Soil Association BOOM Awards Finalist in the Innovations Category.
I am delighted to announce that we are shortlisted down to the final three in the Soil Association Best of Organic Market (BOOM) Awards 2016 under the category of Innovators. WOOHOO!!
A massive thank you to our lovely customers and supporters for nominating us. There were more than 500 nominations for the Awards and to be among the finalists is a huge deal for Maddocks Farm Organics.
Most people don’t realise that we are a tiny firm comprising just me (Jan) – full time, with part time seasonal picking help from sidekick JJ and some much appreciated weekend and evening labouring from husband Long Suffering Stu when he is not doing his ‘real’ job or fishing. That’s it.
We don’t have a marketing department, or accounts team, somebody manning the phones or taking orders or a team behind the scenes helping promoting the business. We’re tiny and we all work our socks off because we are passionate about what we do so this nomination is massive. Thank you!
Whilst I’m bemused at how far we’ve got in these Awards, in the 14 years that we’ve been established we’ve achieved a number of innovations and these are just the highlights if you are interested in finding out more…… if not just skip to the end!
We were the first and still are the only organic edible flower specialists in the UK. In 2013 I was made a Soil Assocation Organic Hero of which I am stupidly proud. The Soil Association is the Rolls Royce of Organic Certification and whilst the process of Annual Inspection is much akin to a visit to the dentist, in an area like Edible Flowers which cannot be washed and therefore must not be sprayed, it gives customers peace of mind and reassurance about provenance and traceability. I have made some good friends at the Soil Association and I know I can phone up and get sound and practical advice when I need it. So worth it…
We created the first direct online edible flower shop via our website allowing chefs and the public the opportunity to buy directly from the farm. Edible flowers of individual varieties with information about them; mixed boxes; boxes for garnishing wedding cakes; or even cocktails. Every box was and still is picked to order on the day it is sent out and arrives with the customer the following morning. From May through until October we pretty much work at capacity and close the online shop most weeks because I won’t compromise on quality or freshness. I know this frustrates prospective and last minute customers but we will only pick what is good and fresh and can be sent out within hours. Even yesterday I winced whilst I turned down an new order from one of London’s top cake makers because we are at capacity this week.
I try to make all the amazing flavours and individual characteristics of edible flowers understood by both chefs and private buyers and my ambition is take the flowers from being mere garnishes to culinary ingredients in their own right. This sometimes takes the form of torturing very patient local chefs (you know who you are so thank you!) and sometimes takes the form of shouting at Masterchef with a wee gin in my hand.
With no marketing budget or department I use social media to help increase understanding of the uses of edible flowers as creatively as I can. When I have time I blog floral recipes (and Maddocks Farm Organics’ blog was also nominated and reached the ‘long’ shortlist for the 2016 Boom Awards as well which was very gratifying given that our blog posts are a little like buses in that there is nothing for weeks in the summer then three come along at once).
Without a shadow of a doubt the best bit of the job is the people, I adore social media because through this that I have been able to ‘gather’ a family of phenomenal friends and customers who have unequivocally helped to make the business the success that it is… amazing cake makers, wonderful chefs, photographers, computer gurus, food bloggers, botanists etc etc and I know that I abuse their friendships regularly but hopefully fairly giving back in equal measure. I’m also a terrible insomniac so also regularly abuse chefs and growers in the US and Australia, pestering with questions to discuss growing and eating flowers. Nobody is safe.
I like to think Maddocks Farm’s green credentials are as good as we can get them. Our flower packaging is all recycled, recyclable and biodegradable. Our water comes from a bore hole and is sterilised without chemicals via UV filtration. Our waste water is filtered though a natural reed bed system. We have installed solar panels for hot water and photovoltaic cells for electricity. We have a barn converted as a holiday let on the farm and this also encompasses all these green credentials so you can come and stay with us and watch the flowers grow. We have just put in an electric car charging point. At this point I can see you thinking, it’s ok if you can afford all that lot… but hold on, this has been done a bit at a time, over nearly 15 years, as and when we can afford it, and we have earned, and reinvested back into the farm through hard work and extremely long hours. From April through to October it is not uncommon for the day to start at 5.30am and finish at 8pm.
Maddocks Farm is a wildlife success story. A British Edible Flower Farm attracts insects in abundance, with both domestic and wild honey bees. All of this flies in the face of current concerns about the decline of bees. From 2014, 2% of our profits have gone towards bee conservation and we are hosting our first Bumblebee Course with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust here in July with all profits going to the Trust. .http://maddocksfarmorganics.co.uk/edible-flowers/bumble-bee-course-at-maddocks-farm-organics/I am ridiculously excited about this and regularly bore JJ and make him chase bees around the polytunnel determined I have discovered some new and rare breed. It’s in his job description!
In the last few years the market has become full of edible flower growers some of whom are massive businesses who import year round edible flowers regardless of the seasons. This should have deterred us, or at least intimidated us, but quite the opposite. Competition fuels innovation. If you are a tiny firm you are never going to compete on economy of scale, or budget but you can compete on quality and freshness and need to find your niche and be flexible enough to react quickly to specific customer demands.
We have definitely done this with our edible flowers for weddings and with our organic roses in recent years (thank you Blue Sky Botanics and David Austin Roses for research, lab tests and general advice) and we are currently developing new products including a range of British Dried Organic Edible Flowers. More than 90% of all flowers sold in the UK are flown in from abroad incurring huge air miles. This is madness but it is slowly changing and there has been a steady increase year on year in the number of farmers, mainly woman but not all, that are growing British and Organic Flowers. Demand for them is also increasing. Fantastic news.
I am lucky enough to supply some of the best wedding cake makers in the UK with edible flowers for their creations and, as importantly, brides on a budget who are making their own wedding cake and sometimes baking for the first time. Both are equally exciting to me.
Highlights over the past year or so have been sending 4,000 flowers up to London for cocktails for the launch of the new James Bond movie Spectre last October; providing the organic leaves and flowers for the Restaurant Sustainability Awards and seeing Raymond Blanc make Jamie Oliver a Sustainable Hero for his work on improving awareness of dietary issues in the UK (it is no secret that I love Raymond Blanc); also seeing our flowers on a range of TV shows – oh and because I am a fan – providing edible flowers for a private dinner party for Elton John and sending samples to be tasted. YES!!!! That was a sad day for JJ as I sang Elton songs long and loud and tunelessly all day. Listening to me sing is also in the smallest print in his job description!
Our innovative future – is bloomin’ and we have some fabulous projects in the pipeline including a new small workshop for running courses both ourselves and for others in the Maddocks ‘family’ of friends and partners in crime and also some exciting collaborations with some mad food scientists – but more on that another time. Exciting times.
The other two finalists in this category (and congratulations to Tower Hamlets Local Authority and The Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative) are proper grown up institutions that are having a hugely positive impact upon the world of organics and are without a shadow of a doubt far worthier finalists. Honestly, judges what were you thinking!! However, getting this far shows that as an individual, on a tiny plot of land, you can achieve a huge amount if you work both hard and smart, set and stick to your principles but most importantly have some incredible customers and supporters. So thank you all.