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Engineered To Fail Part 1: Filling Big Foot's Footprint

Nothing has quite the immediacy of planned obsolescence that cut flowers do. A fancy phone may be designed to crap out in a few years. The arrangement you snagged on your way to the check-out line in Costco? Engineered to fail after a few days.

Photo: Ranunculus in Salmon, a high demand color for 2022

Hybridizers, in turn, are churning out new varieties in trendy colors year after year; which, while vital to a sustainable floral industry (more on why this is true later), contributes to the perceived obsolescence of acquired rootstock and seed--despite older varieties' continued functionality. And don't get me started on the MLM-esque monetization of the dream of flower farming...but that's our next discussion.

Today we'll start here--At the convenience of the grocer's bouquet - bright and within arm's reach. It has added instant panache to innumerable dinner tables, quickly snagged along with the meal's ingredients to your guests' delight.

Photo: Koko Loko Rose, very popular mauve-taupe color for 2022

While we all became more aware of the harm of Fast Fashion and the true cost of trendy, inexpensive clothes; even the most informed of us may not have considered the human and ecological cost of imported flowers. I know I didn't, not really. I understood 'buy local,' especially from a food perspective. And obviously bouquets at the farmers' market fell under 'casually-do-more-good purchases,' but only happened when we visited the markets for other needs. Support local businesses, right? But the grower behind the stems isn't the only reason to avoid imported stems.

Beyond shopping local to support small businesses in our community, we need to eliminate all of our single-use goods that have a negative carbon footprint. And hot damn does that include imported cut flowers. The footprint of that imported rose flown on refrigerated airliners and shipped on refrigerated trucks is bigger than Big Foot. How big? In 2018 imported roses just from Colombia to the US produced 360,000 metric tons of CO2., equivalent to an estimated 78,000 cars' totaled annual output. And that is just the air transport, not the greenhouse and ground transport carbon costs.

Let's sit with that for a moment. 2 countries, 1 holiday, and it is the carbon equivalent to all the people driving across the West Seattle Bridge for an entire year. Fucking yikes. But cut flower purchases can be carbon positive--and have huge benefits for our necessary insect populations when done LOCALLY.

Peony Photos: Etched Salmon, a trending variety with stunning color and shape; Duchesse de Nemours, one of the best white varieties for cut flower work, well-known to stores and florists/designers; Festiva Maxima, an outstanding-quality heirloom variety with gentle flashes of magenta that holds both strong cut flower value and is sentimental to many who grew up with it in family gardens.

So how do we shift awareness of imported single-use blooms with a short-shelf life and a giant carbon footprint--when they are economically and visually so attractive? A dozen velvety red roses for $12 cash is hard to compete with when the rest of the cost is invisible. How do we move from the fast lane back to Slow Flowers? And do so without losing momentum for this industry and art form that crosses many disciplines; provides us with comfort, joy, and support; and has the potential to significantly benefit our climate?

American Grown Flowers, Slow Flowers Society, and many other organizations and PSA-hashtags are out here lobbying and doing the hard work of education on the ways to become part of the solution with more momentum than I can give you. But I can offer some quick tips to make it easy and convenient since you're already here and have invested time in reading this soap box rant of a blog:

  • If you're grocery shopping, it's as easy as looking for the AGF logo when you grab your casual bunch or weekly bouquet. Stores like Whole Foods and Wegman's sell flowers in sleeves that have their logo. If you think of buying local in terms of climate impact, this is a fantastic option that can keep your blooms approachable in price.

  • If you're ordering a special bouquet to express love or sympathy, or want something unique for yourself; you can visit the Slow Flowers website to find florists in the area who have pledged to source a very high percentage of local, seasonal flowers. Flowers from high quality florists do cost a premium, but there are a couple very good reasons for this:

    1. Florists/designers pay growers the most per stem and have the highest quality standards resulting in stems that are better quality, size, color, and appeal;

    2. Florists/designers are masters of their trade and are botanical artists resulting in arrangements that are unique to you and them, not mass-produced or machine bunched (We need efficiency at times, but humans truly thrive on and around artistry);

    3. Florists that buy local have blooms that last substantially longer than imported flowers. This allows you to have flowers twice as long while simultaneously supporting multiple interconnected, hyper-local businesses. Go you!

    4. The best reason: Using a source like Slow Flowers means that you get to have your petals and smell the roses too. Buying local is the best way to sustain the floral industry and allow growers like myself to work on ensuring our flowers are not just carbon neutral, but carbon positive and low or zero waste.

It really is that simple a shift. All the pieces are in place except for awareness and habituation. Look for domestically grown flowers when you can. Opt for them at grocery stores, farmer's markets, and florists. Stop buying imported cut flowers.

As a grower, my part is like-wise simple and not demanding. I chose a main crop that is effectively a very fancy potato and requires just 1 shallow till at planting time to produce abundant blooms for literal decades with minimal resources. Peonies are the ultimate in sustainability and carbon sequestration! Additionally, I planned for them to do this in a way that was climate-forward and soil-first. Our goal is that anytime you bring one of our flowers into your business or home, it fulfills the emotional and artistic niche that only flowers can and in the same breath, brings in fresh, clean air.

It can be done, growers and floral purchasers are doing it, and you are now a part of it too. So thank you!

Author: Tinuviel Lathrop, Vashon Peony Co.


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Hi Tinuviel Just as you discussed in the blog post - Did you see this article in the NYTimes today by Margaret Renkl? I am copying an excerpt from it here (I hope that is not illegal). I like the CSA for flowers concept though it sounds a tad complicated for the flower farmer. Good luck with all that grows on your farm!

Margaret Renkl.....

Still, the very best environmental alternative to a bouquet of imported flowers probably isn’t a potted plant or even paper flowers. The best alternative, I would argue, is a local flower farm, ideally one that operates according to regenerative farming principles. It’s possible to support sustainable flowers through gift cards, retail sales at farmers’ m…

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