Debra Prinzing

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Episode 294: A Floral Collective of Greater Good: Celebrating and Selling Local Flowers with the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market’s Sixth Anniversary

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Six years ago this week, a band of intrepid Pacific Northwest flower farmers opened the doors at a cold, nearly empty warehouse in Seattle’s Georgetown District, and the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market was launched.

In the opening days of Seattle Wholesale Growers Market things were a little bare. Here is a photo I snapped on April 26, 2011

I have been along for the wild ride of this pioneering Market that has stimulated an entirely new way of connecting locally-grown flowers with buyers who value seasonal and sustainable botanicals grown with care and respect for the land.

“Brimming with Blooms” documents the origins of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market in The 50 Mile Bouquet.

Of that beginning, I wrote this in The 50 Mile Bouquet:

A seed germinates when it comes in contact with light, warmth and the nourishment of healthy soil. Similarly, good ideas sprout and take root when they are sown in ideal conditions. That was how the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market Cooperative came into being – a new farm-to-market enterprise that connects cut flower farmers with florists and their customers.

Illustrated by David Perry’s documentary-style photography, the chapter “Brimming with Blooms” tells the story of the origins of SWGMC in June 2010 and the ideas, people and circumstances that led to its actual debut by April 2011.

Today, the SWGMC is anything but an empty warehouse with just a few twigs and flowering branches.

The Market has come into its own as a vibrant, viable economic engine for sustainable agriculture, for offering high quality local products and excellent customer service to the floral community in the greater Seattle area. Beyond this, the Market has continued to instigate, influence and inspire others who have studied its model, adapting lessons for their own regional hubs for selling flowers.

So in honor of the sixth anniversary of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, I’ve invited two past guests of the Slow Flowers Podcast to sit down with me and reflect on all that has transpired and all that the Market still aspires to achieve.

Left: Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall; Right: Vivian Larsen (c) Mary Grace Long Photography

Please welcome Diane Szukovathy, co-owner with her husband Dennis Westphall of Jello Mold Farm, based in Mt. Vernon, WA; and Vivian Larsen of Everyday Flowers in Stanwood, WA. Together they have been part of the core group that founded the SWGMC and they serve as co-chairs of the Market board.

Follow and find Seattle Wholesale Growers Market at these social places:

SWGMC on Facebook

SWGMC on Instagram

The Slow Flowers Podcast has been downloaded more than 182,000 times by listeners like you. THANK YOU to each one of you for downloading, listening, commenting and sharing. It means so much.

If you value the content you receive each week, I invite you to show your thanks and support the Slow Flowers Podcast with a donation — the button can be found on our home page in the right column. Your contributions will help make it possible to transcribe future episodes of the Podcast.

Thank you to family of sponsors:

And thank you to our lead sponsor for 2017: Certified American Grown Flowers. The Certified American-Grown program and label provide a guarantee for designers and consumers on the source of their flowers. Take pride in your flowers and buy with confidence, ask for Certified American Grown Flowers.  To learn more visit americangrownflowers.org.

Arctic Alaska Peonies, a cooperative of 50 family farms in the heart of Alaska providing high quality, American Grown peony flowers during the months of July and August. Visit them today at arcticalaskapeonies.com

Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, a farmer-owned cooperative committed to providing the very best the Pacific Northwest has to offer in cut flowers, foliage and plants. The Growers Market’s mission is to foster a vibrant marketplace that sustains local flower farms and provides top-quality products and service to the local floral industry. Find them at seattlewholesalegrowersmarket.com

Longfield Gardens provides home gardeners with high quality flower bulbs and perennials. Their online store offers plants for every region and every season, from tulips and daffodils to dahlias, caladiums and amaryllis. Visit them at lfgardens.com.

Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. Formed in 1988, ASCFG was created to educate, unite, and support commercial cut flower growers. It mission is to help growers produce high-quality floral material, and to foster and promote the local availability of that product. Learn more at ascfg.org.

Syndicate Sales is an American manufacturer of vases and accessories for the professional florist. Look for the American Flag Icon to find Syndicate’s USA-made products and join the Syndicate Stars loyalty program at syndicatesales.com.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, an employee-owned company that brings the best flower, herb and vegetable seeds — and supplies to farms large and small. Check them out at johnnysseeds.com.

I’m Debra Prinzing, host and producer of the Slow Flowers Podcast. Next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time. And If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review.

The content and opinions expressed here are either mine alone or those of my guests alone, independent of any podcast sponsor or other person, company or organization.

The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Brenlan. Learn more about his work at KineticTreeFitness.com.

Music credits:
Heliotrope; Vittoro
by Blue Dot Sessions
Additional music from:

audionautix.com

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How one flower farmer thanks his florist-customers

Sunday, December 4th, 2016
Hats off to Dennis Westphall, one half of Jello Mold Farm, for his inventive method of thanking customers for a fabulous season!

Hats off to Dennis Westphall, one half of Jello Mold Farm, for his inventive method of thanking customers for a fabulous season!

Dennis wrote:
I wanted to thank everyone for using our flowers, while at the same time following and putting up with my goofy antics. Miss you already, love you all, and I am so grateful to be connected by your creativity, your artistry and four sets of Scrabble.

If you haven’t met Dennis yet, follow him on Instagram here: @mister.mold

Diane Szukovathy, his partner and wife, can be found here: @dianeszukovathy

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Floral Spectacle in Seattle, inspired by The Flower House (Episode 230)

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

“We can imagine it and we can do it,” Diane Szukovathy, Jello Mold Farm & Seattle Wholesale Growers Market

Lisa Waud, artist, innovator, entrpreneur, floral designer and creator of The Flower House (Detroit). She's standing in front of the base of the tree-inspired sculpture installed by her students at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market.

Lisa Waud, artist, innovator, entrpreneur, floral designer and creator of The Flower House (Detroit). She’s standing in front of the base of the tree-inspired sculpture installed by her students at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market.

A botanical tree grows up the walls and across the ceiling of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market

A botanical tree grows up the walls and across the ceiling of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market

Last week I told you about a series of Flower House activities taking place in Seattle with creator Lisa Waud. As I noted, Lisa has been on a West Coast tour which began on January 19th in Seattle, took her to Olympia and Portland, and continues until early next week in California.

As it turns out, I had a scheduled interview be postponed, so today, I’m bringing you a series of clips, short takes and conversations from the various events held at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market when Lisa was here. Please enjoy these sound-bites, beginning with remarks from flower farmer Diane Szukovathy of Jello Mold Farm, board chair at the Growers’ Market, as she introduced Lisa Waud’s Wednesday morning lecture.

Diane is followed by Lisa’s introductory remarks; then we’ll jump to several short interviews with designers who took part in a Master Design Class led by Lisa. Thirteen designers teamed up to experience a mini-version of the Flower House installation, creating a massive botanical sculpture within the Market’s walls in just under 4 hours on January 19th.

