Cut Flower Niches

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I recently had the pleasure of joining the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers board of directors for its annual meeting in Oberlin, Ohio. We had a great lunch in a private room at a really hip Asian fusion restaurant and were serenaded by an Opera-singing student waitress, who was performing in Candide. Beyond the great food, fellowship and atmosphere, the best part was going around the table and hearing the regional directors present news updates about their markets.

Many of the cut flowers are grown outdoors seasonally and in greenhouses and hoop houses during the winter months. Although last spring and summer were too wet in some regions, many of the growers had great years in 2009 and their entrepreneurial spirits are alive and well. Here are local opportunities that seem to be the most promising:

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

More metropolitan areas are supporting local farmers through CSA’s. In exchange for a share or a subscription, consumers in urban and suburban areas receive a bounty of fresh produce every month. Now, many are adding beautiful seasonal bouquets or buckets of fresh cut flowers to arrange on their own. What a wonderful idea! Many fruit and vegetable growers are finding they have common ground with specialty cut flower growers in organic and sustainable production methods, too. Regional agricultural conferences are bringing them together to create more opportunities for small farms. “People are dissatisfied with corporate America,” one grower said. “As consumers, what answer do we have? Our dollar. Buy local.”

Farmers Markets

Farmers Markets are quickly overtaking retail florists as the mainstay outlet for specialty cut flower growers. They are cropping up in new destination shopping centers, as well as older, more authentic urban neighborhoods. One of the main concerns is authenticity–aligning with markets made up of legitimate growers instead of resellers. Also, are the markets driven by developers or the community? “Pike’s Market in Seattle has no farmer cred now, it’s just for tourists,” one grower said. “Newer markets are starting and people don’t know what they’re doing.”

Big On Bridal

Many of the growers are selling directly to brides. Some are even creating a fun activity for the bridal party, serving brunch while giving the bridesmaids tips on making their own bouquets. For many, it’s as simple as providing buckets of flowers. Sometimes a bride will show up and say, “I’m getting married this afternoon. I need flowers.” This is especially true for destination weddings in more touristy locations on the coasts. Eco-conscious bridal also is a big trend. Growers are getting involved in regional bridal industries, exhibiting at shows and getting listed in green bridal guides. More florists are offering brides a local source, too.
For all of these specialty cut flower growers, the association founded by Dr. Allan Armitage and directed by Judy Laushman has been an invaluable resource to share ideas, work together, mentor each other and shorten the learning curve. Just listening to them share what they were doing was a breath of fresh air and a return to simpler times.

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com
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