Hi Casey-this one’s for you and California Cut Flower Commission and Debra at Slowflowers!
**Dear friends, A little background on this post. Martha Stewart has initiated a new program whereby she is giving various US companies an American Made award. This is a super idea, however there is debate as to her criteria with one of the latest awards given to online startup BloomNation who promote local florists online directly to consumers with a tagline of “American Made”. The debate stems from the fact of American Made what? There are few to no American grown flowers or products offered by the member florists so Casey Cronquist of the California Cut Flower Commission along with American Grown programs and promoters (me too!) are questioning the decision and her program. This also opened up discussion on various areas with the industry, problems, and imported flowers in general. I have written an article of what I see and know of the industry and decided to post it on my website to also enlighten my visitors of just what is happening in the industry and to get your thoughts.
Everything you posted Casey on the CCFC blog has such merit as always-applause 🙂 so you inspired me to take the time out to write and walk the line with you. As you know, in 2001 I chose to transform my full service florist of then, over 20 years; to strictly US grown product AND to green certify the business. Was it simple? Definitely not back then-it was a time consuming fright, and still takes a concerted effort with a continued waiting game for some products. But I did succeed.
I found a half dozen or so who gladly shipped to me for our issue season in NY, winter. Some may say the carbon footprint is higher to fly in US flowers, but how much-what difference whether you fly them or the wholesale house flies them? Yes there is a footprint in every action we do every day, so whether imported or American flowers, we all have huge energy footprints in all aspects of life and business which need serious thought. You pick your battles compensating somewhere else (like the energy it takes for those giant Chinese vases many designers use to get here) and carbon insets and offsets are always a positive initiative. So in rebuttal-yes, it was possible to be strictly US grown even back then and for me, today it is second nature- and yes the s/h is higher but the quality, longevity, and scent are incomparable. (btw-I will always be thankful to Chad at Eufloria, Gerald at the then Organic Bqt, and Chastity at Mayesh for being the firsts to help me. 🙂
I see there are many reasons the flower industry has problems as to why florists/designers hesitate conforming back to American grown. Florists never had to wonder where their flowers came from, but now it takes a weekly, committed effort which most see as just one more thing to add to their already harried workday and cannot be bothered. Adding another effort is a big issue in life today as we are all overwhelmed; it is so easy to just go on and turn a blind a eye. Second, the competition and pressure for lower prices by mega corporations pushing flowers (many had direct flower contracts with various farms-even Whole Foods) is daunting. They spend millions advertising (dictating) to the consumer what to buy when, and what to pay-whether for a sympathy arrangement or grand scale wedding. With these corporate intrusions, the internet sites, the lack of expense for wage, chemical, or environmental regulations of foreign growing, a perfect climate, toss in the economy dropping in 08; it was the perfect storm. Soon every internet marketer signed up for an affiliate site to sell flowers to be filtered down to florists to fill, big box stepped in the game, and flowers by wire services ran with it all. Each promoting inexpensive, imported flowers which the farms gladly sold them as it was a money dream come true to them. The exclusivity, local grown, designer arrangements, and beauty of fresh flowers was lost to capitalism.
Surprising me after my change; I realized a full service florist on a daily basis does not need 40 (out-of-season) varieties weekly any more than people in the northeast need mangoes in January (you are on point Christina-that is not contributing to any form of sustainability), but what consumers do like is 20-30 of the freshest, seasonal, and most beautiful varieties of US grown flowers available- arranged creatively. It is all about quality, the design factor, and presentation because after all, that is what a florist does and I feel they need to get back to it. All customers, inherently do want the best quality product out there and they love creativity as well; my customers would prefer 6 US Eufloria roses over 12 SA Rio roses any day of the week. If it is US grown-they applaud it, and applaud the store even more for caring to stand up to the system to buy quality for them against a few dollars more profit. That creates a loyal customer like no other.
We should also differentiate the impact of studio designers from full service, brick & mortar florists; not by talent J but with usage. Sites like Etsy & BloomNation are wonderful for giving in-home, solo entrepreneurs exposure without having the expense and responsibility of a storefront. However, we have to understand that studio designers are not florists in the sense of the word, so are not the weekly, bulk purchasers supporting this multimillion dollar, import industry with the day to day orders. Hence, the traditional florist being the largest buyer of imported flowers, (through not all fault of their own) are the ones we need to get on track first to initiate the mindset.
I looked into BloomNation at its start-up, and quickly saw it was another avenue the likes of FTD for florists and designers but without the noose as Brooke spoke of-although not without other nooses. Also to remember, studio designers cannot participate in flowers-by-wire services without a physical storefront so this was huge for them. In an early interview, one of the founders stated they saw a gap when trying to order flowers (Which-they could have just picked up a phone …) Upon deeper research and with input from a relative florist, they learned of the huge volume of sales and easy commissions the big 3, flowers by wire services and the 1000’s of affiliate sites were generating online from florists, and how both florists and consumers were suffering and more than unhappy with them. It was, in their eyes, a small but massive, money making niche to fill and the idea was born. If they continue to do it correctly and keep the fees at minimum, it may just be-but reaching the online public is another battle, as like local florists, they don’t have anywhere near the marketing budget of its entrenched, big competitors. (Which is where offering American grown flowers is I believe one of the possible keys to saving traditional florists.)
