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I Used Flowers As Currency For A Year. Here's What Happened

Lentil Purbrick
Written by
Photo by Grown & Gathered

I started growing flowers simply because I wanted to do something that made people happy. My partner Matt was already growing the vegetables, so I added flowers to our little farm.

It brought such an amazing balance to our homestead by mirroring what occurs in the wild: vegetables, flowers, and wild plants all growing alongside each other. There was a natural harmony.

But since growing flowers was always an act of love, selling them—taking something so beautiful and putting a price on it—felt so wrong. So I started thinking about trade and wondered what would happen if we took money out of the equation. Who gets to say how much something is worth, after all? So, in May 2014, Matt and I started a project called The Flower Exchange, where we didn’t sell a single flower and instead only accepted trades for them (with anything but money) for a whole year.

What happens when you take away money?

Photo: Grown & Gathered

Once we removed money, it was amazing how people changed their behavior. We had more conversations with others. We shared parts of their world, heard about their lives, and learned new skills. Trade opened us up to sharing more than the material—we shared skills, knowledge, information. It was about sharing abundances, about paying attention and having conversations about what each person had to offer beyond the material.

We traded flowers for pieces of art, for cakes, for skills, for coffee.

The project truly opened up our world. It broke down barriers and reminded us how we are all human, how we are all more similar than we are different, how we all have something to share.

We traded flowers for pieces of art, for cakes, for skills, for coffee. We made lifelong friends, we shared recipes, we opened our minds up to new ideas. Trading for things other than money reminds you that you are interacting with a person. And that person isn't just a means to an end—they're a real, living, breathing being who has skills, ideas, a different perspective, passions, loves, and things to offer the world. Just like you.

How trade influenced the way we value nature.

Photo: Grown & Gathered

Trade also made us think of our plants differently. We realized that most people initially saw flowers (and nature at large) as something intangible, disconnected from their lives, and impossible to have a real relationship with. But in fact, the natural world is something we are all connected to in so many ways. It’s something that is around us all the time; we just have to look. We are nature ourselves. Trading somehow helped people connect those dots.

Maybe it was the conversation. Maybe it was just connecting with us, the humans who had engaged with nature and reaped the fruits of that labor. Whatever it was, trading the flowers seemed to engage people to forge a new relationship with the outdoors and grow something for themselves. It made the task seem completely human. Completely possible. We told them you just have to be patient, to learn, and to observe. And they brought those lessons into their lives and began to get out there.

Though the flower exchange, we tried to make people feel happy while also opening their minds to nature and to what happens when you share freely, without the constraints of money.

Even more, we wanted people to open their minds to trade and what might happen if they take money away from some small part of their lives. We now trade as a part of our lives and will trade any of our abundances for those of others.

Remember that it all starts with a conversation. We are all more similar than we are different, and we are all more powerful when we work together.

Ready for another dose of homegrown inspo? This Los Angeles family is growing 6,000 pounds of food a year in their tiny backyard, and check out Matt and Lentil's new book on how to forge an accessible, rewarding relationship with nature.

Lentil Purbrick author page.
Lentil Purbrick

Lentil and Matt Purbrick began selling produce from their Central Victorian farm to some of Melbourne’s top restaurants and cafes in 2013, encouraging chefs to adopt principles of local, real produce and sustainable farming and packaging. But they craved more. They wanted to extend the conversation. So, they decided to open their van doors to the people of Melbourne, pulling up in forgotten side lanes to sell and trade their home-grown vegetables, flowers, and produce "like drug dealers for vegetarian hipsters." They soon sold out week after week, and their education became something sought after. They are now authors—their first book, Grown & Gathered, was released in 2016—educators, bloggers, and advocates for sustainability and a bright future.