Guest Rant by Debra Prinzing
Earlier this week, Libby Francis-Baxter, owner of The Modest Florist in Baltimore, made headlines in the local media by announcing her plans for a rose-free Valentine’s Day.
“I don’t support outsourcing flower production to South and Central America at the expense of our own local farmers and greenhouse growers,” she said.
When her customers asked for roses this week, Libby tried to steer them to flowers from local farms, such as tulips, primroses and calla lilies.
I applaud Libby for taking a stand against imported roses, but I encourage her to source American-grown roses next Valentine’s Day.
In fact, The Modest Florist isn’t the only flower-seller who needs to discover American roses. I’m convinced that if Whole Foods chose to support American rose farms, we’d see a major shift in the entire Valentine’s Day industrial complex.
In the grand scheme of things, Whole Foods is supposed to be one of the “good guys,” right? From the point of view of the American flower farming community, I know that many of my farmer-friends sell beautiful, seasonal and local blooms from their fields to Whole Foods stores in their specific regions. This “local sourcing” is done on a region-by-region basis with kudos going to passionate store and floral department managers who develop strong ties to their local farmers.
But at the corporate level, and especially during Valentine’s Day, something else is going on altogether. And I’m not alone in being bothered by it.
Labeled “Whole Trade,” which is the proprietary corporate branding that Whole Foods puts on imported roses, these blooms are as far from local as you can find. They’re shockingly similar in appearance to the bunches of roses being marketed by all the wire services, 1-800 marketers and big boxes.
So the local, sustainable and seasonal banner that the Whole Foods brand is waving above its front doors has some serious flaws when it comes to the flowers they are selling.
Somehow, Whole Foods has decided to market its practice of importing South American roses as a kind of missionary endeavor. Personally, I find it so disingenuous. Last year, the company posted a pro-rose Valentine’s Day story on its blog, featuring a video of children at an afterschool program for the workers at a Colombian rose plantation. The post generated 100 responses, many from frustrated customers and American flower farmers who wondered why Whole Foods had skipped doing business with rose farms here and devoted 100% of their Valentine’s Day marketing budget to feature and promote imports from Colombia and Ecuador?
In response to the customer outcry, Whole Foods’ “Global Floral Buyer” Amanda Rainey made a statement and offered this explanation: “Americans bought more than $189 million stems last year! – domestic rose production is very limited and they’re frequently shipped from overseas.”
So does that makes it right Amanda?
Is it the $189 million you’re interested in or are you justifying importing your roses because everyone else is doing it? I was one of those 100 people who left a comment last year, urging Whole Foods to reconsider their strategy with the flowers they are buying. I truly expected more from this market leader this year.
I can tell you if a company like Whole Foods would make a commitment to nurturing relationships with American rose farms, things would change. In my opinion, there is no good reason more than 97% of the roses sold on Valentine’s Day should be flown in from Colombia and Ecuador. I also don’t believe a company like Whole Foods should be party to it.
Sure, Whole Foods might have to take a little less profit, but if Whole Trade is designed to give 1% back from every purchase, apparently they have some margin to work with.
More importantly, so many good, healthy and sustainable benefits would come from that endeavor.
So, please make a comment here on Whole Foods’ current blog post about their Whole Trade roses. Let’s encourage them to do the right thing here and support “Whole American” flowers!
Some of the arguments for continuing to do business with South American rose producers have to do with our so-called “war on drugs,” dating back to when the U.S. entered into the Andean Trade Preference Act in the early 1990s. The U.S. Trade Representative’s web site states:
The Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) was enacted in December 1991, to help four Andean countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru) in their fight against drug production and trafficking by expanding their economic alternatives.
Not to sound too cynical, but we all know how “successful” that scheme has been, right?
Look, I get that we’ve had a 20-year-plus focus on trying to help the people of Colombia and nearby South American countries identify ways to cultivate crops beyond coca. I understand the strategy. However, there are costs to this strategy all along the way. And the American flower farmer has been one of them.
We’ve lost flower farms, jobs and local flowers to this strategy. Rose farms in the U.S. are almost extinct. Carnation farms in the U.S. are extinct, except for one small grower called Akiyama Nursery in Watsonville, California.
That didn’t happen overnight and it’s not going to change tomorrow, but as Americans, we have an obligation to count those costs and determine if the strategy moving forward is a good one.
I believe we need to become less foreign-dependent on flowers. Period. This isn’t oil. We’re not talking about mangoes or bananas here. Americans can grow flowers and they certainly can grow gorgeous roses. I believe Americans would prefer to buy American grown flowers.
