2016 Floral Insights & Industry Forecast (Episode 227)
January 6th, 2016
As I was preparing to record this week’s episode I had a flashback to January 2014 and it reminded me of just how young Slow Flowers really was only two years ago.
Leading up to the launch of Slowflowers.com, I’d spent six months working with my designers to create the site’s framework. Having invested more than $10,000 of my own money to get the platform off the ground, I decided to turn to crowd-funding to raise another $12,000 in order to pay the web developer’s bill.
I spent considerable time and effort to set up my Kickstarter campaign, including hiring my friend Hannah Holtgeerts and her then-teenage brothers to create the Slow Flowers campaign video. For those of you who’ve been involved in these crowd funding sites, you know about all the up-front investment of time and resources that’s required prior to ever submitting your project for review.
Why Slow Flowers? from debra prinzing on Vimeo.
On December 24th 2013, less than 24 hours after I had submitted the Slow Flowers campaign to Kickstarter, I received this generic email response:
Unfortunately, this project does not meet our guidelines — resources of this nature do fall outside our scope. This isn’t a judgment on the quality of this project, just a reflection of our focus.
Not only was I devastated, I felt that Kickstarter was wrong and didn’t understand the creative nature of Slowflowers.com. If I had wanted to publish the directory of American flower farmers and florists as a tangible book rather than an easy-to-update web-based directory, I’m sure they would have accepted my proposal. It’s not like I was launching an e-commerce site either. I think it was just a matter of a lazy reviewer who didn’t take the time to thoughtfully read my proposal, but instead made the wrong conclusion and sent me their rejection.
I brushed myself off and turned to Indiegogo, where I should have started in the first place. I resubmitted the exact same campaign that Kickstarter had rejected and within 24 hours – on January 5, 2014, I received this email:
Congrats, ‘Slow Flowers: A Directory of American Flowers, Florists, Designers & Farmers’ is now live!
My chunk of coal in the Christmas stocking turned into a beautiful diamond, thanks to Indiegogo’s acceptance of the project. What followed was nothing short of amazing, with a 45-day campaign generating more than $18,000 from 229-plus contributors— we exceeded the original funding goal by 54 percent! Look how far we’ve come in just two years!
Slowflowers.com launched in early May of 2014 with 250 listings.
Today, our membership has climbed to 640 in 48 states!
It’s always good to look in the rear-view mirror and see the distance covered. The road was bumpy, narrow and had limited visibility – but our wheels are still on the flower cart and it is my dream to help Slowflowers.com membership climb to 1,000 in 2016.
That is my New Year’s resolution – and you can help me reach that goal by referring fellow flower farmers, floral designers and wholesalers to join the site!
I recently checked in with Slowflowers.com member Laura Beth Resnick of Baltimore-based Butterbee Farm to learn more about the Maryland Cut Flower Growers Association’s winter meetings. Laura is the current president of the Association, which will hold the second of its three winter meetings on January 12th from 10 am to 1 pm (the third meeting is scheduled for February 9th at the same time).
The Maryland Cut Flower Growers Association is a regional group that has met each winter to share information for almost twenty years. The group convenes in Annapolis and the meeting is open to flower farmers in the Chesapeake Region, which includes Maryland, northern Virginia, southern Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
Before you hear her voice, I’ll share a little bit more about Laura Beth. She is a Baltimore native who launched Butterbee Farm in 2013 after a few years apprenticing on East Coast organic farms. The farm’s first seeds were sown on a 13th of an acre in the Reservoir Hill area outside Baltimore. Midway through the summer, artist and California transplant Jascha Owens volunteered on the farm, and the two have been farming together ever since, now farming on nearly two acres thanks to increasing demand for their beautiful flowers.
The Maryland Cut Flower Growers Association meeting will be held at the Maryland Department of Agriculture Building (50 Harry S. Truman Parkway in Annapolis). For more information, you can contact Laura: firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you are able to attend if you’re in the area.
OUR 2016 FORECAST
As promised, Let’s kick off 2016 with my Floral Insights and Industry Forecast. I’ve been tracking shifts and concepts that are taking hold in the American floral world. I know some of you have already experienced these developments. In fact, my conversations with guests on the Slow Flowers Podcast have greatly influenced this list.
I look forward to your reaction, thoughts, and input on these items, including the ones I’ve overlooked or missed! I invite you to share yours in the comment section below:
1. Femme Power: My friend Rochelle Greayer of the gardening publication Pith & Vigor asked me to contribute my take on “Feminine Rising” for her 2016 Garden Trends Report, out last week.
