I was a flower delivery driver one college break. A pre-GPS / smart phone flower delivery driver, with no sense of direction. I spent hours lost, driving a large van the wrong way down one-way streets, looking at a Thomas Guide through tears of frustration, the recipients of a bouquet no longer surprised, as they had to wave me down as I just could. not. find. their. address. My saving grace was the pre-van morning in the flower shop, when I would help pack the arrangements into boxes to protect them from my sharp U-turns. The smell of a shop filled with flowers is indescribably sweet.
Yet I never asked where they those beautiful blossoms came from before I took them on worst ride of their floral lives. Years later, after I watched “Food, Inc.,” that documentary deploring the horrors of factory farming which made me lay off beef from unknown origins, and ask where my salmon was sourced, I was pretty confident: I was all about sustainability. That is, until I talked with Jessica Stewart and Justine Lacy, the founders of Foxglove Floral Design Studio in Brooklyn, NY. I’d never asked the same questions about the bouquets I buy.
Do you know where your flowers were grown? Is there a dark side to that beautiful bunch of begonias you’ve arranged for a garden party? From poorly-paid farmers to those exposed to chemical fertilizers or toxic pesticides, there may be an ugly side to those beautiful, store-bought flowers. Slow Flowers, a la Slow Food.
The easiest thing to do is ask, says Jessica. She and Justine, delightful, smart, funny women who fell into and in love with floral design, were already striving to live in an eco-friendly way, and immediately chose the sustainable route when they teamed up as Foxglove. New business owners, they work diligently and drive miles to grow a network of local farmers who will supply their botanical needs for weddings and events, and they know other designers around the nation doing the same thing. They thrive on this, and are happy to do the research and leg-work to ensure their flowers are sustainable, so you don’t have to. If you run into a wall from a grocer who isn’t in the know, there is a label to look for: the frog of Rainforest Alliance. When Foxglove Floral can’t buy locally in NY or the surrounding areas, they look to the UK, France, and The Netherlands, all of which comply with strict standards.
It’s an uphill battle to find reliably sourced flowers and create those connections with farmers; there are un-returned emails and phone calls, larger farms that only work with bigger buyers, smaller farms for whom a delivery drop isn’t cost effective. It takes drive. It takes people who, like Justine & Jessica, up and move from small towns to New York City to pursue dreams: Justine for her work in costume design, and Jessica as a grad student in labor history. Switching their focus to flowers, both are happy to put in the hours and sweat equity to offer their clients local, seasonal designs. And working farmer by farmer has its perks, they tell me. Straw Hill Farm, started by two artists living off the land, just starting to sell flowers commercially to small shops. They get their hands dirty. “We headed out there, helped plant bulbs,” the pair said. That allows them to open the conversation about what is on trend for events, and to call the farm directly to check on their crocuses, working intimately in the farm-to-centerpiece business.
But often their clients are of the bridal persuasion, and this is their big day. Emotions can run high, and while I don’t want to unfairly label, some turn into a beast that rhymes with “pride-villa.” Jessica & Justine get it. They work with folks who truly *want* to source their flowers locally and sustainably, but who maybe, just maybe, have had a bridal look-book going LONG before Pinterest was a thing. Justine and Jessica lay it all out at the beginning: “We explain what is in season, what is available, and also that nature is ultimately in control,” says Justine. If nature should decide to shake things up with a storm or flower-killing freeze, the wedding couple is the first to know, and have already been presented with the other seasonal options available.
Want to join the slow flower movement? If you’re interested in the business of sustainable flowers, Justine and Jessica recommend Amy Stewart’s book, Flower Confidential. And check out the NYT conversation with Debra Prinzing, who recommends finding local flowers in your neck of the woods via The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (say that five times fast), or via her indiegogo campaign – Slow Flowers: A Directory of American Flowers, Florists, Designers, and Farmers.
And take a tip from Jessica & Justine: take risks, take leaps of faith. Stalk…er … engage people who are doing what you dream to do — the two met one of their inspirations, Jenni Love, at a flower show. They spent hours in conversation, learning from Jenni’s experiences, and consider her a mentor in the field. Check out a video of Jenni picking and creating a winter bouquet, here.
(Photos: Foxglove Brooklyn, bouquet/boutonniere split shot Khaki Bedford)