In 2015 floriculture sales made up a $31.3 billion dollar industry according to the Society of American Florists. 78% of those flowers came from Colombia, which became a competitive market thanks to the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, that gave the country duty-free access to the U.S. market. Low wages make imported flowers cheaper than U.S. produced. The average flower worker in Colombia makes $6 a day and can work up to 70 hour weeks without overtime.
This has spurred a trend in the U.S. towards locally grown fresh flowers called the Field to Vase Movement. Reporter Renee Wilde takes a look at two growers in Ohio who define this new movement.
Imported flowers now make up 80% of the total cut flower production in the united states. That change has led to over half of the U.S. fresh flower growers going out of business since 1992. The number of U.S. cut flower growers is now estimated at 280, with the vast majority of those located in California.
In the late 1980‘s when Chris Waymire’s dad decided to turn part of his farming operation in Yellow Springs, Ohio over to fresh flower production, he didn’t realize he was about to be on the cutting edge of a new movement in the floral industry called Field-to-Vase. It encourages consumers to buy locally grown and harvested flowers.
"My mother was out looking for flowers for a dinner party and she was complaining that she couldn’t find any fresh flowers, and that sparked a thought in his mind 'I wonder if we can grow flowers' and supplement our income that way," says Chris. "So they built the green house and quickly found there was a huge demand for fresh, local grown flowers."
The Waymire’s solution was to offer a better product by limiting the distribution radius to a one day truck drive from their greenhouse. The Little Miami Flower Company has now become the largest cut flower producer in Ohio.
They specialize in Oriental and Asiatic Lilies, and Alstroemeria. The lilies are one of their biggest crops and are grown on a constant rotation. The Waymire’s plant about 12,000 bulbs a week.
"Once we bring the lilies out of cold storage they will be in the greenhouse for 8-12 weeks," says Chris as we enter the greenhouse.
Right now, you might be imagining a greenhouse full of blooming flowers. But that’s not how commercial cut flower growing works. Flowers are picked while they’re still in a bud so that when they get to the consumer they have the longest bloom time possible. What we’re looking at here are row after row of lush green plants. Workers move among the rows, harvesting stems from plants that are just getting ready to bloom, and their placing them in five gallon buckets.
Chris shows off an Asiatic white lily that was picked this morning, "If you put this in water it would begin to open either late tomorrow or the following day. Our business continues to grow because now consumers are coming into the florists and saying, 'I’ve never had a flower last that long.'"
An hour South on the outskirts of Cincinnati the Gorman Heritage Farm is offering another example of the Field-to-Vase movement. The farm has a large cutting garden and sunflower field open to the public. I meet up with Kathy, who volunteers as the assistant gardener on this 122 acre urban farm.
"We start in April. We have phlox and we have columbine, we have Columbine that blooms early, and people can come and cut that. Snapdragons are early, last year we had them in November yet and they were just beautiful, but this year its been too hot. I’m trying to get them to re-bloom."
We tour the rows of lush blooming plants and Kathy points out the different varieties.
"This tall plant with the pink flowers hanging down, that’s called Kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate. That’s a very old fashioned plant."
Flowers can be cut and purchased either on a stem by stem basis, or through a variety of seasonal subscriptions, much like a food CSA.
"I see people out here almost every day cutting," says Kathy. "And we’ve got a wedding coming up on Saturday. That’s part of the deal. I think we allow them 125 stems. And so we have two weddings in September, so that’s why I’ve got three beds of Zinna."
The Field to Vase movement is gaining momentum. Check out one of the 2016 “Field to Vase Dinner Tours” across the country through this fall, where four course meals are prepared by professional chef’s and set in the middle of a local grower’s field or greenhouse.