Early in the class, a team started building the "bones" of the sculptural installation, while other designers worked on the floral pieces, called "amoebas"

Early in the class, a team started building the “bones” of the sculptural installation, while other designers worked on the floral pieces, called “amoebas”

The team of amazing designers who were led through a 4-hour session with Lisa Waud (lisa is front, far left)

The team of amazing designers who were led through a 4-hour session with Lisa Waud (lisa is front, far left)

Love this hot, orange-red amoeba palette!

Love this hot, orange-red amoeba palette!

Led by Lisa, the designers went through the entire process that a Flower House designer probably experienced — from visioning, brainstorming, creative problem-solving and execution. Having watched the process first-hand, I have to say it was nothing less than Spectacular!

One of the fun things Lisa threw into the mix was a series of surprises that added pressure and tested the mettle of the designers, much like the Flower House team endured during the 3 days when they installed the Flower House.

So I played along as a member of the press, who showed up unannounced expecting people to stop what they were doing while I conducted an interview. That was just one of the crazy twists Lisa threw at her students. Another of her surprises was to add a “last minute” delivery of flowering branches — and challenging the designers to figure out how to incorporate those elements into an almost-finished composition.

In the end, well, all I can say is, these designers rose to the challenge and proved that the sum of their parts was far greater than anyone could have individually achieved.

The final installation is gloriously wild and magical.

The final installation is gloriously wild and magical.

The Seattle Wholesale Growers Market's 18-foot-high ceilings are perfect for the installation -- check out the I-beams.

The Seattle Wholesale Growers Market’s 18-foot-high ceilings are perfect for the installation — check out the I-beams.

Each of the five "amoebas" were woven with foliage, branches and flowers, with a specific color emphasis.

Each of the five “amoebas” were woven with foliage, branches and flowers, with a specific color emphasis.

Another view of the hanging pieces

Another view of the hanging pieces

Details of the pink and fuchsia amoeba

Details of the pink and fuchsia amoeba, fashioned with flowers and foliage from the farms that supply the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market

As you hear a series of clips, I will ask each person to introduce herself and her business, followed by a brief series of questions; and then we move onto another group of designers. This patchwork quilt of a podcast episode concludes with a 10-minute wrap-up session, a debrief with Lisa and the 13 designers, as they compare notes about the challenges and results of their time together.

Here is a list all the participants and their social media links — these are women you will want to follow if you haven’t yet discovered them!

Floressence, owned by Anne Bradfield

Terra Bella Flowers, owned by Melissa Feveyear

Splash Floral and Interiors, owned by Lisa Behringer

Columbia City Bouquet, owned by Emily Kopca

Gather, owned by Amy Kunkel-Patterson

Bash and Bloom, owned by Eleanor Blackford

Lola Creative, owned by Emily Ellen Anderson

Camas Design, owned by Erin Shackelford

First & Bloom, owned by Tammy Myers

Smashing Petals, owned by Keita Horn

Melanie Benson Floral, owned by Melanie Benson

Vases Wild, owned by Tobey Nelson

Casablanca Floral, owned by Maura Whalen

Finally, I have to state publicly, that this entire week of events could not have happened so successfully without the leadership and talents of the three staff of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market: Molly Sadowsky, Danielle Bennett, and Agnes Cwalina. They are amazing!

NEWS TO SHARE

This happened and it came as a total surprise!

This happened and it came as a total surprise!

I want to thank the flower farmers of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market for surprising me with a huge honor. Here is a link to the Market’s press release.

On January 19th, Slow Flowers hosted a dinner to honor Lisa Waud and to showcase the floral art installation she and her team had installed earlier that afternoon.

At the dinner, Diane Szukovathy took the mic and announced that the farmers had created a new award, called the Growers Choice Award, and that I was the first recipient. Later she told me it was the most fun scheming she’d had in a long time, which puts a huge smile on my face. I truly was astonished to receive this recognition–and the language is most meaningful because it recognizes “outstanding contributions to revitalize the local floral community.”

80K

The Slow Flowers Podcast has been downloaded more than 80,000 times by listeners like you. THANK YOU to each and every one of you for downloading, listening, commenting and sharing. It means so much.

Until next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time. And If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review.

The content and opinions expressed here are either mine alone or those of my guests alone, independent of any podcast sponsor or other person, company or organization.

The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Wheatley and Hannah Holtgeerts. Learn more about their work at shellandtree.com.

Music provided by: Audio Nautix

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Growers Choice Award — Wow!

Friday, January 22nd, 2016
This happened and it came as a total surprise!

This happened and it came as a total surprise!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 22, 2016

Contact:

Molly Sadowsky, SWGMC Market Manager
971-244-3804
swgmc.buyer@gmail.com
Seattle Wholesale Growers Market

Diane Szukovathy, SWGMC Board Chair
206-290-3154
Diane@jellomoldfarm.com

SEATTLE AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST WINS GROWERS CHOICE AWARD

(Seattle, Washington) At a recent dinner attended by florists, flower farmers and industry professionals, the Seattle Wholesale Grower’s Market awarded Debra Prinzing – author of Slow Flowers and The 50 Mile Bouquet – its 2016 Grower’s Choice Award for outstanding contributions to revitalize the local floral community.

While presenting the award, SWGMC Board Chair Diane Szukovathy cited Prinzing’s three years of service on the co-op’s volunteer board of directors and her continuous efforts to publicize the local floral industry through over 120 Slow Flowers podcasts – as well as numerous blog posts, magazine articles and press appearances.

“Debra helped us to write our company values – including to value the creativity and importance of everyone with whom we work and with whom we do business,” stated Szukovathy, in a warmly delivered address. “She truly works as hard or harder than any farmer we know. From our beginning five years ago, she has been there supporting us, encouraging us and lifting a hand to help us every step of the way.”

Debra Prinzing is a Seattle-based writer, speaker and leading advocate for American Grown Flowers. Through her many Slow Flowers-branded projects, she has convened a national conversation that stimulates consumers and professionals alike to make conscious choices about their floral purchases. Debra is the producer of SlowFlowers.com, the online directory to American glower farms, florists, shops and studios who source domestic and local flowers. Each Wednesday, more than 1,000 listeners tune into Debra’s “Slow Flowers Podcast,” available for free downloads at her web site, debraprinzing.com, or on iTunes and via other podcast services. She is the author of 10 books, including Slow Flowers and The 50 Mile Bouquet.

In addition she is a contributing garden editor for Better Homes & Gardens and her feature stories on architecture and design appear regularly in the Los Angeles Times’ Home section.  She writes for top shelter and consumer publications, including Pacific Horticulture, Country Gardens, Sunset, Garden Design, Organic Gardening, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Cottages & Bungalows, Metropolitan Home, Landscape Architecture, Alaska Airlines Magazine, Old House Interiors, GRAY and Romantic Homes, among others.

The Seattle Wholesale Growers Market is a producer’s cooperative, started by flower farmers in 2011 as a grass roots effort to make local floral products more available to florists and professional buyers in the Puget Sound Area. Since then, it has hired staff, changed its business model and experienced dramatic growth as demand for locally grown flowers has increased.