Increasingly, women are proving that farming flowers is no longer a backyard hobby.
Growing unique, seasonal cut flowers for a design-oriented customer base, especially for the wedding market, is a hot opportunity for women entrepreneurs in the green industry.
With women now representing nearly one-third of the agriculture sector, the profile of an American farmer is changing.
“Farmer-florists” are leading the way, combining horticulture, agriculture and floriculture to differentiate themselves in a marketplace flooded with foreign flower imports.
On top of this, thanks to new numbers from the USDA, we know that floriculture (cut flowers and foliage) is the most profitable category for small farms with annual sales of $500,000 or less.
This means that on a per-square-acre basis, specialty cut flower crops are highly valued. There’s a sweet spot for women flower farmers to capitalize on the Slow Flowers/buy local movement, now more than ever.
Download a free copy of Pith & Vigor’s 2016 Garden Trends Report here.
2. Collaboration/Community: When flower farmers and floral designers convene, something explosive takes place – a harmonic convergence of nature and art, creativity and ingenuity.
Of course Lisa Waud’s recent project in Detroit called The Flower House epitomizes this notion, bringing together American grown flowers with floral designers from across the country to express their talents in a single, over-the-top floral art installation.
Inspired by this magical, sensory experience, others are beginning to emulate the collaborative approach to event production, art installations and group design projects. There is something so powerful when likeminded folks with a shared vision come together to create something larger and bolder than any could achieve individually.
Community-minded goodness is happening in regional pockets around the country as farmers collectively market their crops. I love the term “co-opetition” that I learned from Diane Szukovathy of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market (founded nearly five years ago). Others are emerging as a new force in their regions, like the Alaska Peony Marketing Group, the North Bay Flower Collective and the Pacific Northwest Cut Flower Growers.
As you heard at the top of this podcast, the Maryland Cut Flower Growers Association has been meeting for years during the winter months to share ideas and to generally support one another.
The necessary next step is to bring flower farmers and florists together for more intentional dialogue, action and mutual endeavors. Let me know what’s going on in your world – as a floral designer or flower farmer. I’d love to feature your story on a future episode of the Slow Flowers Podcast.
3. Urban Flower Roots. Growing cut flowers within a city limits isn’t entirely new. Jennie Love of Love ‘n Fresh Flowers has been doing it for nearly eight years and city flower farms exist on a small scale in places like Brooklyn, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Oakland – all are Slowflowers.com members, of course.
But as you learned in episodes of the Slow Flowers Podcast in the past year, Baltimore and Detroit are among the cities where the public-private partnerships may soon earmark underutilized land for flower farming. Earlier this year we hosted Walker Marsh of Tha Flower Farm in Baltimore who planned his first season in an exciting new community-supported parcel and researcher Kristin Dawson who was commissioned by the city of Baltimore study the viability of converting underutilized city land for flower farms. Then, of course, Lisa Waud announced the future plans for her own Detroit cut flower farm.
Interest is increasing as others explore the viability of using vacant land to grow flowers for local markets and to stimulate economies of at-risk communities.
Building on the points I’ve already made, I predict that these endeavors will only succeed with collaborative efforts.
It makes no sense for someone to start growing flowers on city land unless that urban farmer has insights into the local floral community and its demand.
There’s a critical need for dialogue in each unique market as this is not a one-size fits all model.
We’ll be covering this phenomenon in the coming year and if you’re involved in planting the seeds for a future urban flower scene, please get in touch! I’d love to hear what’s in store in your own community.
4. Pop-up Power: If the customers aren’t coming to you, bring the flowers to the customers. Like food-incubation hubs, pop-up flower businesses are a low-risk way to explore retail options, to reach a new market or to generate an infusion of capital.
I asked some folks to weigh in and add their insights: April Lemly of Kamama Flowers, Portland’s boutique floral CSA, shared this:
Kamama Flowers loves pop up shops! As a new business it is a fantastic way to make a big impact in a short amount of time. I also enjoy sharing the craft in “real time,” making bouquets on the spot sells! In 2015 we did holiday pop ups and always sold out earlier than anticipated. It is a really fun way to share your business with your community while earning a bunch of money in a short amount of time and it’s free marketing!
Caroline Thompson of Willow & Mabel Garden Co. in Poulsbo, Washington, posted this comment in response to my Facebook query:
I have just started my farmer florist business in 2015. I took part in a few “pop up sales” at local vintage markets – successful yes, but more so in spreading the word on the slow flower movement & buying locally grown than financial reward.
