April 9, the opening day for Tiny Hearts Flower Shop in Hillsdale, N.Y., was a long time coming. Buckets of crimson ranunculus and towering boughs of pussy willow lined the walls, brightly anticipating local shoppers. Pails of blue anemones, grown a few minutes away in Copake, ranged from deep indigo to an ethereal gray-blue.
Like so many American businesses, the shop was shuttered while the pandemic raged. Owners Luke Franco and Jenny Elliott scrambled to figure out what to do with the 40,000 tulips planted in October 2019 that sprouted into a world where weddings and baby showers were replaced by a smattering of Zoom affairs needing only a token bouquet.
Prior to all this, the picture was far rosier. Local farmers had been making inroads into the cut-flower market, a multibillion-dollar industry whose complicated supply chain brings imported blooms from Africa and South America to the U.S. via the Netherlands. Although 80% of the cut flowers purchased in the U.S. are still imported, the value of domestic floriculture rose 9% from 2015 to $4.77 billion in 2018. The number of producers increased 8% during the same period, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
These farmer-florists, as they’re increasingly known, have thrived by selling and marketing flowers directly to consumers and forming partnerships with floral designers and event companies. The same eco-conscious clientele that boosted farmers markets and locavore restaurants seem eager to hop on board. And COVID-19 may ironically be the ultimate long-term boon to these smaller producers.
Last year just before Mother’s Day—one of the tentpoles of the spring flower season—it was almost impossible to buy a bouquet. An imported bouquet, that is. The massive wholesale markets that provided the bulk of the cut-flower supply in the U.S. had gone quiet when florists in many states weren’t deemed essential businesses.
As a result, farmer-florists such as Tiny Hearts Farm received a deluge of attention. “The consumer interest exploded,” Elliott says. Seattle-based author and domestic flower advocate Debra Prinzing puts it even more bluntly: “The opposite of what we thought was going to happen took place. We saw more people embracing local agriculture and micro-farmers in their community.” Official membership in the Slow Flowers network, which connects consumers with local flowers, rose more than a third, to 880, from 2020 to 2021.
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