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Cooperative Wholesaling Among Farmers, an ASCFG panel (Episode 215)

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

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fair field logo

capitol flower growers

How do flower farmers band together to take control of their distribution channels? This week’s podcast features a recording pulled from the 2014 audio vault, a fantastic presentation that I know will answer this and many questions about selling American grown flowers. I hope you find it inspiring.

The panel, “Cooperative Wholesaling Among Farmers,” features the history and experiences of three farmers’ co-ops in the Madison, Wisconsin area; in the Pacific Northwest; and in the nation’s Capitol.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard quite a bit of of interest in farmer-owned flower cooperatives around the country. There are probably as many potential farmer-to-florist models as there are individual floral marketplaces.

For example, I have personally heard from groups in Oregon; Sacramento, California; New York-Hudson Valley area; and in Ohio, all of whom are exploring the possibilities of a collective selling effort to reach a hungry customer base of florists, event and wedding designers, and other wholesale buyers. So clearly, the potential has yet to be tapped.

This panel was presented last fall at the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers annual conference in Wilmington, Delaware. Slow Flowers was a sponsor of that conference and I’ve aired several other panels in the past.

Today, you’ll hear from Barbara Lamborne of Greenstone Fields, a Northern Virginia organic flower grower and co-founder of Capitol Flower Growers; Joe Schmitt of Fair Field Flowers; and Diane Szukovathy of Jello Mold Farm and the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market. The three generously share their experience as leaders of successful regional co-ops around the country and how they made it happen.

The presentation starts with Diane Szukovathy, co-founder of Jello Mold Farm in Mt. Vernon, Washington, and founding chair of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market. Diane was one of this podcast’s first guests, appearing in Episode 103 when she discussed the co-op model in depth.

Be sure to visit debraprinzing.com to find links to several articles that I and others have written about the Seattle co-op model. Full-disclosure: I’m not totally objective here. As one of two non-farmer board members who volunteer for this endeavor, I care deeply about the co-op model. It is so rewarding to work closely with flower farmers like Diane and I know that her insights will help point you to resources for possible collaborations in your own farming community.

The next speaker is Joe Schmitt, who I and many consider the elder statesman of the American cut flower movement. Long before the flower farming craze burst onto the mainstream scene, Joe was growing flowers on his Madison, Wisconsin farm. He is a founder of Fair Field Flowers, a Slow Flowers member that serves as a wholesale farmer-to-florist cooperative selling to florists in Madison, Milwaukee and beyond.

Approximately eight farms combine their resources to supply floral customers from spring through fall. Where the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market is a central hub that sells direct to florists five days a week, Fair Field Flowers is a delivery truck (like a wholesaler on wheels) that delivers flowers to its customers in key markets.

The panel continues with a presentation from Barbara Lamborne of Greenstone Fields, one of the founders of Capitol Growers, which until recently served the Washington, D.C. market. At the time of the presentation, Capitol Growers had lost one of its three founding members. And as of 2015, the cooperative has sadly disbanded. There are lessons to learn here, from failures as well as successes.

Some of the best information comes at the end of the panel presentations during the Q&A portion. Hang in there to listen to the amazing wisdom from farmers with years of experience growing quality American flowers.

Episodes of the Slow Flowers Podcast have been downloaded more than 67,000 times. I thank you and others in the progressive American-grown floral community for supporting this endeavor.

Until next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time. And If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review. THANK YOU to each and every one of you for downloading, listening, commenting and sharing. It means so much.

The content and opinions expressed here are either mine alone or those of my guests alone, independent of any podcast sponsor or other person, company or organization.

The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Wheatley and Hannah Holtgeerts. Learn more about their work at shellandtree.com.

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Melissa Feveyear of Seattle’s Terra Bella Flowers – Pioneering Local and Sustainable Floral Design for 10 Years (Episode 210)

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
Love this portrait of Melissa, the crown of her head encircled with flowers.

Love this portrait of Melissa, the crown of her head encircled with flowers.

This week’s guest is my very good friend and “flower-sister” Melissa Feveyear, owner and creative director of Terra Bella Flowers.

Melissa’s appearance on the Slow Flowers Podcast  is especially exciting this week because she and her work will be showcased at the next Field to Vase Dinner, set for Saturday, September 12th at Jello Mold Farm in Mt. Vernon, just north of Seattle.

Only 10 designers in the country have been invited to create the floral installation for the Field to Vase Dinner series, a very special pop-up, floral-centric dining experience pairing local flowers and local food.

Terra_Bella_Logo_plain_hires

 

It is fitting that Melissa is the featured designer this week because she is a longtime customer of Jello Mold Farm and the entire floral community of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market.

You’ll hear us discuss her role in the Market’s origins as the first cooperative marketplace connecting local flower farmers with local florists.

Melissa, left, on location in her Seattle shop during our stylized photo shoot for The 50 Mile Bouquet. My talented friend Jean Zaputil, right, was our stylist.

Melissa, left, on location in her Seattle shop during our stylized photo shoot for The 50 Mile Bouquet. My talented friend Jean Zaputil, right, was our stylist.

Terra Bella is located in Seattle's Phinney Neighborhood on a busy pedestrian corner.

Terra Bella is located in Seattle’s Phinney Neighborhood on a busy pedestrian corner.

The visionary of Terra Bella Flowers, Melissa combines her obsession with all things rooting and a background in Environmental Studies/Hazardous Waste Management.

After working in the field and becoming aware of the amount of pesticides used in the production of cut flowers, she realized she couldn’t consciously support the conventional side of the floral industry. Melissa created Terra Bella Flowers nearly 10 years ago to prove that the business of flowers can be a beautiful thing, from the time the seed is planted, until her bouquet arrive at your door.

As we discuss in this episode, Melissa and her business are featured in The 50 Mile Bouquet, the book I wrote in 2012 featuring the photography of David Perry. As a special gift to you, I’ve included the free chapter called “Sublime and Sensuous,” which you can download her and read more of her story: MelissaFeveyear_The 50 Mile Bouquet Chapter

Melissa and Tutta Bella appeared in The 50 Mile Bouquet

Melissa and Tutta Bella appeared in The 50 Mile Bouquet

I began that chapter with this description of Melissa:

Curiosity and intentionality are two of her design tools; she selects foliage, blooms, and other fresh-from-the-field elements with the same care as if she personally grew each ephemeral blossom or stem in her own backyard. That connection with nature is vitally important to her artistic philosophy.

“If flowers aren’t locally or organically grown, then they are most likely coming from some huge factory farm,” she said. “My customers do not want flowers dipped in strong pesticides on their dinner table.”

Melissa has been a fabulous supporter of Slowflowers.com from the moment it was just an idea of mine. She has contributed her time and talents, appearing on the 2014 Indiegogo campaign video that helped raise more than $18,000 to launch the online directory (see above).

We’ve also teamed up to promote Slow Flowers on local television and at special events — and I know you’ll find Melissa and her story inspiring.

Another lovely seasonal floral arrangement from Terra Bella Flowers.

Another lovely seasonal floral arrangement from Terra Bella Flowers.

