2023 Speaker Profile: BECKY FEASBY
FLOWERING SUSTAINABLY: Becky Feasby will share an overview of sustainability from the lens of environmental, social, and economic principles, and how these relate to our work with flowers. She will introduce the concept of social sustainability and discuss the issues that affect florists and flower-growers in the U.S. and North America, including an overview of the Sustainable Flowers Project's support of anti-racist practices to build a more socially just and sustainable floral community. She will encourage and challenge the audience -- from the larger industry to individual business owners.
Research is unlikely to be top of the to-do list for most florists or flower growers, but searching for the most accurate and up-to-date information is one of Becky Feasby’s passions—and the Slow Flowers Movement is all the better for it. Becky, the flower gardener-florist behind Prairie Girl Flowers, is currently working on a masters in sustainability from Harvard with a thesis comparing the true costs—environmentally and socially—of rose growing in three different locales, and her regular Sustainability Sunday posts on Instagram tackle everything from spray painting lawns and foliage, to invasive species, to the social cost of agrochemicals used by the flower industry. “My way of doing things has a scientific bent to it,” says Becky, “I love reading scholarly articles.” And all that she distills can be hard to hear. “I know my approach throws some people off,” she says, adding that readers might feel bruised or offended by her critiques of floristry and growing practices, but it’s never about the individual. “I haven’t critiqued them,” she says and if the information is hard to hear she at least hopes it will make people stop and think the next time they reach for dyed flowers or floral foam.
Becky established Prairie Girl Flowers in 2018 in Calgary, Alberta, and sustainability is at the core of her business and all she does. For Becky, now is the time to act in the face of climate change, biodiversity loss, and the myriad challenges our planet and its people are facing. (Although she needs no reminder, the climate emergency was literally in her face recently when Calgary at midday was cloaked in an apocalyptic orange haze, the fallout from forest fires burning hundreds of miles north.) “My work is divided between seasonal events—whatever comes with the growing season in Calgary—advocacy work, research, and therapeutic horticulture, but sustainability is the umbrella for it all,” she says.
An interest in living things has been a thread throughout Becky’s adult life. Her undergraduate degree was in biology and she did her first master’s degree in anthropology in which growing and sustainability was at the heart of that work, too. Her thesis reconstructed the diets of ancient populations in Syria, and how their diet changed during a period of intense climate change. “So I guess I’ve always had that [sustainability] piece,” says Becky. She worked in landscape design and maintenance and in horticultural therapy for years before honing in on floral design. But formal training was a shock. “I was horrified,” she says, “because I was handed a brick of floral foam every week. I saw the flowers being unwrapped, and I saw that a class of about six students would fill two bins of garbage.”
The experience “freaked her out,” but via an internet search it also led her to the Slow Flowers Society after her husband suggested that perhaps there was an antidote to conventional floristry along the lines of the slow food movement. Becky shaped her business around sustainable practices and is upfront with potential clients that she won’t use anything dyed or bleached, or imported flowers—British Columbia is as far as she’ll go, and even that is less frequent nowadays—there’s no plastic or foam, and the flowers she can offer will be what’s in season. If a couple wants peonies in September, she’s not their girl.
Becky is moving more and more into teaching and advocacy in an effort to continually lessen the impact floristry and the world of flowers has on the planet. She’s currently focussing on invasive plants, creating an online database where florist and flower farmers can access accurate and up-to-date information on how invasive species can be detrimental to biodiversity, food webs, and the ecological integrity of natural areas if they’re planted or disposed of in areas where they don’t naturally occur. “It’s something that I’m pretty passionate about,” she says, “there’s a real gap in information out there.”
Since 2019, Becky has also convened the Sustainable Flowers Project, first in Calgary and more recently at the regenerative gardening estate Jardin de Buis in New Jersey. The genesis for the event came from a desire to look closely at the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of the floral industry. She currently partners with florist TJ McGrath to orchestrate the three-day event, at which participants will be inspired to “cultivate conscious creativity; examine environmentally and socially aware practices; explore new techniques and design principles; and foster relationships between growers, designers and flower sellers.”
Through her work, Becky is trying to ensure that access to flowers—and floristry and flower growing spaces—are equitable. “If we want floristry or flowers to be accessible to everyone, we need to figure out how to do that,” she says. “I think it’s going to require a generosity on the part of instructors and industry leaders to make those connections.” To that end, she and TJ funded two BIPOC scholarships to the Sustainable Flowers Projects themselves last year, and, are hoping to do the same, or better, this year with corporate sponsorship.
“Speak the truth. Speak it loud and often, calmly but insistently, … The environment is a necessity, not a luxury. There is such thing as enough.” (Becky Feasby, quoting Donella Meadows)
At the Slow Flowers Summit, Becky will be presenting on sustainability in the flower industry and what that means environmentally, socially, and economically. She’ll touch on her research, including the invasive species work to help attendees navigate the sometimes confusing and conflicting terminology. “I want to help people understand invasive species and the implications of spreading them around,” she says. “It’s a hard thing to grasp, because they’re not necessarily ‘weeds.’” She’ll also introduce the online database and share how Slow Flowers Society members can access it. Working in the sustainability space can seem relentless and just plain hard going, Becky finds that seeking environmental and socially sound solutions to our problems can be “all-empowering,” as she wrote in a recent Instagram post, in which she quotes Donella Meadows, choosing words that Becky clearly lives by: “Speak the truth. Speak it loud and often, calmly but insistently, … The environment is a necessity, not a luxury. There is such thing as enough.”
Slow Flowers Summit welcomes Adrienne Mason as our profile contributor for the 2023 season. Adrienne Mason is a writer and editor based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She specializes in writing about science, nature, and the cultural history of the west coast. She is the author of over 30 books for both adults and children, the most recent of which is Whales to the Rescue. Adrienne also specializes in writing for museums, parks, and interpretive centers, and her work is in dozens of exhibits across Canada. When she’s not at her desk, Adrienne spends as much time as possible outdoors—hiking, camping, beachcombing, and in her garden, to which she recently added two large cut flower beds. Visit Adrienne at adriennemason.com.