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US: Local Flowers make a comeback

On a former tobacco farm near North Carolina’s bustling Research Triangle, Jonathan Leiss and Megan Cornett Leiss have been growing flowers on Spring Forth Farm since 2014.

Growing and selling cut flowers worked as a solution in two ways. Selling the flowers provides income, while having the flowers among their kale and garlic helps keep away pests and attract pollinators. The couple doesn’t generally sell all the food they grow. Instead, they eat it, trade with neighbors, and donate some of to their local food pantry.

Spring Forth is one of many farms that are reaping the benefits of flowers—as a way to boost a farm’s bottom line as well as its ecosystem. And, unlike with many food crops, growers are finding a market that’s ready to pay the true cost of growing them in a sustainable way.

Cash Crop
Until 1991, domestically grown flowers made up nearly 65 percent of the country’s sales. When the United States entered into the Andean Trade Preference Agreement (ATPA), part of the “war on drugs,” tariffs on a number of products from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru were eliminated to incentivize growing crops like flowers instead of coca.

Since then, the percentage of flowers grown in the United States has steadily decreased, supplanted by sales of South American flowers, the majority of which come from Colombia. Roughly 80 percent of flowers sold in America are imported. These imported flowers are grown by underpaid laborers using heavy doses of synthetic pesticides, and carry a large carbon footprint given the many hundreds of miles each shipment must travel.

Against this backdrop, U.S. growers have carved out a niche for sustainable, local flowers, and they’re finding that it is often more profitable than growing vegetables alone.

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