American-grown flowers becoming a Shore thing
OLNEY, Md. — Since 1978, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service had produced the floriculture crops report.
In 2016, they stopped.
This was just one of the issues that Kelly Shore, a Maryland floral designer, was advocating for when she visited Washington with American Grown Flowers in March.
Shore stressed that flower growers need to complete the USDA Agricultural Census.
“When we met with NASS about the floriculture report, they were surprised to see so many of us in the room. We asked why they suspended the report and they said they had a limited budget but honestly, they didn’t know it mattered because they’d never heard from flower growers,” Shore said.
The American Grown Flower movement is growing, but she said there’s still a lot more work to be done to raise awareness.
Another way farmers can do that is to become American Grown Certified, she said.
“Even small growers can become American Grown Certified,” Shore noted.
Immigration reform and trade policy were among other key issues.
“A lot of people ask me why it’s important to become Certified American Grown and it’s because it provides a network and advocates [for the industry]. No one else is going to Capital Hill to get the message about American-grown flowers out,” Shore said.
When she started her Petals by the Shore business in 2011, she had an idea about local flowers, but it wasn’t her focus.
“I romanticized the idea of locally grown because we had the Olney farmers’ market and I’d see flower growers there,” she said.
Shore would visit with flower growers at the market and eventually struck up relationships, making time to visit their farms and learn more.
She said Carol and Leon Carrier of Plantmasters in Montgomery County were part of the spark that lit her passion for locally grown flowers.
“I had just finished graduate school and I had an eight-month old,” Shore said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be. It was so liberating to take those days and visit farms. They were so patient with me.”
The more she learned, the more passionate she became, Shore said.
She was asked to be the featured designer at the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner at Scenic Place Peonies on Alaska’s Kenai peninsula last July.
She said she used the trip as an opportunity to dive into flower farming and spent a week learning more about the Alaska Peony Growers Association and American Grown Flowers.
When she came home, she decided she wanted to transition her business to 100-percent American grown.
But she said she realized she still had more to learn like what American grown flowers would cost and how that would impact her customers.
She also needed to better understand what flower varieties would be available in various seasons and where she’d source them from.
So, in 2018, Shore launched a year long project to produce one bouquet each month using only American Grown Flowers.
She said she’ll use the process as a way to gather the information she needs for her business.
The finished project will be featured in Florists Review Magazine.
“The project has been eye-opening and challenging at the same time,” Shore said.
“It takes a lot more work on [a flower designer’s] part, but to me it’s worth it,” she said. “The luxury used to be that you could import flowers from around the world.
“Now the luxury is that you’re getting an American grown product.”
Shore said social media has made the job of sourcing local flowers much easier for her.
She encouraged all flower growers to be online and make connections with other growers and floral designers. Finding farms may be easier, Shore said, but getting a supply is still a challenge.
For weddings, Shore said she is usually looking for specific products or flowers in a certain color palette. Buying from a wholesaler who sources globally makes that easy.
On the local level, she said she relies on growers who have weekly or monthly availability lists. That makes it easier for her to plan and limits the amount of time she has to spend researching and calling multiple farms.
“I can buy pretty flowers from anywhere in the world. Retail buys to sell. Floral designers buy what they’ve sold,” Shore said.
She noted that local flowers do tend to cost more than flowers she can buy internationally through a wholesaler.
But she added that the quality of local flowers tends to be higher meaning she can buy lower quantities.
“With imports, I have to allow for overage because of spoilage. When I buy local, I know they’ll last longer,” she said.
Shore participated in the Grow The Movement, an event hosted by the Maryland Cut Flower Growers Association which brought together floral designers and flower growers.
The goal was to network and share information.
Stone Slade, of the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Maryland’s Best program, said the inaugural event was a success with about 50 designers and growers in attendance.
“It sold out quickly,” Slade said. “About half of the group were designers and the other half were growers. They came together to collaborate and essentially conducted a market analysis that identified how they could benefit each other.”
In addition to networking events, social media, and e-mail communication, Shore said growers should also consider hosting open house events on their farm specifically for floral designers.
“You can’t stay isolated and expect us to show up at your door. Relationships are a huge part of a floral designer’s business,” Shore said.
As for the advocacy work, Shore said one thing she’d like to see is for President Donald Trump to set a precedent and use only American grown flowers in the White House.
It was a message she took with her as one of the lead floral designers for the Congressional Club’s annual First Lady’s Luncheon last month.
“It makes so much sense,” she said. “They serve cheese from Wisconsin and wine from California, why not have only American flowers?”
As she’s taken on the role of an advocate, Shore said her job has shifted from a floral designer to a storyteller.
“I call myself a floral story teller. I tell the story of the flowers, the story of the farmers and their workers, and the story of a couple. There is so much to be told from seed to centerpiece and there needs to be a lot more people out there telling these stories,” Shore said.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925