The Sustainable Florist: Sammy Brownell

Introducing our Slow Flowers Society Member Profile Series

Sammy Brownell
Sammy Brownell of The Sustainable Florist in Toronto

As concerns for the well-being of our planet and its people increasingly take center stage across all businesses and disciplines, we have seen a surge in organizations paying attention to sustainability and what this means in terms of how we grow and sell flowers. 

Although the momentum has sometimes felt slow in Canada, it has been encouraging to see some new businesses forge ahead on a path of conscious creativity.  One such florist is the lovely and talented Sammy Brownell of The Sustainable Florist in Toronto, Ontario.  Sammy stands out from the crowd as a passionate new grower and florist, who is dedicated to the Slow Flowers movement and sustainable business practices.  I was fortunate to have the chance to interview Sammy about her business and the principles that guide and inform the way she works.  Here is a bit about what we discussed:

Samm Brownell in Slow Flowers
Sammy poses in her Slow Flowers T-shirt, her arms filled with local blooms.

Q – What got you interested in flowers?

A – Wow.  That’s a loaded question!  My educational background is in Criminology and Psychology, with a special interest in forensic mental health.  But when I started work in that field, I realized it wasn’t a good fit for me.  The work was interesting and important, but it was also draining and hard because I had a tendency to take my work home with me.  I changed my focus to working on research in mental health, which allowed to make a meaningful impact but also gave me some distance and the ability to create some boundaries. 

Like many people living in a dense urban environment, I had no access to my own outdoor space – so I started collecting houseplants so that I could surround myself with nature indoors.  I then started to look for opportunities to volunteer in gardens so that I could immerse myself in horticulture.  I had the incredible opportunity to volunteer at the FoodShare Toronto Therapeutic Garden with Natalie Boustead, which was honestly life-changing.  Not only was I giving back to a community in need of support, but I was personally benefitting from learning alongside the participants.  We grew flowers, vegetables, and herbs and I came to understand the importance of work on food justice and sustainable growing practices.

At FoodShare, we aim to centre food justice in our work by collaborating with and taking our cue from those most affected by poverty and food insecurity — Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, People with Disabilities. Our goal is to inspire long-term solutions for a food system where everyone has access to affordable, fresh, nutritious food. We reach over 260,000 people each year.

FoodShare.net

My favourite things to grow were the flowers, so that led me to contemplate work as a florist.  However, my early forays into that field left me feeling disconnected from nature and longing to find a way to work with flowers in a way that felt ecologically mindful, seasonal, and with the goal of being sustainable. That is when I discovered Slow Flowers and others in the field who shared the same goals as me!

The Sustainable Florist sources all locally-grown Ontario blooms

Q – What are the guiding principles of your business?

A – Trying to make a fair profit, while protecting the planet and its people.  Inclusivity is also extremely important to me.  Ensuring that everyone feels welcome at my door is imperative and I make sure that my language and messaging is supportive and inclusive from the very beginning of my interactions with my customers and clients.

Q – How do you source your flowers?

A – I try to source everything I can directly from local farmers or from my own cut flower gardens (which I’m lucky enough to tend alongside my mom!).  My first stop for local flowers is The Local Flower Collective, which I love! I also connect with local growers at area farmer’s markets. Ontario Flower Growers allows to me source greenhouse grown blooms during the colder months.

The Local Flower Collective was established in 2018 to further the development of Ontario flower growers and promote environmentally conscious design practices. The Collective is run by a thriving community of local growers and florists that are passionate about celebrating the entire stage of a flower’s life – seed to vase!

The Local Flower Collective

Q – Tell me about some of the obstacles you have faced getting your business off the ground?

A – Finding volunteer opportunities with florists in the early days was difficult.  Most floral shops claimed to be too fast-paced for volunteers.  It was also a challenge to find paid internships on flower farms.  I also found it challenging to find educational opportunities that weren’t wasteful or outdated.  It seemed that all of the traditional floristry classes relied heavily on floral foam and imported flowers, which I didn’t want to work with. When I did find a casual job opportunity several years ago, I noticed that I would get physically ill when I handled painted or bleached botanicals.  What I slowly came to realize was that I needed to start my own business if I wanted to create something that would keep both myself and my customers healthy.  So – The Sustainable Florist was born!

pressed and dried flowers
Pressed and dried flowers help Sammy extend the season for her business.

Sammy is a proactive supporter of sustainable floral design.  Her social media presence is both uplifting and educational, as she works to ensure her business and practices support all aspects of sustainability – environmental, social and economic.  The Slow Flowers community is an important part of helping her maintain momentum in the industry and learn from others.  Isn’t that what we all love most about Slow Flowers?  A community of people who support, encourage, and educate in a way that valued local flowers and social sustainability.

Contribute to our Member Profile Series:

If you would like to nominate a Slow Flowers Society member for a profile, please send us an email with the following information:

  • Member’s name, business name, location
  • A brief explanation or highlights of their floral enterprise
  • What will readers learn from a profile?

Send to: membership@slowflowers.com

Becky Feasby

Becky completed her gardening and landscape design training in New York, Calgary, and Chicago and has completed floral design training with many leading florists who specialize in environmental-friendly florsitry and who support the Slow Flowers movement. She previously worked as the Horticultural Therapist at the Alberta Children's Hospital, where she oversaw the design and management of five acres of gardens. In creating prairie girl flowers, she wanted to utilize all of her training to bring sustainable beauty to Calgarians - and to cultivate a change in the floral industry. A change that makes florals better for the planet and creates opportunities for clients to make a conscious choice that supports local growers and our environment. Becky is the Canadian Ambassador for the new Sustainable Floristry Network - a global industry initiative supported by a collective of experienced florists who are dedicated to environmentally sustainable techniques and practices.

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Slow Flowers Journal is brought to you by SlowFlowers.com. Slow Flowers is an award-winning online directory created to help consumers find florists, studio designers, wedding and event planners, supermarket flower departments and flower farmers that supply American grown flowers. Founded in 2014, the site has grown to 700 members across the U.S.

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