Tanja Aertebjerg shares the story of the Transition Flower Shop,

[For English subtitles, click on ‘Settings’ and then English subtitles].

In Copenhagen we had long felt the need for a place to gather the different people doing Transition in all it´s aspects. The gift circles, local currency initiative, urban garden projects, guerilla gardening, Empty Office Day, the Repair Cafe and so on.

But a place costs money. And nobody in the movement has any to go around. Not many funding opportunities cover rent – nor paid work. So it was a long shot, until we had the chance to move in to an old 125m2 flower shop that originally had been a flat with a shop in front. No downpayment, all equipped and ready. The only condition?: to pay the expenses and run a flower shop in the front room.

But… but… The flower industry is one of the least sustainable! Worse than agriculture – as it has no REALLY important purpose, and as bad as the fashion industry. How could we defend participating in that?

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Then we realised, that the universe had sent us this challenge to show it can be done sustainably as we have to change everything everywhere, and if we could do it with the flower business, we can to it everywhere with everything!

So we asked out in the community if others wanted to start an association for it with us (we are big on associations in Denmark. It’s in our genes. If you gather 3 Danes, you can be sure to have at least 10 associations represented!) Especially the gift circle people came along, so on December 1st 2015 we opened the doors for the first sustainable flower shop in Denmark – and maybe even the world.

First our retailers shook their heads and said we would give up in two months. But we haven´t. And now we are the darlings of the Danish producers, as we have defined sustainable as Danish flowers first, and as local as possible – when we reduce the transportation we save A LOT of CO2. Most flowers travel more in their short lifetime than most of us do in a year or more. Roses, lilies and most other cut flowers sold in Europe come from places like  Africa or Ecuador, being flown in to Holland for the big auctions from where they travel by truck to Denmark, England, Poland or even Italy.

Some cut flowers may be grown in heated green houses in Holland or other places in Europe, like most associate tulips with Holland. And the potted plants are transported from everywhere to the auctions – even the ones produced in Denmark, where lots are bought by the Danish supermarkets “on the clock”, just to be driven back to Denmark again. It’s absolutely nuts!

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The conditions under which the flowers are produced (in e.g. Africa) is also a problem. They are grown in large plastic tunnels and sprayed with pesticides not allowed anywhere else, as there is no regulations or supervision from the authorities, and non regarding safety clothing or masks. There are stories about how workers get ill after only two weeks, where they get fired and new ones hired. The water resources are being deployed as well, and when there is no more water or workers they just pack it all up, and move to a new location, leaving the old one polluted and depleted. Capitalism as its finest.

I have been in touch with flowers from this business for two decades, and I have often had rashes and other allergic reactions that I could not explain. It is no surprise when you learn what the plants are covered with when you get them in the shop and have to handle them at least twice each. That was why I stopped being a florist, but with this new concept… there is nothing.

Another great thing is our fellow florists have begun to follow our example buying and advertising Danish flowers. They get the point and can see that the costumers likes it too. Some have contacted us to learn from us – even Swedish florists. And we are all about open source and sharing all that we know, and maybe in the future we can make an association more for sustainable florists to bulk buy wrapping paper, biodegradable cellophane and organic fertiliser – who knows?

So short transportation is our main aim. Then we look at the other energy used to produce the plants. The small growers have very old greenhouses – some inherited from their grand parents. those are still heated by gas or oil. The bigger more modern use the cheap “surplus” electricity from the wind turbines at night. As we like to support the small growers in hope that they will be able to invest in better energy solutions in the future we are buying from them too.

They are very interested in a dialog with us about Permaculture, compost, and organic growing, as they can see there is a market, and it could be a way to get a nice part of it. We gather claypots, vases and other related stuff from recycling stations, customers, family and 2nd hand stores, rather than buying them from new at the retailers. The customers love it – and the prices.

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What they all do is use biocontrol, small predatory mites that keeps other insects at bay. Not many pesticides are used, or allowed – and especially not if they grow herbs and edibles. There are almost none who does not use fossil based fertiliser. One told us he used organic principles, and we were so happy until we asked if he wanted some of our organic material for compost, and he said no. He had compost from 20 years he had never used. We asked how he fertilised his plants and he said synthetic fertiliser of course… It was not so fun to tell him that was not organic ?

