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Local when you can, Import when you cannot

Local when you can, Import when you cannot

Below are three current articles published in Google Flower Grower section all related to the resurgence of locally grown flowers in America. So what’s going on that this movement has risen out of the gardens of American cities over the last 5-7 years?

Stearns County farmers are part of ‘slow flowers’ movement

Fresh cut flower farms spring up around Detroit

Local Flowers Make a Comeback

To better understand this we have to think back to a time when there were no imported flowers (Excluding Canada). Before 1970 nearly all flowers were grown locally since the logistics (a word we did not even know back then) limited the market reach of any grower.

Florida and California were and remain the major growing areas due to land sun and water. As floral transportation extended the reach of the growers in these major producing states they were able to compete with local growers and the pressure was on.

Wholesalers are the biggest supporters of locally grown flowers and are proud to feature the beautiful lush products that arrived straight from the field. They are wise to do so because if you have a good source of locally grown flowers you should buy as much and as often as you are able.

Support your local grower, farmer, business, musician, and so on. I get it!

However, this is where we have to state the obvious. Most “local” growers are limited to a short summer season which leaves their customers to fend for themselves when the demand is still strong. Many of these growers are selling direct to the public maximizing their profits and thus competing with local wholesalers and retailers. So be it!

Now as the years tick by the local grower, typically an older man and maybe his wife, are tired of the hard work and stop farming. The children are eager to sell the land for condos and other one bites the dust. This pattern happened over and over until there were very few local growers left by the year 2000.

All of this left California and Florida to service the demands for floral however they have growing seasons as well.

 So, as Aristotle once said “Nature Abhors a Vacuum”

This vacuum occurred in an age with cargo jets and ambitious growers in South America aiming to fill the void, leading to a trickle then a flood of high quality, always available flowers. Since South Florida was the main destination of these imports they were able to take advantage of the distribution system established by the local growers and truckers.

This proved to be a good move for Latin growers, Importers, Wholesalers, retailers and consumers. Not so good for local growers and thus a long legal war was waged with no winners, except the attorneys of course.

Now it appears to have come full circle where people are willing to take a risk and try something hard and different growing flowers,  vegetables or even marijuana. It makes good press when a local home grown story can be told. There is a whole local movement with Slow Flower and farm to table dinners filled with vases of flowers from the farm. Bravo I say! 

But this is where I think many get it wrong. In their effort to glamorize what they are doing local entrepreneurs often resort to bashing the imports in the press to make their case.

These quotes came from the articles I referenced above;

“In the early 1990s, U.S. trade laws became very favorable to South American flower growers to encourage non-drug imports from countries, including Colombia and Ecuador. That trade policy eliminated import tariffs on flowers for decades and pulled business away from large U.S. flower farmers, putting many out of business.

“These imported flowers are grown by underpaid laborers using heavy doses of synthetic pesticides, and carry a large carbon footprint given the many hundreds of miles each shipment must travel.”

While I am not here to tell you that all growers are good I can tell you that the many farms I have visited over many years in South America and the US are very good to their employees. They do not prefer to use pesticides as they are expensive. Both Colombia and Ecuador have strict chemical use laws and most growers are certified by one or more organization that monitors chemical use as well as other environmental and social programs.

I agree that the carbon footprint is an issue and some growers have mitigated this by using sea containers instead of Air transport. However, I do not think the Trade laws were to blame for the demise of the flower growing business in America. The benefit to foreign growers came in the form of no Import duties for certain flowers and yes that made a difference in the rise of imports. However, the flowers were coming and the importers and growers could afford to absorb the duties and still make a reasonable profit. Case in point, there is currently an 8% import duty on Ecuadorian roses and they are still selling briskly.

No matter where you are in the floral chain I think we can all agree that fresh cut flowers are more available then ever and that keeps them in the consumers mind and hopefully in their homes no matter where they came from.

I suggest that there is demand enough for all quality flowers and no need to trash talk.








Local Flowers Make a Comeback

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