One of the primary objectives of the California Cut Flower Commission has been and continues to be to promote the virtues and values of California Grown flowers. However, in a country where, over the course of the past 30 years, approximately 80% of the flowers being sold in the U.S. are now being imported from places like Colombia and Ecuador, the task of educating a consuming public as to the benefits of buying locally grown blooms seemed nearly impossible just 3 years ago.
However, as they say, the one thing you can always count on is change.
With the growing popularity of farmers markets through out the country, U.S. consumer food safety concerns rising, the Slow Food movement and increasing demand for Made in America products, it now appears that the consumer’s desire for their flowers to be as local as their food may have been just a matter of time.
And like any popular movement of significant consumer interest, certain individuals or change agents are recognized as early adopters and champions for such change. What individuals or personalities come to mind when you think of the “Farm to Table,” “Sustainable Agriculture” or “American Grown” movements?
So, its with great appreciation that we see are seeing these same change agents rising to the challenge to champion the cause for locally grown, American Grown, flowers. At such an early stage of this growing movement for American Grown Flowers, there isn’t any kind of formal organization or association where we can find a list of these individuals. So, I thought I would share the three people who come to my mind when I think of the current champions for change in the floral industry.
This list is in no way exhaustive. I know there are more passionate American Grown flower advocates out there. Just yesterday, I received an email from a person who wanted me to get to know two other champions for locally grown flowers. Of course, I’m looking forward to getting to know them too, but here are the three people I think everyone should know today:
J Schwanke – uBloom.com
J Schwanke’s history and experience in the industry makes him a natural front runner in the early adoption of the locally grown movement for flowers. Born at a floral convention in Nebraska and a recent recipient of the Tommy Bright Lifetime Achievement Award, J has a rich personal and professional history in the floral industry. So, in 2010 when J set out to do an online video series with the California Cut Flower Commission to document the cut flower farming community of California, the work project became more of a personal passion. Hearing first hand the stories and circumstances California’s flower farmers faced amidst the flood of cheap imports from South America over a twenty year period, J has gone from a professional promoter to a personal advocate for all domestic cut flower farmers. And its not just about California’s farmers, J just completed a video series featuring Florida’s fern growers which debuted this summer.
Debra Prinzing – Author, “The 50 Mile Bouquet” & “Slow Flowers”
Ironically, I first met Debra Prinzing while at a trade show in Florida. It was by phone and she had called to interview me for an LA Times article she was writing on Valentine’s Day. I do a lot of these types of interviews, so there was no way that I could have known that this particular person I was speaking to would go on to publish two books that strike at the heart of encouraging people to think more locally when it comes to flowers. Her passion for this cause appears to be unending. She has not only authored books and articles on the subject, but she has since launched a website, www.slowflowers.com, dedicated to help floral customers connect with local florists that guarantee consumers access to American Grown flowers. That is an unheard of concept in today’s cut flower market, but with consumer research showing the increasing demand for locally grown flowers, this is tool for customers to get more of what they really want.
Christina Stembel – Farmgirl Flowers
I remember a 2009 Valentine’s Day interview with the SF Chronicle where I was quoted in an article that also included a quote from the owner of a San Francisco floral shop called Farmgirl Flowers. Its not uncommon for a reporter to seek a quote from a retailer in their media market and also want a statewide perspective on the industry as a whole. What was uncommon about this particular florist was her commitment to locally grown and how she delivered their flowers to her customers…by bike. “Only in San Francisco,” I thought and I moved on. Since then, Farmgirl Flowers has become a widely known and highly successful florist in the Bay area, who has caught the attention and respect of thousands of customers for her principle commitment to California Grown flowers. Farmgirl Flowers founder, Christina Stembel and I have since shared more than just that one interview in our collaborative efforts to spread the word about the value and virtues of buying from our local flower farms. Her commitment to locally grown, American Grown and California Grown flowers makes her a renegade in the floral industry. And she’s just the person flower buyers are looking for right now.
So, again, these are the three champions that come to my mind when I think of who is leading the conversation for change when it comes to where we source our flower from. And yet I know there are more people like J, Debra and Christina out there who share the same conviction and passion for encouraging people to seek and source flowers grown in our own country.
Who else should be on this list? Is there someone you know that has a passion for sourcing American Grown flowers? Leave me their name in the comment section below.