A lush, seasonal summer bouquet from Terra Bella Flowers.

A lush, seasonal summer bouquet from Terra Bella Flowers.

Here’s how you can connect with Melissa and Terra Bella Flowers:

Terra Bella Flowers on Facebook

Terra Bella Flowers on Instagram

Greater Seattle Floral Association

In August, Melissa and I did a pre-F2V Dinner walk-through of Jello Mold Farm with flower farmers Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall - don't they all look happy in the flower fields?

In August, Melissa and I did a pre-F2V Dinner walk-through of Jello Mold Farm with flower farmers Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall – don’t they all look happy in the flower fields?

Seattle-page-001 Thanks for joining me today. If you’re in the Northwest and you want to experience the magic of Melissa’s Northwest Gothic floral installation at the September 12th Field to Vase Dinner, there’s still time. A few tickets are still available and I can’t wait for you to be part of the evening on a flower farm. Follow the link to reserve your seat at the table and use the special discount code SLOWFLOWERS to enjoy a $35 discount when purchasing your ticket.

Episodes of the Slow Flowers Podcast have been downloaded more than 63,000 times and I thank the progressive floral community for supporting this endeavor. It is nothing short of inspiring to see the listenership increase each week – and we have received only 5-star reviews on iTunes, 22 in all.

Until next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time. And If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review. THANK YOU to each and every one of you for downloading, listening, commenting and sharing. It means so much.

The content and opinions expressed here are either mine alone or those of my guests alone, independent of any podcast sponsor or other person, company or organization.

The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Wheatley and Hannah Holtgeerts. Learn more about their work at shellandtree.com.

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2015 Floral Insights and Industry Forecast (Episode 174)

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014
What a joy it has been to live a bloom-filled year of flowers. These images are from a floral design photo shoot for a Seattle design blog this past May.

What a joy it has been to live a bloom-filled year of flowers. These images are from a photo shoot for a Seattle design blog this past May.

Welcome to the final Slow Flowers Podcast of 2014.

Every single week this year; in fact, every single week for the past 18 months, I’ve had the immense privilege of hosting a dynamic and inspiring dialogue with a leading voice in the American floral industry.

The segment I recorded one year ago, for the January 1st episode, asked: Will 2014 be the year we save our flowers?

In reflecting on that and other questions I posed, I have to say that over the past 12 months we’ve witnessed some amazing and encouraging strides in the Slow Flowers Movement.

Here are a few highlights:

I was one of five persons who participated in the press conference on Capitol Hill to announce the formation of the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus. From left: Debra Prinzing, Diane Szukovathy, Rep. Lois Capps, Rep. Duncan Hunter; Lane DeVries is partially seen behind CCFC's Kasey Cronquist (standing).

I was one of five persons who participated in the press conference on Capitol Hill to announce the formation of the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus. From left: Debra Prinzing, Diane Szukovathy, Rep. Lois Capps, Rep. Duncan Hunter; Lane DeVries is partially seen behind CCFC’s Kasey Cronquist (standing).

  1. The formation of the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus.

    Co-chaired by a bipartisan leadership team of Representatives Lois Capps and Duncan Hunter, this new endeavor is both strategic and symbolic as it engages policymakers in a tangible program to promote cut flower farming in their own districts and states. I was privileged to speak alongside Capps and Hunter, as well as with two American flower farmers Lane DeVries and Diane Szukovathy, at the February 2014 press conference announcing the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus on Capitol Hill. That remarkable experience is a milestone for all of us, one we’ll reflect on as this movement gains further momentum in the hearts of American consumers around the country – as they make conscious choices at the cash register, at the farmers’ market, at the florist and from online e-commerce sellers who identify domestic and local flower sources.

    (c) Washington Post image of California irises and Florida tropical foliage.

    (c) Washington Post image of California irises and Florida tropical foliage.

  1. Also in February, the White House used American flowers and foliage to decorate a State Dinner hosting French president Francois Hollande.

    Beautiful domestic flowers from across the country – grown in California, Florida and other states, adorned the event and even prompted a feature article in the New York Times. As I wrote at the time: I predict this is beginning of a White House commitment to give as much attention to the origins of its flowers as it does the origins of the food and wine it serves to guests. There’s much more ground to gain when it comes to White House flower procurement. Yet, I believe that State Dinner was just the beginning of many more occurrences where American flowers at the White House represents so much more than simple decoration choices. It will represent American jobs, the American farm, the Environment, Economic Development and a Sustainable Floral Industry here at Home. SlowFlowers_Badge_640x480

  1. In May, after nearly a year of planning and development, I launched Slowflowers.com.

    Slowflowers.com is the directory I’d been dreaming of creating for several years. We launched with fewer than 250 listings and now, by year-end, there are 435 businesses — flower farms, floral shops, studios and designers who grow and create American grown floral beauty, coast to coast.
    We’ve had more than 52,000 page views and more than 11.5 thousand unique visits to the site. In 2015, with your help, I hope to expand this online directory to include one thousand members – companies that grow, design with and sell American flowers. I can’t take any credit for the success of Slowflowers.com without thanking the 229 contributors who helped me raise $18,450 on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo. All of those funds have been used to build, develop and promote this site. I’m humbled and awed at the groundswell of support from individuals and small businesses alike. Slowflowers.com has so much potential as THE single resource to connect consumers with American grown flowers. And I look forward to making Slowflowers.com even better in the coming year.

  2. Print Certified American Grown Flowers

    Motivated to promote domestic flowers and foliage in a new and strategic way, the American Grown Flowers & Foliage Task Force developed and launched a single domestic floral brand in 2014.
    The ad-hoc group included flower farms large and small, established and emerging. A cross-section of support came from many groups, including the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, where my own energies are directed.
    The seed funds created an initial promotion budget, a brand name, “Certified American Grown Flowers,” a tagline, “take pride in your flowers,” and a contemporary logo that evokes Americana and agriculture, as well as fashion and style.
    Third-party certification ensures origin – that Flowers and foliage are grown in the U.S. by American farmers; as well as assembly — that all ingredients in mixed bouquets are 100% grown and assembled in the U.S. Thirty-three farms are already certified and in the coming year, this brand’s visibility will expand and increase as more flower farms seek certification to signify the domestic origin of their flowers.

    In 2015, we’ll see this branding appear on the sleeves of mixed bouquets and consumer bunches, as well as on point-of-purchase signage at supermarkets around the U.S. The brand answers the inevitable questions: Where were these flowers grown? And it gives supermarket shoppers transparent and truthful labeling about their purchases.

    Best of West

  1. Best in the West

    Slowflowers.com has received great attention in the media, thanks to the compelling story of American grown flowers. Dozens of articles, interviews and broadcasts have shared the web site as a free consumer resource – and one special highlight for me was being named a “Best in the West” resource by Sunset magazine for “best way to buy flowers.” Web

Debra Prinzing’s 2015 Floral Insights and Industry Forecast

10 must-watch ideas that are taking hold in the American floral world.

