As a gardener, I appreciate the talent and passion of countless flower farmers I've met and interviewed all around the country. They take care to tend and harvest gorgeous flowers, season by season. They preserve farmland and stimulate economic development in rural areas. They provide jobs in their communities and preserve an important piece of our nation's agricultural heritage.
Yet I am saddened—and a bit confused—to learn that 80 percent of cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from other continents. It doesn't make sense to me to purchase a perishable (and some would argue luxury) product that travels on a jumbo jet to get to the grocery store or florist near me. With the high quality, seasonal and sustainably grown blooms that domestic farms bring to the marketplace, I keep asking: How can this be? The answers are complex, but the bottom line is that unless we, as consumers, act with intention to source our flowers from U.S. farms, we are in danger of losing the agricultural heritage, heirloom varieties and horticultural knowledge that has existed in our country for generations.
The more American flower farmers I meet, the more eager I am to share their stories. Through my books (“The 50 Mile Bouquet” and “Slow Flowers”) and articles, lectures and workshops, I endeavor to put a face on the men and women behind the bouquets that symbolize love, celebration and other human sentiments. I even started the "Slow Flowers Podcast" to give American flower farmers a voice.
Many people want to know where their food comes from; similarly, we should be asking where our flowers come from. Gradually, the floral industry is making the connection between beautiful roses, sunflowers, peonies and dahlias they love to use and the farms and people who grow each stem.
When I speak to audiences or the media, the inevitable question arises: "Okay, I understand why it is important to save American flowers. But how do I find a florist who I can trust to use domestic, local or seasonal ingredients?"
I've concluded that, like me, many people want assurances about the origins of the flowers they purchase. Without proper labeling, it has not been easy to locate American flowers or the people who grow and design with them.
Earlier this year, I compiled a list of the country's best florists, studios, designers and shops that use local and seasonal flowers. I shared that information in a free online directory called Slowflowers.com. In just six months, Slowflowers.com has grown into a nationwide resource that lists more than 400 American floral vendors in 48 states, plus many suppliers who direct-ship American-grown flowers and floral decor coast-to-coast.
Whether we make a Thanksgiving centerpiece with flowers harvested and arranged from our own gardens or hang an American grown (and crafted) holiday wreath on our mantel or front door, my sentiment of the season is this: Keep your flowers as local as your food. Be thankful for the farmer who grows those blooms and honor the farmland from which they are harvested.
Debra Prinzing is a Seattle-based outdoor living expert, author of 10 books on gardening and landscape design and the leading advocate for American grown flowers. She’s the creator of Slowflowers.com, the free, online directory to American grown flowers, coast-to-coast. Any of her books would make a great gift for your significant other. Check them out!