Opportunities and rewards are ripe for the picking when the crop is organic cut flowers.
Buzzwords abound in organic flower growing, starting with the nebulous “green” and most recently ending with five-syllable “regenerative.” If you feel confused about what it all means, you’re not alone. Here’s a quick rundown of the terms.
Many flower growers who don’t want to complete the certification process (for any number of reasons, such as cost, client base or paperwork) sell their flowers as sustainable or sustainably grown. Jones warns, though, that “sustainable is being co-opted by so many products and causes that there’s no credence.” Customers do recognize the word, though, and respond to it.
Demand for Organic Flowers
Consumers have embraced organic products from bedsheets to beard wax, but where do they stand on organic flowers? That’s the million-dollar question. Over the 28 years that Thorndike has been selling cut flowers in Oregon, she’s seen a steady increase in flower sales at local farmers’ markets. “Half the market booth now is flowers, and people do seek out flowers regularly,” she says. “There’s more demand for local flowers, and for a moment the trend was people asking for organic. I welcome all of it. If I can sell more flowers, then I can preach the virtues of organic.”
Jones has a similar story to tell—selling at farmers’ markets for 30 years, with booth space devoted to flowers increasing from a few jars of zinnias to 50 percent. But are people asking for organic flowers? “The great irony is everyone is so concerned about finding organic vegetables and poultry—and we sell both. But no one asks about organic flowers.”
“We do have customers every market who ask us if we spray,” she adds. “They may have a suppressed immune system or just really care about spraying. I take time to give a little education, telling them that they’re asking the wrong question. As organic farmers we have approved sprays. The right question is what are people spraying?”
I believe that a regular person who experiences the freshness of organic flowers will come back to buy more. They’ll become aware that the flowers in the big box store are indestructible, which isn’t natural.
Joan Thorndike, Le Mera Gardens, Ashland, Oregon
Lareau has started to see a rising consciousness at farmers’ markets. “A woman last year asked where we got our flowers from, and we said we grow them on the farm. When we told her the flowers were all certified organic, she was jumping for joy and so excited to be able to buy clean cut flowers. I’ve had that reaction a few times in the last few years,” he says. “It makes me wonder if people are finally reading Flower Confidential or hearing about it from Martha Stewart or Slow Flowers.”
Most organic goods give consumers a case of sticker shock with prices that far exceed conventionally-produced items. Organic flowers do not follow suit. Miller sells nursery starts and some produce, and being certified organic is very important to people with these items. “The mark-up is significant on organic versus conventional starts,” she says. “I would never not be certified organic to sell starts.”
Julie Martens Forney
Flower and plant production
Julie Martens Forney is an avid gardener and freelance writer who’s been writing about flower and plant production,
horticulture research and consumer gardening for over 30 years.Contact her at [email protected]