Not often does someone start operating a busy small business and find it less demanding than their previous work.

But for Jayme Melrose, long the public face of the Common Roots Urban Farm, her role as co-owner of Props Floral Design is, if not easier, at least simpler.

“In business, you’re creating something and you’re getting paid for it, whereas in the not-for-profit sector what you’re doing and what you’re talking about and where you’re getting the money from is very complex,” Melrose said in her shop in Halifax’s Hydrostone Market.

“So it’s really nice to be in the business world.”

Melrose and Ashley MacNeill, a longtime employee, bought Props in February. It’s been in its current location for six years after a long run downtown.

“I knew the shop because I was selling flowers to here from Common Roots. So over the years I developed a relationship with Ashley and (the former owner), and then I heard it was up for sale,” said Melrose.

“It seemed like a really great opportunity in a number of ways. Being a business in the Hydrostone is pretty nice. The potential of a partner who has experience and such a fabulous reputation made it doable for me. We have really complementary skill sets; she can do everything within the floral industry, and I have the organizational management skills.”

“She has tons of knowledge about plants and local stuff that I wasn’t aware of,” MacNeill added.

“I think it’s a great partnership.”

In addition to turning people on to vegetable gardening with her evangelical zeal at Common Roots, Melrose was also the initiative’s flower farmer.

“I’ve worked in flower shops in Vancouver and in Ontario,” she said.

“I’ve always been really into plants and farming, so when I was living in Vancouver in my early 20s I worked at the Granville Island flower shop. In their crazy wedding season I would do a second shift from 6 p.m. until 2 or 3 a.m. At Common Roots I was the flower farmer because I knew that a flower farm would be really pretty for Emergency (at the hospital next door) and for all the hospital patients. As well, flowers can be really profitable.”

Melrose said she’s still excited about volunteering at local urban farms, especially now that her efforts won’t be tied to her income. At Props, she and MacNeill want to bring some of the philosophy around the best ways to grow food to the floral sector.

“There are food safety standards and pretty stringent regulations in terms of what pesticides be used on food,” she said.

“But flowers are not a food product, and so most flowers are not organic. That has some pretty big environmental implications. Some people do know that, and those people really care and they’re excited that we have local and organic flowers.”

Props Floral Design currently has about 30 per cent local product in its inventory and, with the slogan Grown Not Flown in mind, has a goal of getting to 50 per cent by the end of next year. Melrose has a Dalhousie University student doing research on where wholesale flowers come from, so that when a customers asks she has an answer. Except for those bought in Ontario, the origin of flowers often isn’t clear.

“When we call a wholesaler, we say we’re looking for white hydrangea and then we get it. So there’s not a lot of conversation around where is that from, which farm, what’s the name of the farmer. South America is a really big (supplier), but also the States and also Ontario. But sometimes we’ve ordered directly from that big flower market in Holland,” said Melrose.

“We need to get fresh product — not too much, not too little — in the right time and out to the right place. It’s totally complicated. There are local wholesalers, like Avon Valley, and we work with them, too, to get what we need.”

Because “we’ve got kids,” Melrose and MacNeill are willing to take the time to make their shop’s environmental footprint as small as possible. They’re recycling meticulously, and doing things like worm composting some of their waste. Melrose said there’s a wide spectrum of how much florists care about the issue.

“Often, some of the older people have less of an environmental sensibility and would lean more towards what’s easy and fast,” said Melrose, who knows of other flower shops that are paying attention to their waste streams but doesn’t know of any others that are worm composting.

There’s plenty of foot traffic in the Hydrostone neighbourhood, and the Props clientele is diverse, including young families, administrative assistants, corporate clients and some very high-end wedding work.

“Ashley has a fantastic reputation, and so weddings that are over $10,000 worth of flowers, even $20,000 worth of flowers, some of those folks are coming to Ashley for that work,” Melrose said.

“More than one a year.”





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