Honest Flowers

Debra Prinzing

One of the mottos of the Slow Flowers Movement is “origin matters.” Having a consciousness about the source of our flowers is just as important to me as knowing the provenance of a menu ingredient is to a locavore. Yet flowers are so rarely “labeled” and the face of the flower farmer is invisible to most consumers.

Knowing who grows the flowers we buy, where those flowers were harvested and what farming practices were employed to transform a handful of seeds into a flourishing bouquet is increasingly important, especially at this time when 80 percent of the cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported. The result of having low-cost flower imports has lead to a

58% decline in U.S. flower farms since 1992.

Some might ask, why should we care about the footprint of a bunch of blooms?

There are many profound reasons, ranging from preserving farmland and farm jobs to saving heirloom botanical varieties under threat of disappearing to hybrids that have been bred for shipping and have lost their fragrance.

C/O Debra Prinzing

During the course of the past thirty years, America’s domestic cut flower industry has been hurt by outside sources. Many domestic flower advocates point to the 1991 enactment of the Andean Trade Preference Agreement, which eliminated tariffs on flowers grown in several South American countries, including Colombia and Equator. As a result, preferential treatment benefits growers who do not have the same labor or environmental laws that guide practices on U.S. flower farms. And so, we have witnessed a sharp decline in what were once major domestic flower crops, including roses and carnations. For example, over 1.6 billion stems of roses are imported annually into the United States. That is in stark contrast to our country’s domestic production at just over 30 million stems per year.

In 2012, of the roses that sold on Valentine’s Day only 2% were American Grown.

To me, a lifelong gardener and author of ten home and garden books, it makes no sense to import a perishable product like a rose, carnation, lily, chrysanthemum or hydrangea from another continent, especially when I know it can be grown on a local flower farm near me or in my own backyard, for that matter.

I’ve spent years interviewing U.S. flower farmers with small and large parcels of land and highlighting the mindful florists who source locally and regionally, the way a farm-to-table chef sources for a menu. Inspired by their stories, I am convinced that we can save our domestic floral agriculture. It may be one stem, one vase, at a time, but that’s how any movement gets started.

All it takes is a shift in our thinking. In fact, it’s not at all about the pocketbook. Sure, you can buy a cheap bunch of one-dozen red roses at the corner bodega or your neighborhood grocery store. But there are hidden and not-so-hidden costs to this so called bargain bunch. Just-picked local flowers are incredibly fresh. The petal color is more vivid; the varieties more diverse; they speak to the seasonal cycle of the garden, meadow and farm. They also last longer than flowers that may have been traumatized by days in refrigerated boxes, out of water, while traveling far.

Connecting farms and their flowers with you

So what happens when you bring together local flowers with local food? You get the Field-to-Vase Dinner: a one-of-a-kind dining experience that celebrates the regional and seasonal flowers that decorate the table, as well as the regional and seasonal food on the menu.

Often we don’t even see flowers at these farm-to-table venues, but to me, that makes for an incomplete dining experience — especially when the event focuses on America’s agricultural heritage.

Slow Flowers. Photo C/O Debra Prinzing

This series of pop-up culinary events places flowers at the center of that food-laden farm table. Yes, we love our chefs. Yes, we love the winemaker. But we also know that locally grown flowers are food for the soul — an essential component to a successful dinner party. The menu is served family-style at one long table as guests celebrate the seasonal beauty and character of locally-grown flowers, while also enjoying a delicious, five-course, locally-sourced meal, accompanied by craft beers and artisanal wines. This is a dinner party, time to make friends while enjoying the menu and the flowers.

Having a “Slow” philosophy requires a conscious choice, be it in the flowers we arrange or the fashions we wear. Similarly, the Field-to-Vase Dinner events are designed to symbolize that mindfulness of our choices. To me, placing Slow Flowers on the table where Slow Food is served is a beautiful act of optimism in domestic agriculture. We are invited to support (and stimulate) the renaissance of America’s flower farms and the people who toil to bring us seasonal, local and sustainable botanicals. It adds up to intentionality and honesty in a single gesture.

The author Debra Prinzing at the flower market.

Originally published at zady.com on August 6, 2015.

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