Cultivating Relationships with Flower Farmers
Tips for sourcing locally grown flowers for your shop or destination event.
By Tonneli Grüetter
What role do local farms play in your business? Increasingly consumers are driving demand for locally grown flowers. From ready-made bouquets to event work, customers are knocking on florists’ doors seeking niche seasonal supply requests. Fueled by the artful appeal of personalities like Christin Geall, renowned floral designer, gardener, educator and author of Cultivated: The Elements of Floral Style, and Erin Benzakein, founder of Floret Farms; author of three books; star of Growing Floret, a documentary TV series on the Magnolia Network; and the reigning queen of farm-floristry.
These dominant design trends have led customers to crave something special, beyond what’s sourced from overseas mass-market growers. It is no longer uncommon for wish lists to include the type of fresh flower supplies previously reserved only for grandma’s garden such as bearded Iris, delicate fruit blossoms and forget-me-nots. Gazing at the Pinterest boards of wedding clients, these oddball varieties can be spotted enhancing the beauty of more traditional botanicals like garden roses. However, unlike garden roses, which thrive in exotic locations and ship like a dream, many of the trendiest seasonal flowers and fillers are affected by higher spoilage rate—a factor that makes them less than profitable for large-scale growers.
To understand why these old-timey flowers are suddenly coming into fashion now, one must first look at the cyclical nature of trends within the framework of supply and demand. According to Certified American Grown Flowers, “Over the years, [cut] flowers and foliage have slowly shifted from being locally grown to being primarily imported from foreign countries. In fact, only about 22 percent of the flowers and foliage sold in the United States are grown here.”
As our floral supply chain shifted from domestically grown to sourced overseas, certain sacrifices had to be made to ensure the flowers being grown would survive arduous journeys without significant bruising, molding and other problems. This means that, for many years, while floral consumers would be eager to list flowers like lilacs among their favorites, they simply lost the expectation of being able to have ultra-seasonal blooms available for their vases. Through the lack of available supply created by moving our flower growers offshore, a whole generation of consumers came of age with near amnesia to the existence of entire families of flowers having a life beyond the garden gate. Luckily for us, these blooms stayed a flickering light within the hearts of skilled designers who were simply waiting for an opportunity to bring the garden back indoors through floral design.
Enter the farm-florist influencer. When Instagram was launched in October 2010, it ignited a movement of homespun florists who were unbound by the constraints of the mass-market supply chain. These creatives finally had the platform needed to inspire others with their love of local flowers, resulting in a mainstream awakening to the existence of heirloom varieties completely unseen to millennial consumers entering the peak of their flower-buying years.
When seeking local blooms, there are several methods you can employ depending on your exact needs. You may find that one of them works best for you and your business, based on the situation.
1. For Items You Know You Will Have A Heavy and Steady Demand For
Consider networking directly with a local farm to see if the owners are willing to grow your favorite blooms by agreement. To many small farms, the idea of growing a crop that is essentially presold is extremely desirable. This method requires not only trust on the part of the farmer but also follow-through from the florist.
If you are a florist who can look back at records and expect a reliable sales stream for a particular type and/or variety of flower, it may be wise to network with a local flower grower and ask if he or she would be willing to grow on your behalf. Likewise, this method may also be good for high-pressure event work. For example, take the forward-thinking wedding florist who may be looking at a computer desktop filled with the coming years contracts and is already feeling stressed by the possibility of ongoing supply shortages. This florist can find great relief in building relationships with local flower farmers and a way to diversify his or her supply stream. Smaller growers have the capability and flexibility to focus on delicate wedding colors, which often are the most fragile and damage-prone should supply-chain mishaps occur within the mass market.
In seeking an arrangement of this type, be clear about your expected supply needs, be prepared to potentially set your own pricing and remember to ask about previous crop failures, as well as delivery options, too; you may need to pick up. When choosing the right flower farmer, it is best to work with someone with whom you are already at least somewhat familiar; however, if you are not so lucky as to already know a tested farmer, there are some fantastic online resources you can employ. Consider sourcing a flower farmer using one of the following directories: rootedfarmers.com, slowflowers.com and americangrownflowers.org.
2. For Florists Looking To Spice Up Their Daily Offerings or Attract New Customers
Ask your favorite wholesaler(s) about what is available locally, and learn the names of the farms from which they source. Follow these farms on social media, and become an active community supporter. When you see a farm sharing about an exciting new flower you would like to carry but do not see at your wholesaler, you will know exactly what to ask for and where to direct your salesperson. This choice is extremely convenient for florists who may not have the time or ability to drive to a farm to pick up. It empowers florists to not only connect with flower farmers but also maintain the convenience of using their trusted wholesaler(s).
3. For Traveling Florists
Sourcing quality local flowers as a destination-wedding florist can be extremely stressful, but it also ranks high on the list of priorities for many clients. Sourcing locally for these types of jobs can lead to a fish-out-of-water experience but is well worth the reward. In addition to the fresh botanicals you will be shipping in, consider reaching out to the “market master” at a farmers market in or near the destination-wedding locale. A market master functions as the person in charge for a farmers market, and he or she will easily be able to let you know where to source local flowers.
Another tip we love utilizing when traveling for work is to run a quick search on social media using hashtags. As an example, let’s say you have been hired to design the floral décor a large party on Vancouver Island. To learn what local flower buying options are available there, simply search: #vancouverislandflowerfarm or #vancouverislandfarm. In scanning through the posts under one or both of these hashtags, you will quickly be able to see if enhancing your work with local blooms is possible. A bonus is that you could potentially save a great deal of money because buying direct from a local farmer is almost always more cost effective than sourcing from wholesalers and shipping in flowers.
Beyond delivering customers the aesthetic choices their hearts are set on, sourcing local flowers also comes along with some serious benefits from a business standpoint. For example, at the time of writing this article in mid-November, the current going price for a Dahliafrom online wholesalers was as high as $3.50 a stem (plus shipping)—and bring with it an expected vase life of three to five days. Comparatively, Dahlia sourced locally from a small grower while in season will go for $1 to $2 per stem, in bulk, and they last closer to week. By skipping the supply-chain intermediaries, you can expect these flowers to last longer, leaving customers feeling a greater value from a raw material that will likely cost you less.
Adding a local touch to your inventory might just be the smart business choice you and your customers alike have been searching for.