When she was a kid, Nur Evelyn Ghazali would go to Cameron Highlands with her family during the holidays. They would visit tea houses that doubled as flower farms, which greatly fascinated Evelyn.
“I told myself I would own a flower farm one day,” she said to Vulcan Post.
Before she got to that point, Evelyn first became a flight attendant. This took her to beautiful places around the world but had nothing to do with farming.
In fact, she was supposed to stay out of the sun to keep her skin fair and free of freckles.
Like many others, though, the pandemic proved to be a catalyst for her dreams.
“During the lockdowns in early 2021, like everyone else, I started gardening,” she shared. “I reconnected with my cousin who owned Jo Green Enterprise, a successful edible flower farm in Johor.”
Jo Green Enterprise was looking to collaborate with and curate growers as well as artisanal makers who complemented their range.
So, Evelyn decided to start Qultivation, partnering up with Jo Green Enterprise to grow premium botanical produce for culinary creatives.
Not just decorative
Before you go around and start plucking flowers for your dishes, just remember that not all flowers are safe to eat. Some common edible flowers include chrysanthemums, violets, sunflowers, roses, and many more.
According to Evelyn, though, edible flowers must also be grown with organic methods so that there are no concerns with chemical contamination.
Have you ever heard the saying “eat the rainbow” when it comes to a healthy diet? Well, it’s a thing, and it refers to eating a colourful variety of fruits and veggies… and maybe flowers?
“When it comes to flavours and nutritional value, edible flowers are just like herbs, fruits, and vegetables—only much prettier,” Evelyn explained.
“Each flower has its own flavour. For example, cosmos taste like fresh mangoes, marigolds taste citrusy, and snapdragons, peppery.”
Edible flowers aren’t just for fancy fine or premium dining dishes. According to Evelyn, you can try to sprinkle them in salads, baked goods, desserts, omelettes, pastas, soups, morning oats, toast, mocktails, sodas, tea, coffee, and even on local dishes like rendang, bubur, roti jala, and kuihs.
After a year of running the farm, Evelyn now knows the nuances of each plant and its lifecycle.
“Edible flowers can last for about seven days from the time of harvest. They have to be refrigerated and kept in an airtight container for longevity,” she said.
With this in mind, the edible flowers at Qultivation are harvested daily in the morning, chilled immediately for a minimum of two hours, and then sent out to clients on the day of the harvest.
Located in Bukit Lanjan, Qultivation’s farm is about one acre, producing around 5kg of edible flowers per week. Their customers are businesses, ranging from cafes to organic grocery stores.
Cultivating young farmers
At Qultivation, it’s not just flowers that are being grown, but talents too.
The farmstead runs a Qultivation Social Enterprise Program that provides skills training and support for disadvantaged youths. This includes those who may have dropped out of society due to a lack of education or employment.
The program focuses on skills training in sustainable, ethical farming and all its downstream products and services.
“Upon the completion of this programme, graduates are encouraged and supported to find jobs with their new skill set, or start up their own nature-based micro-businesses, with guidance,” Evelyn elaborated.
The programme isn’t just about letting underprivileged youths get hands-on with farming, either. They actually have a mycologist who teaches mushroom farming.
Other than edible flower cultivation, Evelyn also teaches design, sales and marketing, product creation, branding, and assembly. Evelyn’s mum helps out by teaching spoken English and presentation techniques.
“We have not received many applicants and would like to encourage youth between the ages of 18 and 25 to apply through our email, website, Facebook, or Instagram,” Evelyn shared about the free six-month training programme.
The culture of farmsteads
Running a farmstead, according to Evelyn, is the age-old art of living on a homestead (a family farm), and running it as a business.
“At Qultivation, we are running a farmstead with twenty-first-century technology and practices,” she said. One such practice is sustainability.
Qultivation uses organic and environmentally friendly methods to grow its produce. This involves recycling old plants, weeds, and cuttings into compost. Sawdust from used mushroom grow bags is also used as mulch.
“We implement zero waste practices into our everyday work ethic,” Evelyn further added. “The best of our fresh edible flowers are sent out to clients, and any excess flowers are dehydrated and turned into dried flowers, dried flower confetti, flower teas, and flower powders.”
These dehydrated flowers are either sold or used in Qultivation’s own artisanal pantry. Examples of such products are vegan cream cheese and butter.
Less-than-perfect flowers are also used to make syrups and vinegars. In short, nothing goes to waste.
Furthermore, Qultivation also mainly grows tropical lowland flowers that are native to Malaysia’s weather and soil.
“We do not raise cows or goats on our farmstead, but instead we grow medicinal and gourmet meat substitute mushrooms in our farmstead lab, and herbs and edible flowers on the land,” Evelyn said. “We produce plant-based food for our needs and sell enough of our products to run a successful business.”
A flowery path
With the culture of social media, the presentation of food has become more important than ever, so it seems to make sense for edible flowers to be more popular than ever.
However, Evelyn believes the trend with edible flowers isn’t just about aesthetics, but has to do with the move toward everything natural.
“And then, there is the effect flowers have,” Evelyn added. “In general, flowers make people happy. Colour and beauty stimulate the mind and play a big part in contributing to overall health and mental wellness.”
Down the road, Evelyn hopes to expand Qultivation to include another farm. She also aims to increase the brand’s pantry range.
In the long run, she wants to start exporting the flowers and pantry goods too.
“I honestly thought it would take a lot longer to get where we are right now,” Evelyn reflected. “It has only been a year but things have moved forward quickly and effortlessly.”
“It might be due to the lockdowns being lifted and everyone trying to make up for lost time. I am however loving being in the right place at the right time.”
Featured Image Credit: Qultivation