I enjoy sharing information about our farms and flowers. In fact, the CCFC has helped to coordinate two Open House events (Carpinteria & Monterey) to help more people learn about our farms, meet the farmers and learn where flowers come from. I also get requests to speak to groups on the subject of flowers and flower farming. I enjoy those opportunities.
However, the #1 question that I get asked when I get done speaking is, “Where can I find your flowers?”
This is a great and supportive question, but one that strikes at the heart of the issue facing the future of America’s flower farmers and their flowers.
The issue is access.
Why is it so hard to find American Grown Flowers today?
The answer is accessibility.
I recently spoke about this issue to a group of special guests during a “Field to Vase” dinner event in Portland, Oregon where I shared three reasons that continue to keep people from having more access to more American Grown Flowers.
#1 Federal Trade Policy
If you really want to dig into understanding why approximately 80% of flowers sold in the United States are imported, then you’ll want to better understand U.S. Trade Policy with Colombia and Ecuador. The decisions made in Washington DC to help cultivate a powerful flower growing region in Ecuador and Colombia has had a tremendous impact on flower farmers in the United States. In 1991 the Andean Trade Preferences (& Drug Eradication) Act, was a turning point for the U.S floral industry, providing duty free access to flowers imported from Andean nations. From this date forward, we have witnessed a dramatic shift in marketshare and a tremendous increase in imported flowers now coming from Colombia and Ecuador. Most people have no idea that this took place.
In 1991 there were over 500 flower farming families in California, now there are less than half that. And, sadly, California’s remaining farm numbers are much better than those of other states. If 80% of the approximately $1.2b in farmgate flower production are imports, what needs to be done to bring that production back to the United States?
Federal Trade Policy has had a big impact on the public’s access to American Grown Flowers.
I can speak from first hand experience here, but before I took this position with the Commission, I knew very little about flowers or where they came from. How would I have known to know? There isn’t some big campaign that we grew up with, telling us to buy American Grown. We didn’t get taught floriculture in school (at least I didn’t and neither did anyone I knew). Only one NY Times best seller has ever tackled this subject, Flower Confidential, published six years ago. The knowledge about where flowers come from, where they are grown, just doesn’t exist. In fact, we had a omnibus survey done to help us understand how big the “knowledge” problem was and learned that 74% of people do not know where flowers come from. Honestly, I’m impressed that 26% do!
So, if there isn’t any knowledge out there about flowers and where they are grown, how are people supposed to know to ask for what they really want?
There is not enough access to knowledge about the flower business and where flowers come from.
I think this issue hurts our farms the most.
So, we know we have a lot of imports, we know people don’t know much about where they come from, but both of those two issues could easily be addressed if flowers sold were given a sense of origin. Over the past twenty years (since the Andean Trade Preferences were passed), little to nothing has been done to change how the flower industry promotes flowers. Marketing has changed. We see big box retailers selling flowers now and lots of online companies, but very little in the way of promoting the flowers themselves, what they are, where they grew, who grew them. None of that has been really done.
In fact, very few retailers focus on the issue of origin when it comes to marketing their flowers to their customers.
There are a lot of issues surrounding this one issue, but just imagine if all cut flowers were required to have a label of origin on them… American Grown, Grown in Colombia, Grown in Ecuador… Wouldn’t that help consumers?
The obscurity of where flowers come from is a real problem for people who would prefer to access American Grown flowers.
So What’s the Solution?
We are working hard to help address this issue of access. Our recent dinner in Portland was an example of the Commission’s work to address this problem. There are far more people who seek this access for locally grown flowers than are being served today and it’s a tremendous opportunity for those of us who simply want to help.
One solution, is labeling. Our farms need to label their flowers. Retailers need to label their flowers. Consumers need to look for and buy these labeled flowers. We have a growing group of California farms using the “CA Grown” label and it’s working. However, more must be done.
Debra Prinzing’s books “The 50 Mile Bouquet” and “Slow Flowers” have also been points of inspiration for drawing people attention to this issue of access. She recently launched a new podcast that I believe will help improve people’s knowledge about the American Grown Movement for flowers. In fact, her website www.slowflowers.com is dedicated to connecting consumers with retailers that ensures people can find the flowers they are looking for.
And more solutions are in the works. The bottom-line: we know what the problem is and the job ahead is to simply help educate those who want to make sure that the flowers on their tables are as local as the food on their plate.
Are the flowers on your table as local as the food on your plate?
Have you ever asked where your flowers were grown?