Ready for some flower porn? Here ya go. Close your eyes and imagine a fragrant bouquet of jasmine, honeysuckle, gardenia or sweet peas intertwined with chocolate cosmos, lilies, tuberoses, or clover-scented stock. Or, a Mason jar loaded with Eglantyne, a David Austin English rose with its soft pink petals, sweet tight buds, majestic cupped blossoms and intoxicating Damask fragrance wrapped in strong, green, disease-resistant leaves.
Imagine being able to choose a bouquet like that for your wedding party or for your sweetheart or holiday event; a vintage bouquet that was grown at a local flower farm down the road. But where do we find a locally grown retro-bouquet like this? Roughly 80 percent of flowers available at local florist shops are embalmed with pesticides and fungicides and shipped to the U.S. primarily from Latin America and Europe, averaging around 3,000 travel miles. Cut flowers are a $40 billion industry worldwide. We can grow our own flowers right here in America on our family farms. Let's get in on some of that green action. Enough with jet-setting flowers!
Debra Prinzing, author of Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm (St.Lynn's Press, 2013) and The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers (St. Lynn's Press, 2012) is helping to keep American flower farms flourishing. Over the past several years, while doing media interviews and speaking to audiences about American-grown flowers, she continually heard the questions: "Where can I find American flowers?" and "How can I find a florist who I trust, who will sell me locally grown flowers?" It became apparent to her that people want locally grown, domestic flowers. But it wasn't easy to find those blooms amid the sea of unlabeled, imported ones.
"Foodies are familiar with the 'farm-to-table' movement that celebrates artisanal/heirloom ingredients or farms and dairies that use sustainable practices," Prinzing says. "The term 'field-to-vase' takes a page from the culinary scene, emphasizing a small 'flower mile,' as well as the belief that flowers grown locally, in season, with organic methods are inherently more pleasurable and healthier to enjoy. Flowers are following food in many ways, decades behind, but happily catching up." In May 2014, Prinzing launched the SLOW FLOWERS online directory as a one-stop resource for consumers in search of florists who guarantee the origin of the flowers they use. Her mission? To make it easy for flower consumers to connect with florists, shops, studios and farms who provide American-grown flowers, and to encourage truthful and transparent country-of-origin labeling in the floral industry.
"It's simply that consumers haven't thought much about where their flowers come from up until the past five years or so, " Prinzing says. "And in terms of stats, last year the California Cut Flower Commission conducted a national survey that asked consumers: "Do you know where your flowers come from?" (78 percent did not). The follow-up question: "If you were given a choice to purchase American-grown flowers, would you?" yielded YES answers 58 percent of the time."
With the winter holiday gift-giving coming up, I am suggesting that readers go to SlowFlowers.com to find a local American flower farm or florist. (Do this and you will instantly become my Star Student!) If there isn't a local one near you, you can always search the directory for a service that ships American-grown flowers nationally. When you contact a Slow Flowers member, Prinzing asks that you tell them you found them on this site, and that you plan on posting a review.
"It's simple. When you contact a florist, flower shop or designer on our site, they commit to you, the consumer, that their flowers are truly homegrown," she says. "You should be able to know the origins of the flowers you order to send to a loved one. You should be assured that the bouquet you carry down the aisle was grown by an American flower farmer. You should know that jobs are being created and nurtured in your community. It's all about making a conscious choice."
So far, 380 floral businesses are listed on SlowFlowers.com, with the goal of building to 1,000 in the coming year or two; 130 members describe themselves as flower farmers, 60 members are retail florists, 91 are studio florists, 148 members design weddings and events, and 15 floral businesses offer national shipping of American-grown flowers.
"America's flower farmers adhere to U.S. labor and environmental regulations, so they are not able to compete on price alone in a marketplace where imported flowers are mostly grown in countries with cheaper labor and lower environmental standards," Prinzing shares. "Where the American flower farm can compete is on freshness and quality. When you buy domestic, local and seasonal flowers, you're helping support family farms, preserve farmland, stimulate economic development in rural areas and keep flowers safe for the humans who grow and design with them, not to mention your own family."
And now, back to flower porn ... Still having daydreams of English roses or thinking about quitting your job to work in a greenhouse or nursery? First read Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart. You'll learn about countries like Holland, Ecuador and Columbia with loose or no child labor laws—where roses are dipped in vats of chemical fungicides by low-paid workers and then shipped around the world so we can have a vase of flowers on our tables. That just doesn't make sense. American flower farmers are hurting and struggling to survive. Educate yourself and then tell your friends to support our local growers. USA! USA!