Melissa Brown of Flying Bear Farm on Whidbey Island, Washington, a recent podcast guest, shared this observation:
We’ve had a lot of experience doing various kinds of pop-up’s around the region! I did a pop-up farm stand (heirloom produce and market bouquets) in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, which was sweet and great for marketing, but completely financially woeful. However, we’ve done a few Pop Up Flower Shop’s here in Langley over the last year or so, and those have been pretty damn great, both marketing-wise and financially!
The message is clear: Special-occasion flower pop-up experiences are worth trying — when they appear just in time for flower holidays and at uncommon destinations, they offer countless benefits – to the flower farmer, florist and floral customer!
5. Dining in the flower fields: If you listened to this podcast in 2015, it was impossible to miss my support of the Field to Vase Dinner Tour, a successful 10-city Live Event that drew flower lovers, designers, growers, wholesalers, along with policymakers and members of the media to the fields and greenhouses where American flowers are raised.
That was a major campaign of the Certified American Grown flower brand. The dinners served more than 1,200 guests on 10 all-American farms
While the Field to Vase Dinner Tour will continue in 2016, what I find exciting are the countless spinoff events being served up by flower farmers in their own communities.
And why not? Getting your floral customers, be it a supermarket flower department buyer, a studio florist, wedding and event planners and flower shop owners, to step outside of their own work space and step onto your farm is one of the very best things you can possibly do to connect the dots between where flowers are grown and who ultimately enjoys them.
Take a cue from the Field to Vase Dinner tour and create your own farm magic. These dinners relate to my earlier point about collaboration and community ~ pull together a group of flower friends and stage your own al fresco dinner on a flower farm.
6. American made goods and accessories for florists. Yes, we love American grown flowers, but if we’re using imported vases to contain those blooms, doesn’t that seem like a big disconnect ?
We each have our own inner compass about the sustainable choices we make in our floral businesses, and I know of many florists who yearn for better and more diverse resources to keep things green.
Consumers care, too. Did you notice the recent New York Times article about the resurgence in ceramics? I predict that the maker movement will have a strong influence on traditional manufacturing in the coming year.
In a few weeks this podcast will host a conversation with Anne Graves of Syndicate Sales, a wholesaler of floral hard goods with roots deep in American manufacturing. Syndicate Sales is making an intentional effort to highlight its American-made vases and other goods by using a US flag icon in its catalog. That is a small but significant way to change the conversation and I challenge other hard goods suppliers and wholesalers to do the same thing. We want transparency in our flowers, so why wouldn’t we want transparency in the supplies we use?
Here are my favorite American made floral supplies — and please let me know if you have suggestions to add to my list!
7. Make and Take. Floral Design workshops aren’t a new phenomenon, although I trace the current craze of floristry education to Sarah Ryhanen and Nicolette Owen’s Little Flower School of Brooklyn, which received national attention via a NYT article in 2010.
Others like Ariella Chezar have long been followed for their advanced design workshops in intimate settings. These hands-on experiences give emerging and established floral students rare access to top creatives in our profession. No longer is the conventional flower school the only channel for reaching floral design learners. Personality-driven content, at every price point and for every customer is having a renaissance.
This Make-and-Take phenomenon began in the garden center world in the early 2000s when homeowners paid for the experience of learning a new skill (be it planting a container or grafting fruit trees) with the added bonus of “taking” a piece of that workshop home.
Floral design make-and-take has exploded and will be even more important in 2016. If you haven’t expanded your portfolio to include teaching, now is the time to do so!
8. Wearable Florals. Let’s thank Portland-based floral artist Francois Weeks and her students (there’s that make-and-take again) for the presence of beautiful botanical jewelry in our world.
You may have heard from Francois on a recent Podcast episode when I asked her to describe how her career evolved from wedding and event design to teaching workshops on the national and international level. Her fanciful floral handbags, shoes and headpieces composed with tiny items from nature and succulent plants captured the imagination of florists and their clients.
Susan McLeary, Francois’s friend and student, puts her own twist on wearable florals with contemporary pieces — collars, cuffs, earrings, pendants, charms and lapel pins — using mostly succulents. If you have a chance to learn from one of these two women, grab it. And check out Susan’s Etsy shop, Passionflower Made.
The innovation doesn’t end with succulents only. I’ve seen some charming pieces designed by students of Francois that include surprising ingredients — see above and get inspired to try your own floral jewelry in the coming year.
9. Native Flowers. Last year we included cultivated wildflowers as an emerging category. That momentum continues in 2016 with horticulturists who are exploring native varieties for cut flowers.