As we track the momentum and direction of American Grown Flowers, I know some of you have already experienced these developments. In fact, my conversations with guests of this podcast have influenced this list.

I look forward to your reaction and thoughts, as well as input on items I’ve overlooked or missed! I invite you to share yours in the comment below:

Earth- and florist-friendly, the advent of Floral Soil is revolutionizing the conventional floral industry.

Earth- and florist-friendly, the advent of Floral Soil is revolutionizing the conventional floral industry.

  1. Eco/Non-toxic floral design

For several years, eco-conscious designers have openly rejected floral foam while adopting other techniques and mechanics for arranging flower stems (chicken wire, vintage frogs, twig matrixes, and tape grids are some of those methods).

Nothing had emerged to fulfill the role of formaldehyde-based flower foam. That’s until now. Mickey Blake, a “green chemistry” entrepreneur, has developed a plant-based, 100% compostable alternative to toxic foam called Floral Soil. She has applied for numerous patents for the product and is scaling up for production and national distribution in first quarter 2015.

Floral Soil replaces a chemical-based product that has been on the market since 1954. With so many concerns about our personal health, and the health of our planet, Floral Soil has created a huge buzz among florists and floral retailers. If you want to learn more, follow this link to my September episode featuring a conversation with Mickey Blake, the first media interview she granted.

Giving the floral industry more green choices will continue to move from the fringes to the mainstream. There are other notable introductions you may wish to check out, including Eco-Fresh Bouquet, a new hydration sponge wrap designed by former florist Debbie DeMarse. The product is geared to the retail-online-grocery marketplace and utilizes a plant-based composition as a way to keep stems fresh during transport or shipping.

Wrapped around the cut stems of a bunch or bouquet of flowers and moistened in water, the product hydrates stems for up to 12 days. I’ll be trialing this product in the coming weeks. Visit Eco-Fresh’s website, where there are reviews from florists who have used the product and information on request a product sample to trial yourself.

Elizabeth Bryant and Kailla Platt

Elizabeth Bryant and Kailla Platt

  1. Couture/Custom Growing

Small-scale flower farmers are offering their floral clients (florists and wedding parties) the opportunity to pre-order seasonal crops that will be harvested and used for their wedding. The service is called “Custom Growing.”

This couture, artisanal approach to floral design involves and engages couples who want to specify the exact flower, fragrance and color palette for their nuptials. It also elevates the flower to a starring role in the ceremony, one that’s as significant as other design choices (clothing, venue or menu). I was introduced to this idea by Elizabeth Bryant of Rose Hill Flower Farm and Kailla Platt, owner of Kailla Platt Flowers, both of Portland, as we discussed their custom grow-design wedding program in a Podcast interview this past August. If you missed it earlier, here’s a link to that interview here.

American Grown Floral Visionary, Ellen Frost.

American Grown Floral Visionary, Ellen Frost.

  1. Micro-lending/Flower Futures

Demand for specific flower varieties often outpaces supply, especially when it comes to highly-desired colors and cultivars. Forward-looking floral designers are investing in “floral futures” that is, crops they know their clients want, by pre-buying bulbs, seeds and seedling stock from the source: the farms who supply them. Farmers may not have the financial resources or ability to take the risk to invest in planting acres of flowers ‘on spec’, but they are often eager to expand capacity.

Enter the florist who wants to pre-order (and offer important guarantees), which offers an unique partnership that is paying off for everyone. Ellen Frost of Local Color Flowers in Baltimore is a leader in micro-lending, and I anticipate that other florists will join her efforts to ensure a more beautiful, local, fresh and abundant supply of the flowers they desire. If you missed the conversation, here’s a link to my October interview with Ellen.

Floral CSAs at Boston's Floral Couture in Louisville.

Floral CSAs at Boston’s Floral Couture in Louisville.

  1. Floral CSAs

I know that CSAs in the food world are well established, but when it comes to floral CSAs, I have been overwhelmed by the volume of Slow Flowers members who are now offering such programs — and I expect this marketing method to grow in 2015.

Just like Community Supported Agriculture or CSAs for food, Floral CSAs are based on seasonal and locally-harvested farm-fresh flowers. When you become a member of a flower CSA, you are buying a “share” of the flowers that a local farm produces each season. By paying for that share before the growing season gets underway, we support small flower farms as they plan, invest and plant. With your help, they are able to purchase new seed varieties, restock supplies, and make repairs to equipment and infrastructure. Community and customers are connected to their local flower farms — and reap the bounty of that botanical harvest, by the week, month or season. Instead of flavorful food, these CSAs deliver fragrant, intricate and beautiful flowers – a reflection of place and time on a local farm. The programs ensure a regular stream of local flowers for the home and give customers the satisfaction of supporting local agriculture and family farms.

Wildflower-inspired bridesmaid bouquets, grown and designed by Robin Hollow Farm.

Wildflower-inspired bridesmaid bouquets, grown and designed by Robin Hollow Farm.

  1. Cultivated Wildflowers

Wildflowers are a carefree, ephemeral expression of America’s connection to the land – from meadow and stream bank to forest and trail. But thanks to increased understanding of saving wild places and preserving public lands, there’s a newfound awareness that picking wildflowers is not smart (and in many places it’s illegal).
There are many sources for collected wildflower seeds; this allows flower farmers to safely and legally grow enduring favorites like black-eyed Susan and lupines. The look is quintessentially American. The just-gathered style carries over to floral crowns, garlands, bouquets and centerpieces.
This past fall, Slowflowers.com collaborated with Brooke Showell, a writer for Four Seasons Magazine, in a story called “Wedding Wildflowers,” highlighting the choice of Naturalistic flowers that appear freshly picked from a garden, meadow or farm.
The good news is that most domestic field-grown flowers fit this free-spirited, uncontrived aesthetic – and I know we’ll continue to see talented designers express the look in their arrangements.

A brighter floral palette is super romantic and feminine. Design: Buckeye Blooms

A brighter floral palette is super romantic and feminine. Design: Buckeye Blooms

  1. Bright pastels, Saturated Jewel Tones

For the past few years, pale palettes have populated wedding bouquets and driven demand for subtly-colored flowers like blush-toned ‘Café au Lait’ dahlias. Next seasons, color palettes promise to be richer and more vivid, reflecting a deeper saturation of petal color. Watermelon pink, orchid purple, cerise red – these sun-drenched hues are wooing brides who want a more vibrant flowers to hold and wear. There’s a gradual departure from an all-neutral bridal bouquet. Blush hasn’t left completely, but she’s sharing the stage with brighter hues.

Beautiful, wistful clematis. Flowers and design by Kaye Heafey, Chalk Hill Clematis

Beautiful, wistful clematis. Flowers and design by Kaye Heafey, Chalk Hill Clematis

  1. Vines, vines, vines

Demand for trailing tendrils outpaces the available stock that farmers are able to produce, signaling a market opportunity for innovative growers and designers.  All types of vines are considered “premium” floral ingredients, producing a far better-than-average return on investment for farms that grow vines and florists who integrate vines into their designs.

