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Blooming Business In Manawatū

Blooming business in Manawatū

Grower, entrepreneur and mum, Gemma McDougall talks to us about her experience diversifying her farming practice in Manawatū with husband Ben, and what this has meant for their business and lifestyle.

Tell us a bit about how you came to call Manawatū home 

Originally from Taihape, I went to boarding school in Napier before moving to Dunedin for study. I followed up my degree by completing my graduate nursing year in Melbourne. From here I've travelled and lived in Auckland, New Plymouth, London and Wellington before meeting my now husband, Ben, and moving back to Marton where he was farming for his parents at the time. In 2015, we sold the property in Marton and bought one in Kimbolton. Now we live and farm here with our young family. We love the lifestyle the region offers, and I know farming and family will always keep us in Manawatū.


What is it that you love most about living in Manawatū?

We love living in this safe and happy community. We love the rural and down-to-earth feel plus there are lots of fun activities and sporting opportunities for the children, and heaps of yummy food experiences to try - which I think people would be surprised to learn! From a farming perspective, the diversification opportunities across agriculture and horticulture in Manawatū are second to none.

Speaking of farming, how did you get into the flower business?

I've always harboured a flower growing dream, but it was in 2019 that Ben and I were able to bring this vision to life as Ataahua Blooms. I could see the benefit of using our rich loamy soil that we have here to further diversify the farming operation and we wanted to make the most of land not being actively utilised, which the flower farm does in so many ways.

Turing the land to flowers was an easy decision as it was an area unsuitable for farming - a little wee paddock that wasn't getting used for anything - and a woolshed (now an amazingly colourful drying area) that provided the ideal place to dry flowers and foliage in an undisturbed, natural environment. Ultimately it's worked really well to be able to actively use that land and the flowers - probably on a per hectare basis - make a lot more money than what farming does.

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20240117CEDA 120 large
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20240117CEDA 158 large

For someone who's never heard about Ataahua Blooms before, what is it and what do you guys do day to day?

Ataahua Blooms is a small boutique flower farm growing slightly wild and unique blooms. About 80% of all our sales are wholesale, so direct to florists, floral stylists or wedding stylists. The other 20% is direct to consumers either directly through our website or at the two retail stands that we have in the Cheltenham General Store and Rosebowl Cafe and Bakery in Feilding. Our focus and tasks shift with seasons but out general day to day includes tending to the flower farm, planting, weeding, and cutting. It's a great job; flowers bring so much joy to people and can evoke different memories or feelings, especially some of the unique ones they don't grow themselves, it's very rewarding.

Ataahua Blooms is growing (literally) from strength to strength. Have you had any challenges or setbacks along the way?

We've been lucky to have had amazing support and demand for the product we grow and have been able to expand the operation significantly over the year. I've also started using the woolshed space as a studio where we welcome workshop attendees throughout the year. That's not to say it isn't without its challenges.

We are 420 metres about sea level, we have the Ruahine Ranges right behind us and I can see the Manawatū this should give a sense of some of the challenges I can encounter over the seasons! Yes we have frosts, sometimes snow, and we have wind and rain but we have an amazing soil profile and base to start with. We work around the elements we encounter and grow what is suited to the land and the environment in which we farm.

Flower farming must be quite a niche industry, how do you find working with others in the sector?

I enjoy working closely with other flower farmers based in Manawatū. In fact, together, with a fellow grower, we set up the Flower Collective Manawatū group to allow us to work together to bring products to the market to sell directly to florists and also to the public. The future of flower farming in Manawatū is healthy and is being well supported by florists both locally and further afield. Out in the community my flower stands are popular with so much positive feedback from customers, so the possibilities are endless.

What would you say to someone considering moving to Manawatū?

There are so many benefits to calling this place home. There's a wide variety of jobs, heaps of outdoor experiences, walks, tramps and things to see and do, and lots of different community and sporting groups to join. Manawatū is also so cenral to the rest of the North Island which gives so many opportunities to explore the country, driving or flying to the destination you wish to go.

The work-life balance that you can find in Manawatū is great. Of course, we have peak seasons that are quite demanding and take a bit of juggling, but we are used to that. At the end of the day though the children get to have the best of all opportunities on offer.

I would say to any farmer thinking of diversifying their land, the Manawatū is a perfect place to diversify. Our agri sector is so much more than dairy and beef thanks to our exceptional soils and climate, come and see!

You can purchase from Ataahua Blooms Flower Farm lush seasonal bouquets at Rosebowl Cafe & Bakery in Feilding, Cheltenam General Store in Manawatū or order online and shop the daily collection.

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