However, for this business to be given a MS American Made award (for what Slowflowers, CCFC, and myself for example are truly trying to accomplish and BloomNation is not) seems more than a technicality at best and a huge blunder for MS. I know my industry and its products; I see the designs on BloomNation and I am also familiar with more than a few of the florists on the site and their product. With that, I can in a minute-as I am sure you Casey and Debra can determine-the product is nearly all imported. A few California OV stock & larkspur here, and some SV iris there, but not much more; excepting those florist members of course in CA flower farm areas.
BloomNation, is obviously running with the American Made tag as a slippery marketing term and I find it hard to believe that MS advisors would send her their way. But the flower industry in general is very unclear and even more mysterious to most, even those inside it. This American made designation most definitely alludes to the flowers used as US grown; but as always it will be left up to the consumer to decipher, and most likely the consumer will fall victim to the confusing insinuation as usually the case. To give them a benefit of the doubt; this may have not been their original intent (it definitely was not in the business plan I read about)-but this is how many consumers take it-as did MS. The word American should not have come into the picture, and even a slightly more ethical term would have been “designed by local, American florists”. But then again, as opposed to who? Loose flowers packed in SA and shipped? All florists in the US are both local and American who fill all the online, arranged orders anyway no matter what site an order was placed on, so the point? The real point is no middle man, affiliate site, or flowers by wire service, which this company should have been seen by MS as just a consumer direct to florist site only; and that they are not the only one out there.
The World Is All Green-Or So They Say
This is the same happening with the terms ‘natural’ ‘fair trade’ ‘green’ ‘eco friendly’ or “sustainable’. In marketing terms it is called green washing and every big corporation has jumped on the new green bandwagon as they now are attempting with American made. It is the new gold in marketing-and just another way to get consumers to their brand which they never would have started if it were not the rage. When we began seeing big energy companies making ‘clean coal’ commercials-I mean seriously now, how ridiculous is that. Which is why new regulations are pending on many of these ‘eco’ terms including the word organic. Again, this only confuses the consumer even more than they were and they don’t really know what they are buying. The same goes with SA flowers and the many original & new ‘certifications’ they have. Who polices them I ask? I am quite familiar and keep up on these certifications always hoping… (there are a lot) from Flora Verde to Rainforest Alliance and if you read the criteria (Veriflora is one of the most aggressive) you see it is very easy to do very little and be very certified something to put on the label. But regardless, even the few commercially grown flowers certified USDA organic…are still imported, and this slippery marketing is the same with BloomNation.
MS is a huge celebrity, and as many in the green arena complained when Walmart started carrying USDA organic food (from Asia), one has to look at the positive because known businesses & celebrities always give a cause a loud push of awareness. MS American made awards I agree are a very ‘good thing’ as she puts it; as are her ‘green’ show episodes and articles-however they are few. With all her promotion of non earth friendly, imported craft items, out of season recipe ingredients, paints, glues, and the list goes on…it seems just another bandwagon for her to jump on as she does not honestly seem to walk either talk in her company. (although she appears to live her personal life quite local & healthy) Giving awards like these to companies like this with obvious, little investigation or truism, just turns this ‘good thing’ to detrimental and confusing. I think MS needs help with this one Kasey. 🙂
US FarmS Lose-SA Farms Win
On another note mentioned here; over these past dozen years I have had quite a few flower representatives from SA call me in response to my activism and writing; they are very polite, they understand, they applaud my environmental efforts, they even invite me down expenses paid to see all the great things the flower industry does for their people. (which no conversation ever touched at the expense of our American farms which I get the feeling they see insignificant, as we are the ‘land of plenty’ and they do after all, buy our tractors and such?) I give them all the same response, I am so sorry for their plight but I will not change my position or my mission. As an environmentalist I feel for them and all the planet and its inhabitants; but the social, environmental, and chemical regulations are not there and even if they were, not at the expense of our own farms. There are millions of struggling poor businesses and people in the US who need help along with mind you; one of the poorest indigenous races in the world being Native Americans. As a buy local advocate, stocking imported products to sell local seems redundant. As an industry advocate, selling imported flowers at the expense of our farms seems redundant. Many florists advocate and display ‘please buy local’ signs in their windows, while with a cooler full of imported product that was delivered to them from over 50 and more miles away in a refrigerated, Toyota truck. What’s wrong with this picture? I don’t understand why they don’t understand.
Florists Can HelpThe Change to US Grown And..Sustainable Products
Unfortunately it seems when it comes to profits, trade, and the global economy, there’s no room for activism or to follow a mission. Ask the Chinese; they import next to nothing and export everything…including the flags we so proudly wave at parades. I say if those in the floral industry want to really make a difference, then take a stance with your passion and walk the talk, make the vow to at least educate and enlighten your customers; give them the facts and the positives to using American grown and the detriments of not. All flower vendors need to start carrying our premium, US flowers so people can see the quality and longevity for themselves, and more importantly to just enlighten them that flowers are imported! Wholesale houses will get a florist whatever they want as they want their business, but first the florist must ask for it. I ask all flower vendors to follow and learn from the likes of those as myself and our newest pioneers like Kasey of California Cut Flower Commission, Slowflowers, and Certified American Grown… and then, if we really want to get a crown-we need to lessen the floral foam use as that… is one the most dangerous, toxic nightmares in the industry that has silently slipped through all the cracks of warning, regulation, or recycling…buried in our soil since 1954 and still is.
Ranting through the snow….Lynn 🙂