Foxy Fox Trot, Renown Unique and Sensual Touch are some of the provocative names on the marquee this week at the Michigan Flower Growers’ Cooperative. The co-op, which opens this month through October, has grown from a desire for a convenient flower-shopping experience to compete with the seduction of online shopping where, in a few clicks, buyers can order flowers, with next day delivery, from anywhere in the world. The market also offers day passes for DIY brides and others who need flowers for a single event.
“We are so excited to offer a one-stop shop for wholesale buyers who want beautiful, freshly cut flowers and foliage from local growers but have struggled to find them,” says Amanda Maurmann, a floral grower and designer, who is a Board Member and co-founder of the co-op.
The impact of the War on Drugs
Fifty years ago, America grew its own flowers. Thousands of farms across the country grew soft-petaled, fragrant heirloom and native garden blooms for everything from simple table bouquets to elaborate wedding arrangements. Imported flowers were a luxury out of reach for all but the wealthiest buyers. Today, America imports 80% of its flowers, largely— strangely enough— because of efforts to combat the global spread of heroin. To curb the opium trade, the U.S. government spent billions of dollars creating and promoting Colombia’s floral industry. Once established, industrial flower farms proliferated throughout South and Central America to meet America’s demand for inexpensive blooms, while America’s once-thriving flower farms became collateral damage. Generations of Americans have grown up on new varieties of flowers that produce quickly and can withstand long trips without water. These rugged flowers, often sprayed with toxic pesticides or rinsed in disinfectant, before being wrapped in multiple layers of packaging, travel thousands of miles, frequently arriving smelling like Tupperware.
Mirroring the Local Food Movement
In the past fifteen years, the local food movement has seen thousands of local farms spring up across the country to meet demand for fresh meats and vegetables by an educated and discerning public with concerns about where their food comes from. And now the local flower movement is beginning to bloom. Many vegetable farmers also grow flowers, and are discovering that, despite the low cost of imports, flowers can rank among their most valuable crops.
According to the USDA, the number of U.S. farms growing flowers increased 14% between 2007 and 2015. For small acreage farms with annual sales between $10,000 and $500,000, floriculture has become the most profitable crop. Michigan is in the top five states nationally for flower production and has the infrastructure in place to increase its share of the market. The Ann Arbor and greater Detroit metro areas, with the large number of universities, hospitals, and corporations, as well as a growing wedding industry, present a strong floral market. As consumption of local food has become more mainstream, interest in local flowers has also grown, with many customers requesting that florists use local blooms, or sourcing flowers directly from farmers for their own DIY arrangements.
Local growers also find the co-op a boon to their business plans. “Before the market opened, I spent more time in my car delivering flowers than I did growing them,” says co-op member and flower-farmer Michael Rodriguez. “The market takes a 30% commission, but I come out ahead because of the time I save on marketing and delivery.”