Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Slow and Steady: The Rise of Flower CSAs

by cathym on July 2, 2018

by Michelle Sutton

You’ve probably heard of the Slow Food Movement, and maybe even the Slow Gardening concept coined by horticulturist Felder Rushing. If you buy cut flowers from local growers, you are likely participating in the burgeoning Slow Flowers movement.

The concept of Slow Flowers was popularized by garden writer Debra Prinzing who launched slowflowers.com in 2014 as a means to connect consumers to farmers, florists, and grocery stores who sell locally grown flowers. It was through Prinzing’s website and its grower directory that I found Linda VanApeldoorn of Take Your Pick Flowers in Lansing just outside Ithaca, and Carrie Kling of Windy Acres Horticulture in Royalton, an hour east of Buffalo. Both provide flower CSAs to their customers.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and CSAs are farms that offer subscriptions to their customers for regular (usually weekly) deliveries of produce and/or flowers. Both Linda and Carrie found their way into flower CSAs as a natural outgrowth of their customers’ desire to have regular deliveries of bouquets. Here they are in their own words.

 

Linda VanApeldoorn’s Story

Flower bouquet by Linda VanApeldoorn. Photo by Anna Simonak

I started flower farming and operating a pick-your-own in 2006 soon after I moved in with then-new husband Paul. His home, to my delight, happened to be situated on the only hillside with sandy loam in all of clay-heavy Tompkins County! In 2008 the Lansing Farmers Market opened and I took bouquets to sell. Shortly thereafter, I left my day job, started growing flowers full time, and added doing flowers for weddings and events to my business.

The CSA branch of the business began in 2007 after my chiropractor said, “You know, I’d love to get your flowers but I don’t have time to come out there and pick them. If you bring them to me, I’ll buy them!” I started bringing flowers when I had my weekly appointment with her, and then other people started getting interested.

This year I have 53 flower CSA members. Some pick up their bouquets here at the farm, but we also have drop-off locations in Tompkins County and I do some deliveries to homes, offices, restaurants, and retailers in the Ithaca area. Folks can opt for 10- or 15-week seasons. Each year I add new varieties to the mix. My business motto is “Flowers from Seed to Centerpiece!” … as I start most of the plants from seed in my home under grow lights.

Linda’s wreath for the bride. Photo by Linda VanApeldoorn

I suppose I was part of the Slow Flowers movement before it was named as such. My philosophy is to grow flowers as sustainably as possible. I try to let Nature do her thing as best she can. On the rare occasion I use a pest control product, it has to be certified organic. Buying local is so very important, as most store flowers are grown in South America, treated with chemicals, packed dry, and have such a long journey to your table, the life gets sucked out of them while the carbon footprint mounts. You can see the difference between imported and locally grown flowers, so if you’re going to buy flowers, why not buy real ones? One reason my CSA has been so successful is that people are in such disbelief about how long my flowers last. They pick up their flower CSA delivery and comment that last week’s bouquets are still looking fresh.

I belong to the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers and keep learning from them. They have a great YouTube video about locally grown flowers that I highly recommend (youtu.be/PEXs9UUgqqg). I’ve done seed trials for them over the past few years, so sometimes I get early access to new and unique varieties of cut flowers.

Linda VanAppeldoorn. Photo by Sheri Negrea

A really lovely arrangement came out of the drought summer of 2016, as it was then that I met Glen Robertson from Challenge Workforce Solutions in Ithaca. Challenge finds work for folks with disabilities and other barriers to employment, and Glen runs a program called Ability to Bloom that grows and sells cut flowers. Because the drought compromised flower productivity that summer, Ability to Bloom was having trouble meeting their flower quota, so Glen purchased some from me. We then joined forces; now I hire Challenge crews to work here a couple days a week, and I also go up to their plot to work when they need me.

I started teaching workshops a couple of years ago on flower arranging, how to make flower crowns, drying flowers, and dried flower crafts. There are several upcoming ones listed on my web site, takeyourpickflowers.com.