We do get organically grown flowers from a few places. Especially herbs. But in the winter there are practically none. Not even cut flowers beside tulips. Our solution is to buy the flowers in pots and cut them from there ourselves. That is actually very sustainable, as the flowers last longer, and the bouquets lasts longer, when the flower has not travelled and been stressed for days or even weeks. And all the plants that can tolerate the Danish climate we plant again, for them to get a new and free life – and for us to cut from them again later (add evil laughter of choice).

All summer we gathered wild flowers from the roadside and empty plots around the city, and the customers loved the natural look. It was free, we got fresh air and didn’t support the industry’s bad habits. We left enough for the bees and for the plants to reproduce, so we can come back again next summer.

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As we try to think of everything in the shop regarding resources, we save water by using what has been used in the vases for the potted plants. All organic material is gathered and composted – often sent to the community gardens in the city, or peoples private gardens. The wrapping is in recycled paper and the bows and strings to tie the bouquets with is compostable made from palm trees. The trays we get the plants in we send back to the producers, and the pots and buckets too.  We avoid plastic and other unnatural or unnecessary materials. Even the detail of not having a sticker with our shop info, as it is costume, we have swapped with a stamp to Save the Planet.

That is how to run the shop. What really marks the success is how many – and how different – people who come to join, how and why. One thing is the shop where every sale is a story about transition and sustainability. We like to say it is our decoy, as all the real stuff is going on in the back of the shop. The shop is the access to people who would never think of or wish to learn about these things. People from out of the street.

Mr and Mrs “climate-change-is-too-complicated” come and see that it is not so bad or difficult to buy something that is not wrecking the environment. They listen. They leave with a story, that becomes a conversation with the person who gets the flowers, or the guests or family who enjoy it at their home. the flowers become our ambassadors. It is beautiful in more than one way!

But our real goal is to create community, inviting people to join for workshops, where we often eat together before, and often surplus food salvaged from the dumpsters at the local supermarkets – it is especially the younger members who dumpster dives, but I do it too from time to time, and I tell you it is not garbage.

It is maybe one tomato in a package looking a bit odd, or one beer in a 24 can wrap the is busted – everything else is fine. And sharing a meal is one of the most social things we can do. It is a great tool for creating community. And who doesn’t like a free meal? ?

We have held events on everything from urban gardening, self sufficiency in the city, sprout days, seed and seedling swaps (it’s legal in Denmark!), non violent communication, Inner Transition, flower arrangement skills, Introduction to Permaculture, local currencies, gift circles and so much more. Mostly for free or on gift economy basis, and we let other people and organisations use our place for meetings and gatherings. We even leave the front door unlocked at times if no one can come and open, or spare a key. We are talking central Copenhagen.

But we trust people! So much that we have introduced a Trust Shop in front of the shop when it is closed. We arrange flowers outside and let people serve themselves paying with a mobile app. And hardly nothing goes missing – ever! A stall as known from the countryside but in the middle of the capital. People stop and wonder, talk about it and comes back to talk to us about it – all very surprised but happy it works. It restores peoples faith in their fellow men, and what ever should be missing is all worth it…

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Unfortunately we have to find a new location before May 1st. The landlord has decided to transform the place into a flat, and has cancelled the lease. The good thing is that it has helped us to define our goals for the future, and to our surprise we have learned that what was first our challenge – the flower shop – is now the center of participation. I think it is the hands working with the head and heart the does it. The chance to be creative and practical together with others over other projects that stimulates you heart and mind at the same time.

So don’t worry! We will continue. Maybe even from a place with more room for more people and activities. There are now 15 active people running the shop, and the events and workshops attracts a large variety of other people too, who might not take turns, but know and support us. And then all the costumers, who often come from the other side of the city – or when in town – as they like us, the concept and the Planet.

Are you up for starting something similar? It does not have to be flowers. It could be a member-based swap shop for kids cloth costing the member like 15€ a month with free access for the whole family – take home same amount as you bring (there is one in close to our shop that is only for dresses – a shared closet for women who then get new dresses every month without supporting the fashion industry), a 2nd hand store or something else you know how to do better, that can create community. If you do and you think we can help – please let us know. We are all about sharing!