There is a bewildering mass of buzzwords hanging around floriculture that veer from substantive practice to solely marketing. As a consumer and new farmer, parsing out technology from terminology consumes a ton of my time, especially when vendors are intentionally vague. The benefits to adopting trending buzzwords that may (or may not) indicate underlying practice is huge for small farms, growers, nurseries, and florists.
~Local. Organic. Sustainable. Regenerative. Family-Owned. Women-Owned. American Grown.~
These are just a few important ones that currently help flower farmers access markets and premium prices. They can be used to reach: florists working to improve their own methods; consumers focusing on more ethical purchase efforts; or to craft a concept that boosts niche farm products or book sales. The "gorgeous longer-lasting bouquet direct from the local farm you drive by" and "the perfect blond woman with an armload of perfect flowers revealing that you too can have the idyll of flower farming", are both prevalent today and if you've scanned any media or magazines, you've undoubtedly noticed them.
It's important to understand that adopting trending terms is non-negotiable for small flower farms. The momentum behind buzzwords is either 1) a marketing tool to secure our limited domestic market or 2) a way to ensure best practice methods are adopted widely by farms. At best, these words push us to do better and at worst they become barriers to entry for marginalized or disadvantaged farmers. Much of starting VPC has been developing an understanding of not just pricing and markets, but also what terminology matches to which practice and which align with our core values. Confused yet? I am.
BUT WHY IS IT NON-NEGOTIABLE??
If farms in Holland can sell peonies in the US at under .50 cents per stem profitably, but profit in Washington starts at $2.00 per stem and our seasons overlap, WA peony farmers need to know and be able to communicate why florists and consumers should buy our much more expensive product. Is it really worth it? Is a peony just a peony? Which buzzwords matter, why, and what do they mean? Most importantly, as a major plant purchaser--which ones do I care about?
I care about reducing shipping. First, mitigating the international shipping of cut flowers. All those resources allocated for a temporary commodity seems....well, not great!
Second, mitigating unnecessary or avoidable shipping of plant/seed/farming materials.
I think about this objective every day as I plan, buy, build, grow, and sell.
For us, Certified American Grown is a worthwhile expense. As is identifying floral shops that try hard to buy locally where possible, such as the Slow Flower Society. Sometimes, we miss the mark. Like this year.
Wait, what happened? . . .
Well, I knew that the majority of our peony stock would be international--shipped in a huge bulk order from Europe to Chicago and then directly to us from there after being divided amongst a bunch of growers. Although we did try to source peony stock locally, we also felt that having a guarantee of health for plants with a 25+ year production span was worth the shipping hit to our major objective.
We worked hard to eliminate as much shipping as possible from all our other plant purchases. This restricted our access to different varieties, but mostly we were able to get great quality plant materials from large and small vendors in Washington or nearby states. Sage Creations in CO is a woman-owned and operated organic lavender farm headed by Paola Legarre. They are our exclusive lavender supplier, shipping us over 2,300 plugs started at her farm to create the border around VPC. Handpicked Homestead, headed by Erin, is a hyper-local flower farm on Vashon specializing in Dahlias as both cut flowers and locally-sold tubers, all of which come from stock trialed and grown on their farm. I feel great about buying from them!
Our fails came at seeds and roses. Two vendors we purchased from presented as local, woman-owned farms producing their seed or rootstock for sale, without clear delineation between their farm products and their pass-through nursery products. They flashed key buzzwords and glitzy marketing (among other heavy sales push tactics) that I used as shortcuts to avoid the work of investigating. Bad farmer, no flower!
Initially, I felt great about supporting a small farm for our rose purchases this year, until I opened the bags and it became evident that the rootstock was sourced from a different, much larger farm and never touched their soil. When contacted, they admitted that not all rootstock sold was from their farm, but were unable/unwilling to disclose which purchased varieties were from another location or what percentage they sold were pass-through plants. The issue isn't the rootstock or nurseries acting as nurseries, but that the marketing for the roses was intentionally misleading. I could easily have ordered our roses directly from that large facility using a broker; reducing not only shipping and our costs, but also the storage time and stress for the rootstock.
When 2 of the 15 roses we purchased failed to come out of dormancy, the company refused to replace or refund them despite clear evidence of proper care for them. At that point, I felt even more that in some aspects, "flower farming" is the new MLM get-rich quick scheme. It's an unfair feeling for the many valid and excellent nurseries/ farm-nursery operations in the Pacific Northwest, of which we are one. But it is definitely a worrisome pattern piggy-backing off of the quite literal hard ground-work of others.
Generally speaking, buying local is better. Better product, better quality, better service, better conservation of critical resources, you name it. Asking questions to dig at the practice behind the buzzwords is exhausting and largely defeats the objective of getting these spendy and time-consuming certifications in the first place. As an introvert/hermit/recluse, I would rather chew broken glass than call or talk to people most of the time, but I can say that anyone who is proud of their production and operation can answer a million questions about it without thinking and they're usually very interesting humans to chat with simply because they love what they do so much. If you take any dahlia tuber grown and divided on Vashon Island at Handpicked Homestead, you can follow its growth and its harvested flowers all the way to the local farm stand or florist and finally onto a local dinner table. Walk into Herban Bloom on Vashon Island, WA and they will happily detail for you the woman behind those amazing bath salts, or which Island farm those stunning double carmine-colored tulips came from. Order delivery of a luscious bouquet from The Fernseed in Tacoma and they can share what percentage of their flowers are local and which exact farms they are purchasing from. It feels good to buy from them!
At the end of any season, that which we call a rose (or peony or dahlia)(or a farmer or nursery or grower), may smell just as sweet as its buzzword-by-passing counterpart, but if you care, please know that we will work to help grow, supply, and support local flowers. Imperfectly. But with continued effort.