 

Carrie Kling’s Story

Carrie’s creativity at work. Photo Courtesy Carrie Kling

Windy Acres Horticulture (windyacreshorticulture.com) is a small farm in Royalton, New York. We grow flowers on just under an acre-and-a-half of our 75-acre farm. I began by selling potted plants at a farmer’s market more than eight years ago. Over time I was drawn to the simple beauty of flowers grouped together in a bunch, and to flowers so artistically arranged that they would make your heart stop for a moment while you admire nature’s colors and shapes.

The flower CSA evolved naturally from a desire to market my flowers directly to consumers.  My friend Julie Blackman from Blackman Farms and I would talk about our goal of retiring from our jobs in health care to pursue our dreams of farming. She went on to open a brick-and-mortar store in Snyder called Farmers and Artisans where local and artisan foods and products are sold, and I gave up my medical career to focus on growing specialty cut flowers. It evolved naturally that we would partner and that Julie would provide the distribution for the flower CSA at her store, along with her vegetable and fruit shares.

A Carrie Kling creation centering heirloom chrysanthemums. Photo courtesy Carrie Kling

Putting a name and face on a product is what consumers want and need. We are surrounded by mass marketing which is impersonal and isolating. People want a connection to others and to the land. We have all experienced seeing a mass-marketed bouquet, where each flower looks like the next, a clone of its neighbor in color and form. Lost are the nuances that nature brings to individual flowers and stems. I strive to make each week’s bouquet of our 18-week subscriptions different and unique from the last. In addition to the CSA customers, florists, event planners, and brides are appreciating the benefits of local flowers that are naturally grown at Windy Acres Farm.

I continue to grow and experiment in the field of cut flowers. This year, I am trialing a partnership with another flower farmer to provide flowers for her CSA, thereby increasing her options for artfully designed seasonal bouquets. We’ve started providing floral design classes, usually in the fall. After instruction in basic flower care and design, attendees create their own beautiful arrangement to take home. It is a huge amount of fun.

Carrie Kling with her peony border. Photo courtesy Carrie Kling

Becoming a part of the Slow Flowers movement was something I felt I had to do to support the larger industry. Slow Flowers is about making a conscious choice to educate people on the source of their flowers and to grow flower farms once again in the U.S. Many people don’t know that most of the flowers sold in the U.S. are shipped in boxes from South America, Africa, the Netherlands, and other places.

To survive their long trip as cargo, they have been grown to withstand the rigors of being out of water for at least a week. These flowers have been hybridized to the point of becoming scentless and are sometimes lifeless in appearance. They are fumigated with pesticides to prevent the importing of pests into the U.S. Flower variety and a diverse gene pool is being lost as only varieties that withstand shipping are grown for seed. Workers, mostly women, are exposed to sub-optimum working conditions and dangerous chemicals.

The Fair Trade Agreement of the 1990s that allowed these imports literally put most flower farmers in the U.S. out of business. The Slow Flower movement strives to bring American-grown flowers back. My CSA is a natural outcome of joining the Slow Flowers movement, as is engaging with other flower farmers through the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.  This group selflessly shares information, resources, and best practices with the goal of helping each member to succeed. There is no limiting sense of competition, but a mutual sense that each member is vested in your success.

The Principles of the Slow Flowers Movement
(from slowflowersjournal.com)

  • To recognize and respect the seasons by celebrating and designing with flowers when they naturally bloom
  • To reduce the transportation footprint of the flowers and foliage consumed in the marketplace by sourcing as locally as possible
  • To support flower farmers small and large by crediting them when possible through proper labeling at the wholesale and consumer level
  • To encourage sustainable and organic farming practices that respect people and the environment
  • To eliminate waste and the use of chemical products in the floral industry

Michelle Sutton (michellejudysutton.com) is a horticulturist, editor, and writer.

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