The unstructured silhouette and whimsical shoots and tendrils portrayed by  vines lend distinctive character to floral arrangements, headpieces and bouquets. Florists who have trouble sourcing clematis, jasmine, passion vine and other varieties are turning to horticulture (or friends’ gardens) to find the vines they want.

I recently asked Slow Flowers members to weigh in on some of these stylistic shifts in bridal preferences. With so much influence from wedding blogs and magazines, from instagram and pinterest, it’s no wonder that brides are curate their own look and feel from many sources.

Susan Studer King of Buckeye Blooms in Elida, Ohio, shared her perspective, which actually addresses the three points I just made, this way:

“We are consistently finding that brides covet the lush, loose look of natural garden flowers with interesting textural elements and slightly cascading finishing accents such as tendrils of clematis or sweet pea vine. We are also seeing a steady shift in interest away from blush tones and more toward more vivid, vibrant shades and jewel tones.”

Suppliers like Jamali Garden are introducing a wide array of hammered metal, brass, bronze and copper vessels.

Suppliers like Jamali Garden are introducing a wide array of hammered metal, brass, bronze and copper vessels.

  1. Good-bye, Mason Jar

Like many, I’m pleased with Ball’s recent reissue of its aqua blue and bottle green canning jars for the contemporary marketplace, but this American classic glass jar seems to have hit its saturation point.

Designers are seeking out the next easy and affordable vase for wedding reception centerpieces on a dime.

The solution, it seems, is at the thrift store, where inexpensive brass vessels are readily available. Mellower than tarnished silver, brass is versatile and suits both old-world and contemporary designs. A close relative to brass is old copper, which develops its own alluring patina with time.

Now, floral suppliers have releasing full lines of tarnished and hammered metal vessels, so it’s possible to avoid that trip to the thrift shop, yet those new introductions are all imported.
So the big search is on for American-made glass vases in contemporary rather than dated shapes. I know of a number of designers pushing for an American made option – and we’ve yet to find stylish choices. Will that come in 2015?

Love the shades, shapes and textures of green foliage in one of my favorite containers.

Love the shades, shapes and textures of green foliage in one of my favorite containers.

  1. Superstar Foliage

You might call this style “50 Shades of Green” and thanks to flower farmers who are planting interesting new foliage, we’ve all decided that a bouquet with generic greenery is yawner. An uncommon palette of distinctive foliage ups the character of a floral arrangement, bouquet or centerpiece. The options are exploding, moving far beyond salal, ferns and bear’s grass. Look for options like raspberry foliage, baptisia, scented geranium and other herbs, smoke bush, ninebark, pittosporum, box, myrtle, magnolia, camellia, and other uncommon types of greenery to upgrade the ordinary bouquet. Hand in hand with awesome foliage is where we source it – from the landscape, orchard or forest is so much more beautiful than the prosaic selection the industry has typically offered florists. It takes ingenuity, perhaps, to develop sources of unconventional leaves, but increasingly, that ingenuity means success for the designer who wants to differentiate him or herself from the everyday marketplace.

Man bouquet, designed by Riz Reyes of RHR Horticulture.

Man bouquet, designed by Riz Reyes of RHR Horticulture.

Guys in Baltimore, modeling their floral facial hair for Local Color Flowers' Baltimore Beards Project

Guys in Baltimore, modeling their floral facial hair for Local Color Flowers’ Baltimore Beards Project

10. Man-bouquets and floral beards

Real Men Love Flowers. Other than donning a boutonniere on their suit lapel, the masculine floral consumer has been ignored for too long. Cutting-edge guys want flowers, too – and innovative designers are responding. Riz Reyes, a Seattle-based horticulturist and floral designer, has created the “man bouquet,” a cluster of woodland blooms attached to a hand-carried grapevine wreath. Certainly, it’s for the more adventuresome groom, but as Riz asks, “why not?”

Irene Donnelly, a staff designer at Local Color Flowers in Baltimore has taken the idea of “personal wedding flowers” to a new level by weaving, pinning or gluing the green stems of tiny botanicals into the facial hair of hipster male customers. Designed floral beards are made from sedums, succulents, poppies, ranunculus, tiny pods. A few guys have even worn floral eyebrows and mustaches.

So Happy to Share My Year in Flowers With YOU!

So Happy to Share My Year in Flowers With YOU!

So that’s my take on the pulse of America’s floral industry.

I hate to use the term “trend,” when what we’re really talking about is a cultural shift.

The question for you is this: are you part of the shift? Are you helping to propel the Slow Flowers Movement forward through your own actions, through the way you communicate to your customers and the marketplace?

The goal of the Slow Flowers Podcast is to put more American flowers on every table, one vase at a time. Listeners like you have downloaded the Slow Flowers Podcast more than 28,000 times. If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review.

I wish each and every one of you a happy new year, one that’s filled with prosperity and peace as we join together to change the broken U.S. floral industry. I believe that we’ve already changed things for the better – and that momentum will continue in 2015.

The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Wheatley and Hannah Holtgeerts. Learn more about their work at hhcreates.net.

Music credits:
Tryad – Our Lives Change
Tryad – Lovely
Tryad – Star Guide
http://tryad.bandcamp.com/album/instrumentals
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
Marcus Eads – Johnson Slough
Marcus Eads – Praire’s Edge
http://marcus-eads.bandcamp.com/album/sherburne-county-instrumentals
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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Three observations about the Local Flower Movement

Sunday, August 25th, 2013
Red, White & Blue Flower Flag

Red, white and blue American-grown flowers, featured in a patriotic display at Sun Valley’s Oxnard, CA, farm.

Here is a summary of the remarks I gave last month at during a gathering at Ocean View Flowers in Lompoc, Calif.

I shared three observations about the Local Flower Movement and its importance today (and in the future).

  1. The narrative of American Grown
Fill Your Buckets with Blooms

A visually appealing banner on display during our tour of Sun Valley’s Oxnard farm.

We are at a unique point in time when consumers are yearning for authenticity and the high-touch human narrative. From the explosion of interest in heirloom vegetables and fruit, with the Rock Star chef and farm-to-table menu to an anti-mass-produced desire for artisanal and hand-crafted products to ever-popular farmer’s markets, consumers are drawn to the raw materials of life. Even major companies are moving the human face and compelling stories of people, not products, to the forefront.

American Grown flowers and those who farm them and design with them are ideally positioned to respond to a hunger for story. The back story is compelling and engaging. It is authentic. John Donati, of Ocean View Flowers in Lompoc, California, summed up this sentiment beautifully: “We may be big, but we want to look small.”

I saw many examples of this during the Fun ‘N Sun conference in Santa Barbara, presented by the California Association of Flower Growers & Shippers. In his presentation at Sun Valley’s Oxnard facility, CEO Lane DeVries discussed the company’s investment in breeding better floral varieties. He showed us images of the Ilex that’s currently available on the market and then revealed several new varieties that Sun Valley is hoping to introduce in the future. Those options are clearly superior, with berries arranged all the way to the tip rather than clustered lower on each branch. The collective buzz in the room increased in volume as the questions flew Lane’s way: How long before the new variety will be in production? I can guarantee that those in the audience will be bugging Sun Valley for the next few years for those “new” Ilex cultivars. No one will forget his presentation.