That’s my mission. This is what I believe and I know I’m not alone. I’m encouraged every time I give a lecture or answer a media inquiry. People email me and call me and ask “how can I find a florist who I know will source locally and domestically?”
In the past 40 days, during the Slowflowers.com campaign on Indiegogo (which is raising funds to launch a free, online, nationwide directory of American flowers, florists, designers and farmers), I’ve been encouraged that more than 200 people have donated more than $15,000 to this endeavor. It’s not everybody, but we don’t need everybody. We just need more people to know and care about where their flowers are grown.
I’m confident that when this story is understood, we’ll see more people reaching for American grown flowers; more people supporting their hometown flower farmer.
Why? Because this is our country and these are our neighbors and these are the people and priorities on which we should focus our support. This is why I’m appealing to Whole Foods during Valentine’s Day, one of the biggest floral holidays of the year.
So, I ask that if you’re a Whole Foods customer, please join me in letting Whole Foods know that we want a “Whole American” campaign that supports and cultivates relationships with our American flower farmers. I urge Whole Foods to make a change and align its priorities with where the majority of their customers are on subjects like country-of-origin sourcing.
I see quite a profound parallel between the Whole Trade campaign and a brand new Whole American campaign for flowers.
I don’t believe that America’s flower farmers expect imports to go away. But they do want a level playing field. They do want a chance to sell more of their irises, sunflowers, lilies and roses to the largest “green” branded supermarket in the U.S.
So to help them get started, here is a list I’ve compiled of the top domestic U.S. rose farms that I’m aware of. It’s simply not fair to say the American flower supply is limited. The supply is only limited by our vision to see the opportunity. Whole Foods should launch a campaign that guarantees that they will source from American rose farms by next Valentine’s Day. That promise will give the flower farmers the ability to increase their production and invest in expanding their volume of beautiful, homegrown American roses.
“Whole American” is a beautiful concept that should be a reality. Wouldn’t be amazing if consumer demand could help Whole Foods do the right thing? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see Whole American roses offered when Valentine’s Day 2015 rolls around?
California Pajarosa – www.pajarosa.com
Dramm & Echter – www.drammechter.com
Eufloria Flowers – www.eufloriaflowers.com
Green Valley Floral – www.greenvalleyfloral.com
Koch California – Koch California
Myriad Flowers – www.myriadflowers.com
Neve Brothers – www.nevebros.net
Rose Story Farm – www.rosestoryfarm.com
Len Busch Roses – www.lenbuschroses.com
Peterkort Roses – www.peterkortroses.com
Learn more about Debra Prinzing at her web site, where you can read articles, listen to free episodes of the Slow Flowers Podcast, and find more resources about American flowers.
Excellent post, Debra! I’m one of your indiegogo supporters, I’m proud to say. I applaud this endeavor, and I’ve long thought that it’s high time we started supporting our own people instead of pissing money away overseas. However, I will interject here and say that I imagine one of the reasons that the playing field isn’t level for our flower farmers and greenhouse growers is energy costs. They’re through the roof, and our growers should get a break on energy costs. After all, less than a century ago, New York State grew a boatload of florist flowers in greenhouses. But by the 70’s, many of them had to close because they simply couldn’t afford the skyrocketing costs to run their greenhouses all winter. I think that’s something that should be addressed to help give our people an advantage. Other than that, your post is right on!
Energy costs are coming down thanks (?) to fracking. Industries are bringing factories back because cheap energy makes labor affordable. This should help our flower industry too.
Fracking is helping one problem while bringing in others – poisoned water and poisoned land (see the film Gasland if you’re not up to speed on fracking issues). We need to invest in renewable and clean power once and for all – solar, wind, etc.!
As usual, nice job with the post Debra!
@Susan… Len Busch Roses here in Minneapolis (!!!) has been able to meet it’s heating energy needs using biomass from local tree waste while producing consistently gorgeous flowers. I sourced all of my V Day roses from them and could not be happier! From their website:
“Today, the entire greenhouse is heated with environmentally friendly biomass boilers that burn tree trimming waste provided from the local communities. In addition, all of our greenhouses are covered with a twin wall acrylic sheet that reduces heat costs and is low maintenance.”
Great post Debra! I know where all my flowers come from – Carpinteria, California. But then again I have many, many beautiful flowers grown just 10 minutes away. Most people aren’t that lucky so I understand it’s much harder for them. It’s good to bring awareness because every effort helps.
