My wish for local flowers

March 11, 2023

Anyone who has been following my business knows how I feel about local flowers. If you don’t know, let me reiterate my wish for local flowers. I LOVE local flowers. My company has been committed to buying American Grown flowers and foliage for many reasons: 

1) The product is fresher, generally cut into fresh water and held in a cooler for less time than imported flowers (which have been stored in a box and shipped across the world).

 2) There is way more variety, because big wholesalers are focused on growing the types of flowers that can withstand shipping out of water.

My favorite, “less sturdy” floral varieties often can’t be found with larger big box wholesale distributors, and if I can find those delicate blooms, they often don’t arrive in very good shape. But, local flower farms can and do grow much more interesting blooms and those unique — and more delicate flowers make all the difference in my designs!

3) There is an amazing sense of community when you buy from a local farmer. They get to know me and I get to see where my flowers are grown and nurtured. I meet the people who grow and care for my materials.  With enough notice, I can even request that they grow certain flowers, and bloom palettes, in time for my future events!

4) I am supporting a local business and the development of agricultural growth because when I put money back into the local flower movement, those farms are better equipped to expand and develop a stable and more reliable local supply chain, which is good for my business AND the local economy. 

5) I am reducing my carbon footprint because my sourcing radius is smaller, eliminating my reliance on flowers that arrive in this country by plane.

6) It is safer because local flowers generally use less toxic herbicides and pesticides. In fact, before they cross the border, imported flowers are routinely sprayed with chemicals that are strictly forbidden from use in this country. Because flowers are not consumables, they are not regulated or inspected for toxicity when they arrive here.

Floral designers touch these flowers every day and are chronically exposed to toxins that are carcinogenic and unsafe. I never feel like I need gloves when I am working with local flowers!

These core values are baked into everything I do as a business owner, and they guide how I buy flowers, as well as hard goods, and they also guide how I make relationships in my local market! For more on Slow Flowers, click here.

So with these values in mind, it’s a no-brainer that I buy as many flowers as I can from the 15+ local flower farms in the DC Metro area. I’m so lucky to have so many farms nearby, and I’m sure when people first hear that I have access to these farms, they probably think, “What could possibly be the problem here?” Maybe it isn’t a problem per se, but it is still challenging for my business and here’s why.

Long before a wedding happens, I make a pre-order to a farm. I have to pick just one to make the pre-order, which means I’m forced to pick a “favorite” or one that I want to try to give the most business to.

I hate this part the most, because I have to guess which farm or co-op will have the most of what I’ll need for that wedding.

I send them a list of everything I think I’ll need, in the quantities I think I’ll need, even though I know that the order will likely change, because every client revises their order at least a little before the final payment.

If I can, I generally try to start with the farm that is closest to my studio. I love to visit the farm personally whenever possible, because I like to have personal relationships with the farmers and also I can save myself the delivery fee. 

But here’s the challenge, I usually don’t find out whether or not everything on my pre-order list is available until the week prior to the wedding.  Once I know how much of my order is confirmed, I’m then left with a smaller list of items not available — and I attempt to find them elsewhere. I choose the next farms to buy from; again, by which farm has the most of what I still need.  It’s always a struggle because my order is now quite small and often, it is getting split over several other farms and I don’t always meet the farm’s delivery minimums.  I might end up buying smaller amounts from multiple farms to get what I need (and if I don’t meet the delivery minimums, I may end up having to drive to multiple farms to pick them up – hugely inefficient!). Visiting one farm is really fun and I like building those relationships, but visiting multiple farms (while I am happy to see everyone!), ends up taking up the whole day! 

So for me the choice becomes: 1) Drive all over God’s green earth picking up flowers all day, or 2) pay multiple delivery fees to get all the small orders delivered to me. (To be clear, I’m not complaining about the fees because the drivers certainly deserve them. I’m mentioning them from the standpoint that they just add up quickly when you have 4 or 5 farms delivering each week.) 

Additionally, some farm’s availability lists are selling out of the most “desirable” wedding colors in a matter of hours, which is a great problem to have, I suppose, but it definitely makes it more stressful! Sprinkled into this is having to come up with what I think will be good substitutions for what I had originally planned to use (due to fast sell-outs).  While I’m committed to using the most locally grown florals as I can, the ordering process for each weekend can be pretty stressful, not to mention my time spent outside the studio, driving to multiple farms all over the state to pick up smaller orders.  Needless to say, I’m already tired, and my season hasn’t started yet. The truth is, while local farms are trying to level up their flower sales through Co-ops, online ordering, and delivery … it is still too fragmented to make it the most cost effective and convenient option for any floral business. As things stand currently, you have to be pretty committed to the environment and the local flower movement to exclusively source locally. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s actually more inconvenient for me to buy the local flowers I love. And it most certainly costs me time (and by extension, money) to navigate the current state of affairs.

The reality is that any florist in the DC Metro area who has any interest in buying local flowers is experiencing the same thing. We are spending way too much time driving to pick up product, either because we’ve had to split our orders over multiple farms and don’t meet delivery minimums, or because it is not sustainable to pay 5 delivery fees every single week to buy from so many farms.

I can see where this may have started to sound a little complain-y, and I want to say that this isn’t my intention. I love local flowers and I will continue to buy them and will continue to navigate this hot mess because it matters that much to me. But, surely there must be a better way. I’ve written this because I think it is the duty of people who are selling a product to know who you are selling to, to know what they need, and what would help them to buy more of it.

I can only speak for myself, but I would give absolutely ANYTHING to have ONE place to go, where I could see all of the available local product, purchase the items I need, know the farm that grows it, be able to ask questions of the farmer if needed, and then either drive to pick it all up from one place, or pay to have it all delivered at one time.

Attempts have been made at creating something like this but the truth is that none of them have been successful. All we’ve ended up with is multiple co-ops and collectives and farms to buy from. We are a large metropolitan area with so many talented designers and so many talented farmers growing beautiful things in our nation’s capital. What would it look like if all of our farmers sold their product in one place (rather than spending their time delivering small orders all over the area)? What would it look like if all of our designers bought their local product in one place (rather than spending their time picking up their orders all over the area)? Would farms sell out of their flowers? Probably. Would designers buy more local product? Probably. Would everyone save time, money and energy? Definitely.

Now look, I absolutely cannot pretend to know all the ins and outs of how this would get set up. There would obviously be costs involved to pay the administrative and location costs of setting up such a thing. I’m sure these details are part of why such a thing doesn’t already exist. I’m sure that there is a lot of fear that comes with trying new things. What I do know is that time is something we all want more of, which makes our time valuable. I know that I, and many others, would be willing to pay a slightly higher price per stem for the convenience of shopping in one place. That gives me my time back. Isn’t this something at least worth talking about? Can we at least start a conversation about it? This is my wish for local flowers.

**P.S. In the meantime, whether we do or do not talk about this, I’ll still be coming to all y’all’s farms to buy all these beautiful flowers. Because no matter what, that’s my #1 priority. Whether I’ve ruffled your feathers by writing this or not, please know that I’m not angry. I’m tired, and I’m pushing for change and the betterment of our beautiful flower community that I love so much. With this many people that I KNOW care so much, we have an opportunity to create something important here, and set an example for other cities all over the country.**