The Locavore Anthophilous: A case for Farm to Table, the whole table.
Even the centerpiece.
I came to farming through vegetable gardening. It was the exposure to the art of bouquet making, and the overall power flowers hold in creating a diversified and ecologically sound farm system, that drew me to become a flower grower. Our first year in production, Kara, co-owner and co-operator of Vibrant Valley Farm, got married and we decided to try flower farming ourselves. We grew all of the flowers needed for her big day and had so many more we were able to start a small bouquet subscription program or CSB (Community Supported Bouquets) as well as sell our bouquets locally at Pastaworks and furnish cut flowers to New Seasons, two great grocery stores here in the Portland area. In its second season, our flower program expanded to include harvesting thousands of stems, packing them very delicately and transporting them all over the Portland metro area, now including most New Seasons locations. We are currently preparing for our third season and plan to grow hundreds of varieties of flowers and sell bouquets and wholesale cuts to individuals, restaurants, tasting rooms, florists, event planners and grocery stores.
The pace of flower production is very similar to vegetables. In the winter we plan what types we’ll grow and order seeds, in the spring, summer and fall we plant and tend to many different flowers from statice and acroclinium to mignonette and snapdragons. The flowers come in all sorts of colors, shapes and heights for mixing and matching to build dynamic bouquets.
Our flowers are grown in rows of their own and interspersed with other vegetable crops to add biodiversity and natural pest control. Flowers like sweet alyssum, sunflowers, calendula and marigolds attract and feed beneficial insects that battle pests helping to create a more healthful and diverse ecosystem on the farm. A bright summer day in the flower rows on the farm is like an orchestra with buzzing and humming of all sorts. In the morning as we cut flowers we wake bees sleeping in their petals and later in the day watch them climb into snapdragon flowers to harvest pollen.
Not only are local flowers important to the health and beauty of our farm they are also important to the health of our local economy. Most flowers in your grocery stores today are from abroad, mainly Ecuador and Columbia. Those of us concerned about our carbon footprints and the miles our food travels often don’t even think about it in terms of flowers. About 75% of flowers found in the U.S. are imported from Latin America.
Free trade agreements and the first world’s thirst for cheap flowers have destroyed food sovereignty and communities in what are now flower producing countries. Due to these trade agreements and the subsequent opportunity for massive profits by concentrating a labor intensive industry where labor can be most effectively exploited, historically subsistence farmers are often forced to grow cheap flowers reliant on pesticides, monoculture practices, and child and slave labor. The pesticides used on most imported flowers have been known to cause an array of life threatening diseases and ailments for the workers who handle them. They are literally dunked in liquid preservatives to allow for their long journeys around the world.
To learn more about the flower industry I highly recommend Amy Stewart’s Flower Confidential. She discusses the flower industry from a number of interesting perspectives: from the eccentric breeder in Humboldt County responsible for the star gazer lily as we know it (it didn’t have a straight stem before he bred it) to a laboratory obsessed with producing the first blue rose. She travels to Holland’s flower markets where a huge auction decides what’s the hottest new flower and to Ecuador where the majority of the world’s organic and nonorganic flowers are grown. She ends the book around Valentine’s Day, which is the second largest day for flowers after Mother’s Day, discussing Costco’s recent vow to support ethically grown flowers and a small floral shop in Bonny Doon, California that strictly sells locally and sustainably grown flowers, showing us a possible and brighter future.
Supporting Vibrant Valley Farm and other community growers who bring you locally and sustainably grown flowers guarantees that you are not supporting this often overlooked and corrupt industry. The beauty flowers provide, the sense of place they can help foster, and all the loving sentiment they can convey can all be had without thousands of miles of transport or a literal bevy of chemical preservers. We are excited to bring you ecologically and responsibly grown flowers. Check us out at www.vibrantvalleyfarm.com!