May 18, 2009

“Fresh cut flowers for U-pick”.  We often drive by this sign and the carefully laid out flower beds behind it. Every time I wonder if people really do put the money into the cash box, and how the whole business works.

Anni and Gerhard Bollinger were working in the flower beds today as we drove by. On a whim we decided to stop. The Bollingers are friends of ours from many years ago. We enjoyed a good visit among the flowers and I brought Grandma a lovely bouquet of pink and white daisies and blue cornflowers.

Gerhard and Anni Bollinger and I with Grandma's posy. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Gerhard and Anni Bollinger and I with Grandma's posy. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The U-pick flower business is a side enterprise. Anni and Gerhard farm 28 hectares (70 acres), most of which is in crops such as wheat, canola, barley, sugar beets and corn. The flowers grow on 0.60 hectares (a little over an acre) at the side of a busy road.

Many smaller farmers in Switzerland have a side business to generate some cash flow. Another example is the Enderli family who grows the asparagus I wrote about last week.

Tulips and daffodils start the season off in April and it continues until November with frost hardy asters and gourds. At the moment things are slow until the perennials come into bloom. Then it will be a bright display of color into late fall.

Anni thinks that one third to one half of the flowers are picked without being paid for. So, does it still pay to operate the U-pick? “Yes, it does generate a good income”, Anni tells me. “But sometimes I do get angry.” Such as when people try to rip out the whole bush of peonies, and wreck the bush in the trying.

“Some people will pick a posy of flowers and demonstratively leave it lying in the path”, Anni says. That’s not just theft, that’s vandalism and hurts doubly.

There’s no electric fence around these flowers and no guard. But the stories remind me of the ones I heard from Zambian farmers. I guess people are people all over the world!

Anni and Gerhard Bollinger operate a flower U-pick along a busy road. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Anni and Gerhard Bollinger operate a flower U-pick along a busy road. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Anni somewhat understands theft in Africa – she feels poverty drives people to steal. But she has no sympathy for her clients.  If they can drive up in fancy cars they don’t need to steal. “You have to be able to deal with that though”, she says, “or you’d have to quit.”

Some do quit. In Switzerland many products such as apples, potatoes, even bread and eggs, are sold off farm – often out of the open garage or shed – on a trust basis with a cash box. Farmers are complaining of more and more misuse.

For Anni and Gerhard it’s still a good business. They enjoy the work together. They’ve been growing flowers for 15 years now, and as long as it makes them money, they plan to continue. Like the Africans, they take the bad with the good and move on.

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