Rose Story Farm display

Luscious and romantic, Rose Story Farm’s American-grown garden roses.

Similarly, when we visited Danielle Hahn at Rose Story Farm in Carpiteria, where a delicious garden-style luncheon was served at umbrella-covered tables laden with country pitchers of roses, the commodity flower crowd gained newfound appreciation for the garden rose. Dani told many stories of the 150 old garden rose varieties that grow here, explaining how she selects for fragrance, petal color and flower form.

The history and provenance of each rose variety is at her fingertips. She is a compelling storyteller and the narrative only served to personalize each beautiful bloom and its value. No matter that garden roses have a “four hour vase life,” Dani joked (they really last for several days, if properly harvested and cared for). Their romance and beauty trump vase life. And when a bride sees (and inhales) Dani’s roses, she has a sensory response that is not based on budget, but story.

2. The power of Quality

Tractor Americana

Old-timey John Deere tractors – how nostalgic is that? On display in the beautiful fields of flowering stock at Ocean View Flowers.

Stories underscore the value-added nature of American Grown flowers. The local farmer should be selling quality, freshness and uncommon variety. Why? Because those attributes get our flowers out of the price race. And American Grown flowers will not win the price battle with imported flowers. Price alone turns flowers into a commodity. And commodities are generic, which means that cheap, cheaper and cheapest sells to unimaginative florists who need YOU to help them retreat from the low-cost battle.

Of course, communicating about American Grown quality product requires a lot of what I just covered above, in Point #1 – storytelling. They go hand-in-hand. Be transparent and forthcoming. It gives you an edge that makes you and your flowers memorable. None of us will forget the story that John Donati shared about Ocean View’s approach to specializing in only field-grown cut flowers. Enjoying our country-style lunch in the middle of that flower field, surrounded by vivid rows of clove-scented stock, we won’t forget the message of quality that was conveyed by everything around us.

3. Know and employ your Customers

Debra, Billy and Nell

A gathering of friends at the July 18th Flower Fields luncheon, hosted by John Donati and the staff of Ocean View Flowers. I’m at left, joined by fellow writers/bloggers Billy Goodnick and Nell Foster.

The designers who use your floral product are ultimately your best marketers. In some industries, this approach is called “crowd-sourcing,” which sounds a little crass. But with the right approach, you can engage the people who create beautiful arrangements, bouquets and events to tell your story better than you can.

How can you do this?

  • Invite designers to share their photos with you. Create special incentives for those who post photos of wedding or event flowers on your Facebook page (such as drawings for gift certificates). This approach is a win-win for everyone! Designers will benefit by showing off their artistry and your farm benefits by the implied endorsement that YOUR FLOWERS were selected for a special event. Future customers will be inspired, as well.
  • Blogs and magazines need content, so create your own photography and offer it as a free resource to bridal, home décor and gardening outlets. A library of beautiful flower images or photos of arrangements, labeled with your company name, web site or watermark, will potentially capture the interest of new customers and their floral designers. The same goes for text, with free “how to grow,” “when to harvest,” “how to design” and “vase life” tips featured on your blog or articles pages. 
  • Invite designers to offer their insights via an advisory committee. They’ll gladly share opinions and help you forecast floral trends. This mutually-supportive relationship will evolve. I know first-hand how beneficial simple conversations can be. Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall of Jello Mold Farm in Mt. Vernon, Washington, decided to grow more and more Cafe au Lait dahlias after enthusiastic feedback from their floral customers; similarly, Vivian Larson of Everyday Flowers in Stanwood, Washington, had the confidence to plant more black-centered white anemones, thanks to her conversations with customers. 

The bottom line is that the more authentic we are, the more likely people will be drawn to each one of us, our flowers, our stories. I was reminded of this recently during an interview with Ed McMahon, senior research fellow from the Urban Land Institute. He was talking about real estate development, but I think his comment is so incredibly appropriate for the American Flower industry, too: 

“If you can’t differentiate yourself in the world we live in today, you will have no competitive advantage.”

 

 

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SLOW FLOWERS Podcast: Marketing Local Flowers the Co-op Way (Episode 103)

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall, photographed by Mary Grace Long (c) September 2012 at Jello Mold Farm in Mt. Vernon, Washington.

Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall, photographed by Mary Grace Long (c) September 2012 at Jello Mold Farm in Mt. Vernon, Washington.

In this week’s podcast you’ll meet flower farmer Diane Szukovathy, the “cover girl” (along with floral designer Stacie Sutliff) of The 50 Mile Bouquet.

More than anyone I have met in the past five years, I credit Diane and Dennis Westphall, her husband and co-owner of Jello Mold Farm, with inspiring me and enhancing my understanding of what it means to be an American flower farmer. 

I’ve interviewed and written about Diane and Dennis many times, but in today’s episode, I wanted to zero in on some of the exciting news taking place at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market. This is an innovative, farmer-owned cooperative that Dennis, Diane and several other pioneering flower farmers launched two years ago. Their tagline is: Farmer to Florist.

Listen to my conversation with Diane as we discuss the new supermarket/mass merchandising program called “By the Bunch.”

The flower-growers' co-op provides great messaging and branding to educate customers at point of purchase.

The flower-growers’ co-op provides great messaging and branding to educate customers at point of purchase.

 

By the Bunch

Remember this cool logo: By the Bunch. It means these gorgeous bouquets are possible because their ingredients were grown by a bunch of awesome NW flower farmers

This is a cooperative-driven model that was designed to connect local flower farms with volume market opportunties like grocery store floral departments. Diane explains how this new program came to be and why it has so much potential to increase the income stream for people growing cut flowers.

Click here for more background on Diane and Dennis of Jello Mold Farm.

Click here for news about the 2011 launch of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market.

Click here for an October 2012 report about the grant funding that was used to launch the new mass market program.

Click here for the post I wrote this past spring when the By the Bunch bouquet program launched.

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Country Gardens: Over the Garden Gate

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Early Spring 2013

 

I’m used to being the one asking the questions, but recently, James Baggett, editor-in-chief of Country Gardens magazine, turned the tables on me. He asked me to participate in a Q&A for the “Over the Garden Gate” feature in Country Gardens. Here is the full interview below. A shortened version appears in the “Early Spring 2013” issue, out this week on newsstands. THANK YOU Mr. Baggett~

And a few more thank-you’s: Thank you designer Nick Crow, for making the page look so perfect; thank you to Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall of Jello Mold Farm, for sharing your location (and great dahlias!) for the fun day of portrait work — and especially: thank you, talented photographer Mary Grace Long, for the nice image. No one likes to have their photo taken and you made it a blast!

