Slow Flowers: Why Care About American Grown Flowers?

Move your bouquet into the slow flowers lane.

Maybe you’ve heard about slow food—defined as seasonal, locally grown, vegetables, fruits and herbs—but, what do you know about the bouquet gracing your table? 

  • Who grows it? Do they receive a living wage? 
  • What is its country of origin? 
  • What chemicals are sprayed on it? Does it smell like flowers or more like your countertop spray? 

If you can’t answer these questions, you aren't alone. In a national survey commissioned by the California Cut Flower Commission, nearly three-quarters (74%) of consumers said they didn’t know where their flowers come from. Unlike imported fruits and vegetables, flowers are not required to be labeled with their country of origin. 

Why should we care? Because, cut flower farming in the United States is one of the last bastions of the family farm. Agribusiness hasn’t taken over flowers like it has commodity crops in the U.S. However, American-grown flowers only account for twenty percent of all flowers sold in the U.S. Imported flowers are only competitive because they take advantage of low-cost labor, less stringent environmental regulations and a powerful international lobby. 

“Consumers want to do the right thing. They just haven’t been educated on flowers as they have on produce,” says Debra Prinzing an outdoor living expert and the author of seven gardening books, including two on flowers grown in the U.S. “People want sustainability even in something as ephemeral as cut flowers.”

Prinzing's first book, photographed by David Perry, is The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers. Through her research and interviews, Prinzing got to know flower growers and their passion for their craft. It changed how she viewed flower production forever and influenced her second book, Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm. Prinzing considers a vase of flowers “a moment in the garden.” For each arrangement, she listed each plant or flower’s grower because she believes we need to know where our flowers come from. 

“Like harvesting salad greens and herbs from your window box or kitchen garden before running to the supermarket, slow flowers is decorating your home with flowers, foliage and branches you grow yourself,” says Prinzing, “It’s a way to practice the art of living in the moment and observing nature’s transition from one season to the next.” Brides are one of the strongest markets in flower production. Peonies, hydrangeas and roses are the most popular flowers in the wedding trade. However, just like vegetables, flowers have their seasons. Although you can grow a rose in Ecuador nearly all year, the carbon footprint of that rose is a high price to pay.

Prinzing sees a glimmer of hope on the horizon though. Innovative florists are educating brides and giving them the choice to carry seasonal bouquets down the aisle, or to get married when traditional wedding flowers are blooming. It’s all a matter of planning. You can even work with your local flower farmer to get flowers in season.“Having a relationship with the grower who planted and nurtured each flower is nothing short of magical. They are the unsung heroes—the faces behind the flowers we love,” notes Prinzing.

Prinzing became passionate about her subject because she’s a gardener and has been for over 25 years. Being a journalist who is enthusiastic about the subject of American grown blooms, she wants to bring the definition of florist back to its roots. Florists once grew and sold flowers. Now, they’ve become middlemen in the business of simply packaging and selling. She feels so strongly about American flower farmers and their product that Prinzing launched a campaign on Indiegogo called Slow Flowers, an online directory for American flowers, florists, designers and farmers. She used her own money before a friend encouraged her to try the crowd-funding site. Through her campaign, she created a community of supporters who helped her achieve her cause. You can also visit Prinzing’s website, where she listed her suggestions for finding American grown flowers.

“When you buy American flowers, you’re supporting family farms, stimulating rural economic development and making sure jobs stay here in the U.S.,” says Prinzing.

You’re also getting flowers that smell and look good. Before you buy that next bouquet from your supermarket, look for whether it was grown in America. American grown flowers are usually labeled as such. Ask questions of the store manager or your local florist. It may take a few visits, but remember you’re the customer, and you reign supreme. Move your bouquet into the slow lane. Seasonal, American-grown flowers are worth the ride.

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06 May 2014

By Dee Nash