Globalization shows no signs of reversing, but there is a growing movement in some sectors to concentrate on local industry. Reasons for this include carbon footprint, transparency, and supporting local commerce. The food industry was one of the first to experiment with this idea, locavores being the most dedicated of the bunch. It's reached other markets and #shoplocal is now worn like a digital badge of honor. Similar to the food industry in many ways, workers of the floral industry are susceptible to labor abuse, pesticide exposure, and low pay.
The Slow Flowers movement, led by advocate, author, and speaker Debra Prinzing, is guiding us back to the small farms, gardens, and greenhouses of our communities. Slowflowers.com is a free, online directory that helps connect consumers with American flowers and the people who grow and design with them. In her book, Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013), Debra reveals her motivation:
If not clipped from my own shrubs or cutting garden, I want to know where the flowers and greenery were grown, and who grew them. Having a relationship with the grower who planted and nurtured each flower is nothing short of magical. I call so many flower farmers around the country my friends. They are the unsung heroes – the faces behind the flowers we love.
Three women who embody this movement are Rachel Gordon of Taproot Flowers, and Deborah Greig and Molly Culver of Molly Oliver Flowers. Their dedication is why Debra introduced us and why I invited them to share their knowledge and passion at Bloom: A Sustainable Workshop. Taproot Flowers works with local farmers to provide flowers that are grown within 200 miles of their Crown Heights, Brooklyn workshop. Supporting community is the soul of their business. Molly Culver and Deborah Greig are urban farmers who also share their passion for flowers through their sustainable floral design business. Deborah is the Agriculture director at East New York Farms! and Molly is the Director of the Urban Farm Training Program at The Youth Farm. There's no denying their commitment to local community.
This workshop was the third of the day and as I helped pack up The Garden Apartment, Molly, Deborah, and Rachel slipped in a laid out the most glorious flowers I have ever seen; they came from local farms Van Dyk Brothers, Rose Meadow Farm, and Fiori di Fenice Flowers. Next to a hobnail jar for each attendee there were orange and purple tulips laid out in neat rows. Pink anemones, orange roses, and various other kinds of tulips waited to be chosen as accents in what would soon be arrangements. There was an explosion of color in the fading afternoon light.
The workshop began with an introduction to the industry in which they elaborated on some of the reasons to know where your flowers come from. One that stood out to me: women make up over half of the floral workforce and are especially vulnerable to harassment and low pay. In addition, back-breaking conditions and pesticide poisoning plague the industry; refrigeration and shipping of flowers from across the globe creates a huge carbon footprint as compared to locally-grown in-season varieties.
Following introductions, Deborah demonstrated how to create a tape grid and measure flower height for arrangements. Rachel and Molly discussed the merits (or lack thereof) of plant supplements and cutting stems under cold water. Short version: it probably won't make a difference. There was agreement all around about changing the water (ideally) daily or at least every few days to discourage bacterial growth, which is what ultimately kills your flowers.
After a few more insider tips (no leaves below the waterline), the arranging began. Just as in the flower crown class, the room quieted down as everyone concentrated on cutting and creating. Out of the similar materials came different styles and aesthetics. Some left their tulips droopy while others used the grid to stand them upright. Color schemes, heights, and fullness varied. After some time and some guidance from the pros, everyone left with an arrangement that reflected their personality. On the way out, they grabbed a seed packet from Gloria B. Collins, another Slow Flowers florist upstate.
I'm so grateful for the opportunity to share these wonderful women and what they do with you and with those who attended Bloom. I think this is an important topic to share and learn more about. Molly Culver said, "We were so inspired by our participants' interest in celebrating local flowers and supporting the local farmers that grow them. We were also so happy to collaborate with another kindred florist, Rachel Gordon of Taproot, as we, at Molly Oliver Flowers, really believe we need to work together to re-grow a strong local flower industry, from field to vase."
I want to thank Rachel of Taproot Flowers and Molly and Deborah of Molly Oliver Flowers for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their knowledge of local flowers. I also want to thank Debra Prinzing of Slow Flowers for her support and guidance. Thanks to Ariana of Mode Marteau — her studio was again our beautiful venue and provided gorgeous natural light. Thank you to the NYC Ethical Writers Alden, Emma, Juliette, and Jacquelyn for their support and help with the event. Florist Gloria B. Collins provided attendees with seed packets to take home. And thank you to everyone who attended!