects.
“You get a better product and you create a better working environment for our staff. In fact, once you start looking at greater sustainability, you get a better world. Simple as that.”
Steve’s passion for local business (and the planet) is obvious as he continues.
“One of the big things people don’t realise is that buying from a local producer doesn’t cost any more, but there are so many benefits there,” he said.
“You’re supporting the local economy and local jobs, but more importantly you’re protecting our biosecurity.
“Every day, overseas products come in that have been grown on farms that still use chemicals that we’ve banned in Australia 40 or 50 years ago – not to mention the various pests and diseases that can slip through and directly affect Australia’s biodiversity.
“Everybody needs to start thinking about these things as they make their purchase decisions.”
Supplying an exhaustive number of markets (including Woolworths and Coles supermarkets), the team works tirelessly to meet their customers’ needs throughout Queensland and northern NSW.
And an enterprise of this size certainly keeps them on the hop.
“Mondays and Tuesdays are manic,” Nicole explains. “We’re flat out filling orders and getting stock out to all our clients for the week. It’s non-stop.”
“As for our largest ‘days’ – obviously Valentine’s Day is pretty big, but Mother’s Day is massive. It’s incredible.
“But, you name any of the significant events in people’s lives - births, deaths, formals, weddings and you soon realise how big a part flowers play in marking the occasion,” she said.
One tradition Nicole says is gaining momentum in the flower industry is Anzac Day.
“It’s so nice to see, because as our population gets older you would normally expect a drop off in interest and participation. But we’re seeing the opposite. People aren’t letting go and the younger generations are stepping up to continue the tradition.”
As we stand in one of the farm’s many greenhouses, I can’t help but ask the rhetorical question – why do flowers continue to have such appeal?
Nicole throws open her arms, presenting the incredible beauty and colour surrounding her in this special sanctuary.
“I can be having the worst day and you walk in here and it instantly puts a smile on your face,” she says.
“That’s the effect flowers can have on your life.”