What a way to start the new year! We’re fortunate to have Debra Prinzing with us to kick off 2016. Debra is a Seattle-based writer, speaker and leading advocate for American grown flowers. In addition to being the producer of slowflowers.com (an online directory to American flower farms, and florists, shops and studios who source domestic and local flowers), she is also the author of 10 books, including Slow Flowers and The 50 Mile Bouquet. Debra’s “Slow Flower Podcast” is one of my favorite resources.
I know many of us are familiar with the Slow Flower movement, but I find the story behind the movement especially interesting. Debra has invested so much time and energy in the Slow Flowers concept and I’ve asked her to share a little more about her journey with us. Hope you enjoy her BB visit!
Are you a Slow Flowers Florist?
I’m often asked how Slow Flowers got started as a “movement” in the floral industry. Thanks to Botanical Brouhaha for the time and space to share that story here. I know this post is longer than many you’ve read on this flower-centric blog, but if you hang in there with me, you’ll find a surprise at the end! We’re offering one Botanical Brouhaha reader a chance to win a free, one-year membership to Slowflowers.com, where you can list your floral business at the Premium Level (a $240 value). Features of the Premium Listing are noted here.
I can date my heightened awareness of the American grown floral landscape to 2006 — that’s nearly a decade ago — when I met a very young mom named Erin Benzakein while I was scouting gardens in Mount Vernon, Washington. She was growing sweet peas and had big ambitions.
Something about our conversation resonated with me. I was an established features writer with a huge home and garden portfolio. I’d written countless floral design stories for regional and national publications and yet it had never occurred to me that there was a great imbalance in the way flowers were grown and sourced in this country.
At the same time, my writer-pal Amy Stewart was working on a book about the global floral industry’s dark side, which was published the following year and called Flower Confidential. Amy delved deep behind the status quo, and opened our eyes to the extraordinary reasons nearly 80 percent of cut flowers sold in the U.S. were being imported.
Curious to learn more, I subscribed to Growing for Market, Lynn Byczynski’s newsletter for market farmers. I joined the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers and attended my first regional meeting in 2010, held at Charles Little & Co. in Eugene, Oregon; and later that year I went to the national meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I began connecting with flower farmers wherever I could, both in California where I was living at the time, and in other states where my lecture travels took me. I met people virtually, as well, thanks to the ASCFG list-serves where I learned much about the issues facing small farms and American growers.
I teamed up with photographer David Perry, who first introduced me to Erin, and we began visiting flower farms to document their stories. We had in mind a book about this movement, and eventually, Paul Kelly of St. Lynn’s Press, an indie publisher with a focus on sustainable topics, picked up that book and helped us name it The 50 Mile Bouquet.
By the time it was published in 2012, I realized that our beautiful little book couldn’t have been possible without all of the people who so generously shared their knowledge with me, inspiring me to get more deeply involved.
Surprisingly, I returned to my business writer roots (as a journalist, I had served as a staffer, editor and columnist for a major Seattle business newspaper off and on between the late 80s and the late 90s).
And all of a sudden, I found I was able to combine my experience as a business writer with my experience as a home and garden features writer — to become an observer of the business of flower farming and floral design. The meaningful stories that occur behind the “pretty flowers” fascinated me.
During the five year period while I worked on The 50 Mile Bouquet, I often had to explain what I was doing to fellow writers and friends. I found a shorthand term and I found myself saying, “it’s about Slow Flowers, you know – like Slow Food, but about flowers that are local, seasonal and sustainable.”
Somehow that notion caught on and many, not all, but many understood the term SLOW FLOWERS when I used it. And by the way, I actually wrote a little manifesto explaining Slow Flowers in response to an email one of my flower farmer friends sent me. You can read it here.
In 2011, while still working on The 50 Mile Bouquet, I had a frustrating exchange with a former editor at a big NYC publishing house. Her rejection of that book’s proposal (which had an earlier title, A Fresh Bouquet), was a huge disappointment, but what she said was actually a motivating force that launched the birth of Slow Flowers as a cause and eventually, my business mission. She said, “the idea of having local flowers is fine if you live in Santa Barbara, but for people in the rest of the country, it’s not realistic.”
Even though I disagreed, I couldn’t dismiss her perception of the so-called “problem.” It compelled me to do something to prove that editor was wrong, if only to myself. “I’ll show her,” I thought. “I’ll create one bouquet each week for the entire year, and use only what I can clip from my own garden or what I can source from local flower farmers in my community.”
I started during the first week of November, 2011. I know, ridiculous, right? But actually, beginning when the garden is going dormant and surviving with this project through Seattle’s wet, cold, bare-bones winter was a good thing.
I certainly proved to myself that twigs and conifers are beautiful and that if one is resourceful, creative and observant there are many options for the DIY floral designer who wants to keep things local and seasonal.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this bouquet-a-week project [some of which are pictured above]. At the time, I was calling it “52 Weeks of Local Flowers.”
Maybe it would be a blog series; certainly not a book. But then Paul Kelly and I talked about what I could write after The 50 Mile Bouquet was published, and I told him about my project. He encouraged me to see it through.
After spending several months making and photographing my designs without missing a week, Paul nudged me into packaging the year-long floral ritual into a book.
But what to call it? Well, “52 Weeks of Local Flowers” was OUT. To Paul, that title sounded like a 1980s self-help book.
I suggested, “what about SLOW FLOWERS?”
Paul loved it. And we were on, again racing the deadlines to work with the talented team at St. Lynn”s, including senior editor Cathy Dees and art director Holly Rosborough. Slow Flowers was published in 2013 and it blossomed into so much more than a book.
Slow Flowers became a movement that propelled the industry’s conversation about transparent sourcing of flowers, about saving America’s flower farms, and about connecting consumers of flowers with growers of flowers.
The conversation led to the creation of Slowflowers.com, our directory of flower farmers and florists that launched in May 2014 with 250 listings and has grown to more than 620 members; that number increase each week.
It also inspired the creation of the Slow Flowers Podcast with Debra Prinzing, which debuted in July 2014 to reach an entirely new audience — nearly one-thousand listener downloads each week and has 23 five-star reviews on iTunes.
Earlier this year, the US Patent and Trademark Office approved the Slow Flowers trademark. That was a huge confirmation to me that Slow Flowers has become a powerful vehicle for sharing information, inspiring others and stimulating change.
As the Slow Flowers Movement gains more followers and more passionate friends who believe in the importance of the American cut flower industry, the momentum is contagious.
I know you feel it, too.
Here’s how to enter this week’s giveaway: Post a comment below with a link to your web site. In your comment, share one way you incorporate seasonal, American grown flowers into your work.
The winner will be announced on Botanical Brouhaha on Friday, January 8th.
(Headshot image courtesy of Linda Blue)