Eco-friendly florists think locally

A flower arrangement by Christina Stembel of Farmgirl Flowers uses plants and blooms from within a 200-mile radius.

The global cut-flower industry is a multibillion-dollar business, with the United States producing only a fraction of the world’s flowers sold each year. According to the U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project, more than 80 percent of the flowers produced in Colombia are exported to the United States, and one-third of Ecuador’s yearly production is exported to the United States for Valentine’s Day.

So a little over a year ago when Christina Stembel decided to launch her locally sourced and bicycle-delivered floral service, Farmgirl Flowers, many colleagues thought it would be impossible to alter the habits of flower shoppers looking for bouquets that are inexpensive, attractive and long-lasting.

But like the organic and local food movement that has made headway in the mainstream marketplace, growers and floral designers who sell eco-friendly and organic products are winning over consumers with local, seasonal items and product labels that identify how and where plants were grown.

Field to vase

Terms like «slow flower movement» and «field-to-vase movement» are circulating now, and companies like Farmgirl Flowers and studio florists and designers such as Lila B., Flora Grubb and Max Gill are furthering the trend toward using local and seasonal flowers. Garden and design writer Debra Prinzing documents the movement in her forthcoming book, «The 50-mile Bouquet» (2012; St. Lynn’s Press).

«The California Cut Flower Commission is acting like a lobbying organization for California flower farmers, and people will have to take an activist role and ask questions about where flowers come from and how they’re grown,» says Prinzing.

Stembel believes that the timing couldn’t be better. From her own research and focus-group insights, she learned that price and design were more important than flower variety. It gave her hope that she could sway consumers from insisting on tulips in the fall and dahlias in the spring.

Five years ago, when Amy Stewart’s book «Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers» (2007, Algonquin) was published, many consumers were completely unaware that their favorite flowers travel thousands of miles, are bred to last days without water, and arrive at U.S. ports in carcinogen-laced packaging.

«Many florists were unaware of how their flowers were grown. Since my book came out, people are beginning to ask about origin, which is forcing the florist to care,» says Stewart.

Stembel, 34, set out to fix the problem by building her business on a straightforward premise: Flowers should be simple, local and beautiful. She offers one design a day based on her local growers’ seasonal offerings. Keeping bouquets beautiful is easy with the variety of living material available within her 200-mile grower radius. Prices start at $25, mainly because of limited overhead and little waste.

In fact, it was expense and waste, not a love of flowers, that first got her thinking of a floral business. Most recently director of alumni relations for Stanford Law School, Stembel often organized events that required purchasing arrangements filled with imported flowers.

«It didn’t sit well with me that the average floral display markup is 500 percent, with the smallest percentage going to growers,» she says. «I had never even thought about the waste before, and I was surprised to learn that some studies showed that 75 percent of flowers grown are never even harvested or sold.»

Growers, crops

Stembel’s Indiana farm-girl roots ground her commitment to growers and their crops. Her two main suppliers, Repetto’s Greenhouse Florist in Half Moon Bay and Neve Roses II in Petaluma, work with her on varietals and seasonal fillers such as kale and herbs.

«My design aesthetic is modern farm-fresh, and customers have been happy with the arrangements, especially next to the big four» – that big four being Teleflora,, FTD and ProFlowers, which Stembel believes can’t match her designs or ethical awareness. By cutting out overhead, Stembel is able to support local growers who are required to pay taxes and offer a living wage to their employees, unlike their South American counterparts.

A flower arrangement made by eco-minded florist Christina...Eco-minded florist Christina Stembel of Farmgirl Flowers ...Eco-minded florist Christina Stembel of Farmgirl Flowers ...
«It’s unfortunate that local flowers cost more than imported options at the San Francisco Flower Mart. But I am very adamant about keeping the $25 entry-level price point. Everyone should be able to afford to send flowers,» says Stembel.

Using recycled vases, sourced at thrift shops or donated, or bundling bouquets in repurposed Ritual Coffee Roasters burlap also helps with the bottom line. San Francisco deliveries are made via bicycle courier company Cupid Courier. Currently, delivery outside of San Francisco is limited, but Stembel says she expects that to change.

«Our goal by Mother’s Day is to have a national option, delivering as environmentally conscious as possible and using local companies for supplies and packaging.»

Eco-friendly flowers

With California growing 75 percent of the domestic trade, the Bay Area is in a sweet spot for sourcing beautiful, local and responsibly grown flowers. Check your local farmers’ market and at retail locations, look for flowers with the label Grown in California or California Certified Organic Farmers.

Some Bay Area florists and studios specializing in locally grown flowers:

Farmgirl Flowers, (415) 602-2939 or (phone or online orders only).

Flora Grubb, 1634 Jerrold Ave., S.F. (415) 626-7256.

Lila B., 2150 Folsom St., S.F. (415) 563-6681.

Max Gill Design, (510) 459-5831.

Soulflower Floral Design, (415) 971-8507.

Studio Choo (at Prairie Collective), 262 Divisadero St., S.F. (415) 624-5981.

Source / Fuente:

Author / Autor: Sophia Markoulakis

Date / Fecha: 08/02/12

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