There's a field of good reasons to buy local flowers. Just look around. In June and July, every state in the U.S. is producing petals to decorate cozy breakfast tables to splashy wedding receptions, each stem selected, in a very personal way, for its color, size and beauty.
Organic flower grower Joan Ewer Thorndike of Le Mera Gardens in Talent, south of Medford, is sentimental about seasonal blooms. She tells brides that each year they see the flowers they chose for their bouquet blossom again, they are reminded of their big day.
The idea of buying flowers that grow nearby is an offshoot of the larger buy local campaign that supports neighborhood food, beer and wine producers. Certified American Grown Flowers, which advocates that the flowers on your table should be as fresh as the food on your plate, hosts a series of Field to Vase dinners, much like winemakers dinners.
Seattle-based author Debra Prinzing, a longtime supporter of domestic growers, started the online resource Slow Flowers to help customers find U.S. cut-flower farms.
Last year, Prinzing dreamed up American Flowers Week to throw the social media spotlight on locally grown flowers, foliage and other botanicals. The #AmericanFlowersWeek effort generated more than 400,000 impressions on Twitter and Instagram, says Prinzing.
This year, American Flowers Week is June 28-July 4, the patriotic days leading up to Independence Day. It's a natural time to celebrate U.S. products, say supporters.
New Seasons floral manager Katie McConahay, who works with Northwest flower growers year round, plans to have special mixed bouquets from Charles Little and Co. of Eugene and other Oregon farmers. The bundles will be flagged with an American Flowers Week campaign logo.
One of the country's largest flower sellers, Mayesh Wholesale Florist, which has an operation at the Portland Flower Market, will spend the week promoting local flower farmers like Glenwood Farms outside of Hillsboro.
The Portland-based, farmer-owned Oregon Flower Growers Association will host the Emerging Florist Competition, where floral arrangements will be judged on Wednesday, June 29.
Growers' Facebook pages and other social media sites will explain how to download Californian artist Jenny Diaz's USA map with flowers and beneficial insects to be colored in. Also catching attention are American Flowers Week graphics, in which Peterkort Roses in Hillsboro donated blooms to create a "flower fro," says Prinzing.
Slow Flowers members and Southeast Portland florists LauraLee Symes of Sellwood Flower Co. and April Lemly of Kamama Flowers will sell red, white and blue bouquets created from fresh-cut, locally grown flowers. Sellwood Flower Co. is also hosting a $55 Fourth of July centerpiece workshop, starting at noon on Sunday, July 3.
"Flowers are such a meaningful part of the important moments and the ordinary days of our lives," says Symes, who is celebrating her business' first anniversary. "It's good to know where they came from and even better to know they were grown in the U.S."
The American Flowers Week campaign involves more than 700 Slowflowers.com florists, retailers, wholesalers and cut-flower farmers.
Thorndike of Le Mera is one of them.
On Monday, June 20, a straw hat shaded Thorndike's face as she picked lilies, hydrangeas and garden roses blooming in Medford, one of three parcels her parent farm, Fry Family Farm, leases in the Rogue Valley.
Amid all this abundance, it's hard to imagine that she once lamented the lack of cut flowers in the U.S.
In the 1970s, while visiting the U.S. for the first time from her native Chile, she stopped to buy cut flowers to bring to her dinner host. She handed the florist a $5 bill and received one stem of freesias. One stem?
In Chile and other countries, buying flowers is frequent. In the U.S., it's long been perceived as a special occasion purchase mainly because of the cost, according to industry trade associations.
Americans are now buying more flowers, thanks to the rising popularity of farmers' markets and decision among chain stores to place "impulse buy" flower bouquets at cash registers.
Still, adds Dave Dowling, president of the Association of Specialty Cut Flowers Growers, "Americans don't spend enough on flowers," compared to other countries.
Cut flowers delivered by online floral giants or sold at warehouse-type stores and large grocery chains are imports from the Netherlands and South America, with Colombia alone flying in 700 million stems to the U.S. market this year, according to the Association of Colombian Flower Exporters trade association.
Local growers understand consumers want to buy cut flowers year round, even during Oregon's off season, and appreciate support from locally owned grocery stores and florists who work to keep a supply of Pacific Northwest-grown cut flowers, foliage and floral arrangement elements like berries and branches from crabapples, quince and flowering cherry trees.
Thorndike, who moved to Oregon in 1984, has been farming flowers organically since the early 1990s, when her small children were always at her side. Using harmful chemicals was never an option, she says.
She depends on the Rogue Valley's long growing season to produce a variety of unique flowers, like blue bachelor buttons and Cafe au Lait dahlias, that are desired by florists, event planners and brides.
She and her crew harvest on Mondays and Wednesdays, and she drives the flowers in her refrigerated truck to clients the next day. Brides and members of DIY wedding parties are able to purchase Le Mera Gardens' farm-fresh flowers in bulk and by appointment the week of their event.
No one should be priced out of having flowers, says Thorndike, still recalling that $5 freesia. "Whatever your budget, we will work with you," she says.