The United States has a significant cut flowers trade deficit.  Although Americans consume more cut flowers than any nation – $7.9B in 2020 – the US isn’t among the top 10 nations in terms of production.  And given that flowers are perishable, this means that a LOT of flowers are imported to America via airplane every day with substantial economic and environmental impacts.

Colombia supplies 70 percent of the 10M flower stems that Americans buy every day on average, according to Amy Stewart of Flowers Confidential.  Colombia is second only to the Netherlands in global exports, according to SmartAsset, a floriculture statistics purveyor.  Ecuador, Kenya and Ethiopia round out the top five exporters. 

Covid’s Effect on the Cut Flower Supply

American flower growers had trouble competing with cheap imported flowers until the Covid pandemic disrupted shipping and global supply chains.  The flower shortage happened to peak just around Mother’s Day 2020, a time when demand for flowers was very high, and second only to Valentine’s Day.  Suddenly, with no flowers in grocery stores, people turned to local flower farmers and bought almost every stem American growers had. 

For many consumers this was their first exposure to locally grown cut flowers.  What they learned was that although supermarket flowers are quite affordable, product selection is usually limited, and grocery store flowers are not as fresh, limiting their vase lives.

Food supply channels were disrupted in similar ways, prompting Future Harvest, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering sustainable farming in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, to send this message to its members.  Much of what it wrote applies to the cut flowers industry as well.

One of the starkest lessons learned during the pandemic is the importance of ample food production right here in the Chesapeake region, a lesson we could be learning all too often as new disruptions loom on the horizon: severe drought in the West, hurricanes in the South, supply bottlenecks, the possibility of new COVID-19 variants. This is not a time to return to business as usual. We must invest heavily in building up our regional food system.

Local Growers

America has seen an 8 percent increase in the number of cut flower growers over the last decade.  During the same period, there was a 9 percent increase in demand for cut flowers.  Growers who have been in the business for years say business picked up during Covid and remains strong.  Champions of locally grown flowers tout them for myriad reasons:

  • Fresher flowers that will last longer in a vase
  • Greater variety of flowers
  • Natives and edibles are available
  • Lower carbon footprint (most due to short-haul shipping)
  • More responsive service

As a fellow local flower grower, Plantmasters Flowers, recently posted on social media, “Sourcing locally grown flowers help you!  We add to the value of your emergency staff, school system and the tax base and other services.  And what we buy locally helps support the businesses you rely on.”

Faith Wachter, owner and founder of Faith Wachter Consulting – a social media marketing agency based in New Market, agrees.  “People are increasingly more intentional and conscious about where and how they spend their money. Shopping small and local is not just a passing consumer trend, it’s the direction of the future. When small businesses succeed, everyone in the community benefits.”

Flower Cooperatives

Some local growers have started or joined flower collectives, co-ops, and co-marketing organizations to create new distribution channels.  Typically, growers accept lower prices in exchange for higher sales volumes and guaranteed sales, and wholesale buyers get convenient access to a large volume and variety of flowers.  Benefits of a Co-op:

  • Owned and controlled by the people who benefit from them
  • Structures vary to best meet the needs of the co-owners. It could be a building with various stalls vs an organization dedicated to aggregating product and selling it together. 
  • Professionals sell on your behave while you’re farming.
  • Translates to more sales, more diverse sales to different markets, and gives access to more buyers.
  • Higher profits.  
  • Easier to gain new customers because growers are approaching together and offering things collaboratively.
  • Collusion and price fixing are allowed in some instances under the Caper Volstead Act, a federal law that allows farmers to set prices without violating anti-trust if they are in a co-op. Allows prices and standards to be set for a large group of farmers and levels the playing field between family farms and corporate buyers.  Note, is has to be a legal co-op (incorporated under state statute) to be protected under the statute.

It’s More Than Business

Faith Wachter

“As a small business owner since 2015, I know firsthand the importance of supporting other local businesses. When you support a small business, you’re also supporting a family, strengthening a community, and contributing to the local fabric of where you live. You’re helping to create jobs and you’re helping to shape the economy of where you live by investing back into your community,” said Wachter. “We saw this especially in 2020, when so many people rallied around restaurants and small retailers to help them stay afloat during the pandemic. Personally, and selfishly, I still make a point of regularly ordering carryout from my favorite restaurants to make sure they’re still in business. I also did much of my holiday shopping locally in 2020 and will continue that this year as well. I choose to do this because I want to live in a community where unique small businesses can thrive.  It feels really good when you know you’ve contributed to a cause bigger than yourself.”