A leader in this research is Slowflowers.com member Alisa Varney of Garden Celebrations in Ojai, California – an organic lavender and rose flower farm that sells exclusively to the wholesale market. Alisa has spent the past year running trials to determine the viability of California native plants for cut flowers.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden recently honored Alisa and her research with its Da Vinci Award. Read about Alisa’s findings at her blog where she profiles CA native bloomers with photos and details about the vase life of annuals, perennials and shrubs.
Natives can be an important source for florists, but not much is known about their performance as cut flowers. I’d love to hear from you about the native plants in your region – and about how those flowers, stems, branches and pods provide ornamental beauty for your designs.
10. Modern Everlastings. Dried flowers are having a renaissance, too, and if you’re from my generation, you remember how important dried flowers were for home decor in the 1970s and 80s. Like me, you’ve probably seen the return of interest in dried flowers. Perhaps the focus on extending the seasons has prompted flower farmers to return to those easy-to-preserve floral choices.
The anecdotal evidence is telling. On one hand we have St. Paul, Minnesota floral designer Christine Hoffman of Foxglove Market and Studio, who relies heavily on dried seed heads and flowers for her winter arrangements. She sources from Midwest farms, and forages with permission from gardens, meadows and fields near her.
My visits to Charles & Bethany Little of Charles Little & Co., in Eugene, Oregon, remind me of the volume of everlastings that one can crank out if only there’s space to hang bunches of flowers for drying. Charles recalls the nonstop 80s when the crafting trade gobbled up his dried flowers. There was a dry spell and yet now there’s a resurging interest — the evidence can be seen in the rafters of Charles & Bethany’s magnificent barn, where there’s everything from Ammobium (or winged everlasting, a tiny daisy-like flower) to Yarrow, a satisfying array of cut flowers that live long after they’ve been harvested and air dried.
Wreath makers, crafters and designers are again integrating dried elements into their work, especially during the cold, dormant season. There is nothing more sustainable than finding an after-life use for a flower that you may have in excess. At the very least, I urge you this coming year to experiment with cutting and drying a variety of stems from your fields or vases – let’s see how much beauty lives on with a new purpose.
THANK YOU FOR JOINING ME THIS WEEK AS WE REVIEWED THE NEW, NEXT AND NOW IDEAS ON THE HORIZON FOR 2016.
As I’ve mentioned before, I hate to use the term “trend,” when what we’re really talking about are shifts that are here to stay — and for good reason.
How are you part of the shift? How are your practices giving momentum to the Slow Flowers Movement? Don’t overlook the powerful message of telling your story of authenticity, one that’s reflected in your own actions and the way you communicate with your customers and the larger floral marketplace. REMEMBER that SLOWFLOWERS is an essential tool in your toolbox – we have resources and logos to share, as well as important intel, week after week through this podcast.
The goal of the Slow Flowers Podcast is to put more American flowers on every table, one vase at a time.
Last year at this time, I announced that listeners like you had downloaded the Slow Flowers Podcast more than 28,000 times. This week we hit the 77,000 mark – that’s nearly 50,000 downloads in the past year, or close to 1k per week.
What good news for the New Year! If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review.
A couple love letters arrived this past week – and I really needed them. Thanks to Tammy Meyers of First & Bloom for this note:
I just finished your podcast. It was so good! What a year in review!!!
Your portion about the editor who turned down your ideas for the book brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing this vulnerable moment, as I have had a few of those myself over the years, particularly in my previous career. It made me feel like I’m not alone…like it happens to the best of us. And wow did you prove her wrong!
Lastly, I just wanted to share how very grateful I am to be in the loop of the Slow Flowers Movement. You are an absolute inspiration to me, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!
And another wonderful blog comment was penned by Joan Thorndike of Le Mera Gardens, in Talent, Oregon, near Ashland. Joan sent this note:
Constance Spry was my first flower muse. Then came you, Debra Prinzing, you who through your dedicated work have enriched beyond measure my life as a flower farmer. You make us growers feel relevant, you carry the flag for in season flowers, you advocate for a life with fresh flowers, and you make a difference.
Well, thank you, Tammy and Joan – and to everyone whose work contributed to today’s 2016 Forecast.
I wish each and every one of you a happy new year, one that’s filled with prosperity and peace as we join together to change the broken U.S. floral industry. I believe that we’ve already changed things for the better – and that momentum will continue in 2016.
The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Wheatley and Hannah Holtgeerts. Learn more about their work at shellandtree.com.