- Arts & Lifestyle
- Special Sections
- Community Assets Directory
- Ticket Offers
How local are those flowers in the window? Part 4 of 4: A global flower economy
“In Minnesota, retail florists could not make a living only on local flowers,” said Heidi Brezinka, a sales representative for Koehler and Dramm, one of the largest flower wholesalers in the nation. “We all would be out of a job if it was only locally sustained.”
She’s right that local growers certainly don’t produce enough to supply every flower purchased in the Twin Cities. In 2010, less than 30 percent of the flowers sold in the U.S. were grown in the U.S.
In 2007, according to the national agricultural census, growers sold $711 million worth of cut flowers to retailers. Minnesota growers earned only $4.6 million. That’s 0.6 percent of farm-level floral sales.
Len Busch relies on South American flowers to stay profitable while maintaining its grow operation and its league of trucks and refrigerators. Product manager and buyer John Stoy said flowers are competing in an environment of overproduction in other regions, which drives down flower prices. Of their total sales, only 37 percent is earned off of homegrown flowers.
A change in the global flower economy is one way to encourage more local flower production. Stoy said more consumer demand would help, too. But that would require organizers of weddings and funerals to learn not to expect the entire rainbow of flowers year-round.
A deceptively simple word, “local” is a shapeshifter and a loyal servant to whichever politician employs it. Looking for sustainability? Local’s got it. Pining for a simpler past? Local will take you there. Want community? Local will build you a community. Local’s working on getting you rich.
Whole Foods began its “local” program about four years ago.
“The florist is the artist and the healer who acts as a bridge between the beauty and the joy expressed through the natural world to the individuals receiving it,” said Ryan Evans, who is bothered that the company is doing floral arrangements for events. “For a corporation to get into the business of magic frankly is not their place.”
Whole Foods stores employ local people. They buy some of their products from local growers. They sell food to local consumers. Their ownership is far away, but are they really not local?
Maybe “local” isn’t a specialized enough concept to capture the magic that Evans and many “locavores” are chasing.
Christina Cassano isn’t worried about Whole Foods. She admits that no amount of compost tea will totally erase the industry's carbon footprint. “We just do the best that we can. It’s impossible to be sustainable,” she said. Her flower shop Amelia's, she said, "is funded by my husband, who’s a Wall Street guy. No matter where you turn, you have to rely on big corporations.”
But she sees strength in small businesses that are built on human relationships. Amelia’s had no red, white, and blue bouquets on the Fourth of July. Cassano sent her most patriotic customers around the corner to Petersen Flowers, which offers a wider range of products. It wasn’t the first time she’d passed her neighbor a customer she couldn’t help.
“That’s our power as a small business,” she said. “We have to band together and use that power.”
On the day of her interview, Cassano was waiting for a call that would likely tell her her sister had died. She came to work anyways. “This is my home. It sustains me,” she said.
Also in this series:
Part 2: Minnesota's flower king
Part 3: What is local for?
©2012 Alleen Brown