 

Over the Garden Gate Q&A

Full Q&A:

1.      What gives you the most pleasure in the garden (keep it clean)?
Long ago, my friend Mary Robson, who has trained thousands of Master Gardeners in our area, taught me the most important way to enjoy the garden. “Be an observer,” she said. When I see the large and small changes that occur as the seasons come and go, I take pleasure in just being an observer. There are instances when I catch my breath and feel my heart race because a little bud is perfectly backlit at dawn or a tiny bird is perched on the fountain’s edge, giving herself a splash. Those fleeting moments of beauty mark the seasons and turn something ordinary in to a priceless gift from nature.

2.      When did you first become interested in gardening?
Like many children, I dabbled in the dirt alongside my grandparents. My own parents weren’t gardeners, but my paternal grandfather was famous in our family for his peonies and my maternal grandfather was equally famous for his prize dahlias. So I think flower gardening skipped a generation and now I’m channeling my grandfathers’ practice of maintaining a personal cutting garden. In my twenties, my interest in growing and gardening expanded into unbridled passion – thanks to two close friends who are both landscape designers (Karen Page, my college roommate, and Jean Zaputil, who I worked with at a textile design firm in the 1980s). I learned a lot from them. I call them my garden muses. Lucky for me, I’m a writer, so I’ve been educated while also interviewing famous gardeners and writing about incredible landscape designs.

3.      What’s the best garden advice anyone’s ever given you?
Van Bobbitt, who taught many of the horticulture classes I took at South Seattle Community College, was one of the first people to talk to me about natural gardening practices. He introduced his students to the idea that if a plant is failing or under stress you should evaluate its cultural conditions rather than just dosing it with a pesticide or fungicide. That excellent advice has empowered me to stop blaming the plant and start looking at the larger environment. More often than not, it’s the “right plant” in the “wrong place.” And there’s an easy solution to that problem.

4.      What—if anything—do you enjoy listening to while in the garden? (Me? Dusty Springfield, Terry Gross, and birdsong.) Do you have a playlist?
My playlist is in my head, James. As a writer forced to operate in the world of social media, I have far too many external stimuli – nearly all digital and electronic in nature. The restful quiet of being outdoors is simply too rare – I cherish it. I find that while I am tending to my garden, I reflect, imagine and dream. Whatever inner conversation I have, it’s always a rewarding one.

5.      What does being a country gardener mean to you?
Greater Seattle’s population is 3.7 million people, so I definitely live in an urban setting. But being a “country gardener” is a state of mind, right? I think it means having a conscious connection to the parcel of land where I garden, no matter if it’s on a busy street or under the flight pattern of the airport. My favorite quote explains my “country gardener” philosophy: “…surely, if you are privileged to own a plot of earth, it is your duty, both to God and man, to make it beautiful.”  — Beverley Nichols, 20th century English writer.

6.      What inspired your newest book, The 50-Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local, and Sustainable Flowers?

Seattle photographer David Perry and I collaborated on a storytelling project to document the groundbreaking changes taking place in the cut flower industry. It began in 2006 when we met several local flower farmers who were growing gorgeous, uncommon ingredients — and they had to work hard to break through the traditional “wholesale” marketing machine to sell their crops direct to area florists. We soon realized there were similar stories of intrepid flower farmers and nontraditional floral designers all around the country. We wanted to put a face on the flower farmer – and to inspire floral designers and their customers, as well as everyday supermarket shoppers, to start asking “where were my flowers grown?” and “who grew them?” It turns out that the field-to-vase movement is as exciting as the culinary world’s farm-to-table movement.

7.      How are you enjoying gardening in the Pacific Northwest as opposed to Southern California? What are the differences?
I gardened in Seattle for more than 20 years and then, all of a sudden, in 2006, we moved to Southern California for my husband’s work. It was a huge shock to my system and yet, from a gardener’s perspective, it was exhilarating because I learned an entire new plant palette. My garden in Thousand Oaks, California, had all sorts of cool California native perennials, grasses, and shrubs; succulents, aloes and cactuses; and plants from other Mediterranean regions like South Africa and Australia. It was like taking a crash course in low-water gardening.

And just when I started to figure things out, we returned to Seattle in 2010. So I’m back to shade gardening and zonal denial. Every single time I fly back to Seattle from my frequent SoCal trips, I have a little pot of something wonderful in my carryon. That’s the benefit of having a spot in my garage to shelter everything that’s not winter-hardy during Seattle’s cold, wet season. So far, my California succulents have made it through two Seattle winters, so I think my method is working. There’s a benefit to having lived both in the Northwest and the Southwest: I now feel like I’m a true gardener of the West. And that feeling is enhanced by the wonderful community of fellow gardeners I’ve found wherever I live.

8.      Describe your dream garden for us.
I have my dream garden. It’s a beautiful series of mixed borders and flower beds with a fish pond (which I inherited and am learning to care for), a white pergola and a covered porch with vintage white wicker furniture and an outdoor fireplace. I even have a peek-a-boo view of Lake Washington that greets me every morning. My husband, Bruce Brooks, is great with the lawnmower, too. My only other “dream” would be to have a full-time gardener to keep up with the weeding, dead-heading and other chores.

9.      What lessons has your garden taught you?
Back to the idea of being an observer, I feel like when we pay attention to what’s happening in nature, our spirits and souls are enriched. The garden teaches both patience and acceptance. It also teaches that reward comes after work. Having spent all of my childhood listening to my father’s sermons and my mother’s Sunday school lessons, I learned a bit about giving a benediction –– the promise of hope at the end of a church service. I wrote a gardener’s benediction in one of my books. I didn’t realize that’s what it was until I saw it in print. But I think it describes my relationship with the garden: “I wish you a wonderful journey that will introduce you to many generous and supportive gardening friends … May your gardens be free of slugs; may your soil be rich and organic; and may you enjoy equal parts of rain and sunshine.”

10.   What’s next on your green-hearted agenda?
I’m wrapping up a solo project, which is a sequel of sorts to
“The 50 Mile Bouquet.” Called “Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm,” it will be published February 2013 by St. Lynn’s Press.  I challenged myself to design and photograph one bouquet every week  for an entire year. I only used ingredients from my garden or those grown and harvested by local flower farmers, even in the coldest months when most people assume there’s nothing available. In the process, I discovered that gardeners are ideally suited for floral design. We know the habit, form, peak of bloom and best qualities of the plants we grow – and we know how to combine them with in the landscape, so why not in a vase?

11. Anything else you would like to add that I’ve neglected to ask?
For the past five or six years, the grow-it-yourself trend has dominated the gardening world. And that has resulted in the pendulum swinging far towards the edible side of things. While many think it’s frivolous to grow flowers or care about how/where they were grown (i.e., the carbon footprint of imported flowers), I think the conversation is changing. Even though we don’t eat flowers, we do need their presence in our gardens – if only as a nectar source for pollinators or a seed source for birds. There is an important equilibrium that takes place when flowers – annuals, perennials and biennials – are cultivated, especially in the vegetable garden. You might be motivated to grow flowers for economic reasons, or to preserve heirloom varieties, or to attract beneficial insects. Whatever your reason, we need flowers in our lives, and in our gardens. 

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