Flowers: a social crop

I just finished truly a game-changing book for me:

The Third Plate by Dan Barber. I decided to order it when one of my farm mentors mentioned it was life changing for him--and he's farmed for 40 some odd years! I got it over the holidays and thought I would sit down and consume it in a matter of days. But somehow, like good food, I soon learned it was a book to be savored. About a month later I've finished it. I couldn't finish it in one gulp because every chapter, every page even filled me with so many thoughts and ideas, I had to slow down and contemplate it.

I won't do it the injustice of trying to summarize it. Instead I wanted to write about one of its more important points: about the culture of agriculture. Barber isn't the first to write about this. But something about his phrase "a social crop" is still ringing in my heads. He used it to describe wheat, but I was left thinking, are flowers a social crop?

I have a confession to make. I love my flowers, deeply so. But I have often felt uncomfortable growing and promoting something non-edible. I do grow veggies too, formerly with Fresh City Farms and for my own family, but I decided to focus in on flowers, to try something different and try to fill what I felt was a gaping hole.

I know that I state this often, but  70-80% of the flowers we purchase have been grown overseas. I think Ontario might be slightly better--we have a larger growing community in Niagara--but  it's strange to think about its lost presence on the landscape. This has a range of impacts. Less flowers grown mean less farmers growing them. This undermines the stability of rural communities. It gives less variety and fresh options to local buyers and designers. Its sort of odd, thinking how amazingly supportive the province is of local food, but at 99% of weddings--big traditional community events that literally create new families and connections--won't have local flowers. With so many people and organizations devoted to the local food movement and to good farming, somehow flowers are being left  out.

I also contemplate, while staring after acre upon acre of soy and corn in Ontario, how flowers are missing from our greater ecological community. I know many of the flowers I grow aren't native, but I do see how flowers can benefit pollinators. This is only anecdotal, but when I walked through my small plots in high summer, I can hear the hum. Flowers, in general, are also great for attracting beneficial insects. I have seen several types of spiders for instance--some as big as quarters. I like to think how my flowers could be benefiting the other farmers at Fresh City. This also reverberates through the food chain, the birds eating the insects, and so forth.

Going back to the community aspect, when people purchase my flowers at a market or use them in their wedding, I like to think of where they end up, how they might brighten people's days, and lend to the beauty of space or event. People bring flowers to dinner parties, flowers are given at birth--and at death, and they are sold at market that bring neighbors and friends together. Flowers brought my friend Aviva Coopersmith of Herb N' Meadow and I together to partner in our flower growing dreams this summer. It has introduced me to photographers, designers, and artists. I hope this year it will bring me together to share my knowledge of growing in workshops for people to grow in their own backyards. Flowers have brought me into the intimate lives of strangers helping them envision a extremely special and some would say sacred ritual: marriage.

Photo from Hush Hush Photography

Photo from Hush Hush Photography

Flowers have also opened the door for me to a community of people who love flowers best: flower farmers. Mainly through social media I've connected to flower farmers all around the world who share their triumphs, knowledge, struggles, and advice, freely and openly. It's a tremendous community. At Fresh City, I have found this community in miniature. We work, eat, laugh, and sometimes cry together as we test the waters of organic growing more seriously. We gently tend to each others fragile dreams of doing the seemingly impossible: becoming awesome organic farmers.

I know that flowers don't feed the body, but I do believe they feed the spirit. Their beauty has the power to relieve depression, decrease stress, recall memories, and ease pain.

Now, I believe that flowers can feed community too. Dan Barber's book has helped me see that.

I know in the future flowers will not be my only crop--I'm far too addicted to amazing tasting food to miss out on growing vegetables and grains. I also yearn to have a relationship with animals again--even if I just have a small herd of ducks some day. I do feel confident now saying that I believe flowers are not just for the elite or only to be considered a luxury or frivolous. I feel for certain they are an essential piece of a larger agricultural landscape and a brighter future.

Resources

These are the books and websites that inspire and inform my work and some thoughts on each. As I continue with my work, I will add to this list. Enjoy!

Books

Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

I believe the subheading says it all. This book is an encompassing look at the larger floral industry--from the plants to the growers to the designers to the consumer. The author gives a critical, but unbiased view that's founded in a love for flowers. I found Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 particularly enlightening for considering growing conditions in Central America and for the true costs of shipping.

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants

I cannot say enough positive things about this book. It's very approachable, but still scientific, citing several studies. The indexes alone are worth it--to see what plants attract which butterflies/moths.

Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation

Don Leopold taught at the university where I completed my masters. I kick myself now that I didn't become his groupie and absorb more of his native plant knowledge. This is my go to book for native plants.

The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers

This book was one of my early inspirations for flower farming. Its a gorgeous, photograph heavy book thats a nice introduction into the world of local flowers.

The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers

A.K.A the bible for new growers.

Speciality Cut Flowers

A pretty thorough technical guide to growing cut flowers, in field and greenhouse settings. A must for commericial growers.

Grow Your Own Cut Flowers

For the home grower or future flower farmer, Raven's book is bright and beautiful.

Fresh From the Fields Wedding Flowers

Great for couples to be inspired by local flowers for their wedding. Lots of photos, how-tos, and even videos for DIY.

Cool Flowers

Good tips for pushing the limits of hardy annuals--good info for growing in the north.

The Flower Recipe Book

Great for some flower inspiration and beginning arranging skills. 

The Market Gardener

This book has been my primer for the last 2 seasons and event though its specifically about vegetable production, it has a lot of carryover.

The Lean Farm

This is a new one for 2016 and I'm very intrigued and excited to apply its ideas to my production. Its based on the Japanese concept of Lean manufacturing, creating by Toyota. However, its concept is not restricted to manufacturing and gives a lot of insight in how to run a business more efficiently and effectively. 

Mary Oliver: New and Selected Poems

My inspiration for all things growing, beautiful, complex, scary, and sacred. Her words are etched in my mind and never fail to inspire.

Finding Beauty in a Broken World

(and anything basically by Terry Tempest Williams)

My other idol and inspiration, Terry Tempest Williams, an American environmentalist who's words guide my life.

Websites

Floret Flowers Blog

A west coast virtual mentor and inspiration. Erin shares invaluable production information and has beautiful photos to boot.

Love n Fresh

My east coast virtual mentor.

Saipua

My biggest source for design inspiration and my favorite blog to read.

Pyrus Flowers

A Scottish source for flower art inspiration.

Slow Flowers Podcast

The podcast that looks at the local flower movement around the world.

Field to Vase: Pricing Primer

Jennie Love on Field to Vase talking shop and a funny and yet important reason why to pick local flowers for your wedding.

ASCFG

The place to be if your a cut flower nerd.

Growing for Market

The place to be if your a smaller, sustainable grower.