Excellent post. I’ve commented on the Whole Foods page. I wonder if they’ve figured out that unless folks buy American – both from growers and manufacturers – we eventually won’t be able to afford to shop at Whole Foods. Something for WF to consider.
Regarding “merchandise” — Whole Foods could be a market leader, but look at their response to GMO labeling: we’ll get to it – in four years! They are all about the money. It looks to me that they offer local sourcing for food because they know people want it and will pay premium prices to support it, not because it’s the right thing to do. Now, if that’s ALL they offered: organic, non-gmo, local–THAT would be a statement that they are in it to make the world a better place.
What we need are more small, local stores that walk the talk. I bought top quality, grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic-free, local beef and all-organic, locally-made, “raw” chocolate candy (goji berry, raspberry cream, coconut, etc.) from our small grocer this year for Valentine’s Day. When I say small, I mean small, like the old mom & pop stores. This is what we need to support. They didn’t have the flowers, but hopefully that too will come one day not too far in the future!
I’d like to post this to my Facebook but I can’t find a way to do it. What do you suggest?
Just cut & paste the address up at the top. Or go to my Facebook Page (Greenwoman Magazine) and “share”–also Garden Rant’s FB Page has it posted.
Great story about roses. My choice is always to purchase local but, there are some absolute beautiful and hard to find varieties that are grown south of the border.
It was reported on my local Los Angeles news this past Valentine’s weekend that thousands of roses flew into Los Angeles International Airport from Columbia for the Valentine’s giving demand. TSA had reported that customs at the airport had to inspect every single rose for bugs, disease, chemicals or what have you.
I like how the reporter depicted how the customs agent being interviewed had demonstrated how he puts his black plastic gloves on to pluck a velvety rose for inspection. He used magnifying glass to inspect the peddle, tweezers to check the bud for bugs and then turns over the flower to give it a good shake to see what falls out. The wow moment for me was to actually learn that Inspector Rodriguez of the Department of Agriculture has been inspecting shipment of roses at LAX from mainly Columbia and Argentina for over 15 years. He said that they always finds weird looking mites to huge bugs that can scare the biggest man.
What a surprise to receive a beautiful bouquet with a war lord looking beetle staring right back at you! Yellow roses are my favourite. Cheers ~Emma
I’d rather have potted flowering plants over roses any day.
I am the floral buyer at the Whole Foods in Alexandria,Va. It is unfortunate that you completely disregarded the local flowers that stores brought in for the holiday (not to mention on a daily basis) Did you know that more tulips are sold during Valentines Day than roses? Did you know that the tulips Whole Foods sells are grown in America? For all of the DC, MD, VA, PA stores, our tulips are grown in Virginia. Almost all of the plants we sell are grown in the United States. Our top selling plant, the orchid, which each store sells hundreds of during this week, is also grown in Virginia. I just thought it would be nice to share. The floral managers at Whole Foods are not evil and anti-local. When local growers have product to sell, we jump at the chance to do business.
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Hey Debra thank you for this amazing post. It happens that sometimes we don’t know from where the roses or flowers came. It is our loved ones who send us such exciting and surprising gifts. And sometimes we don’t want to know from where it came just the gift matters a lot.
I wanted to thank Emily from Whole Foods for her comment and provide my perspective and additional insights:
I began my blog post by highlighting the incidents when WHOLE FOODS does source American grown flowers from local farms. I noted that I support and applaud those region-by-region connections that Whole Foods makes with flower farmers.
My concern, however, is that Whole Foods’ “Whole Trade” rose promotion campaign does not have an equally balanced Pro-Domestic alternative.
If Whole Foods wants to underscore its promise to support American farmers, then I have to again ask: “Why is there such a heavy investment in promoting ‘Whole Trade’ imported roses, especially when Whole Foods prides itself in having a reputation as a market leader for local?
Why is Whole Foods contributing 10% of sales to foreign flower farming plantations and not investing 10% into our American flower farmers?
I’m sure its easy to get caught up in corporate promotions working as an employee of Whole Foods and not even realize this gaping contrast in your floral department’s practices, but it saddens me that there is no effort to promote American farming families and the flowers they grow.
Emily, you say that Whole Foods buys from local flower farmers when product is available and my response is that I KNOW there are rose sources from many American rose farms that Whole Foods is NOT working with. Debra
It’s really amazing post!!
Thanks for sharing..