“From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success.”
—Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
For years the United States cut-flower industry has taken a hit from trade polices and efforts in the war on drugs to shift coca-growing nations to flower growing nations. This has made competing floral products from far-flung locales (often in more temperate regions) cheaper to source.
And why not? Low paid workers in other countries make many products coming in to the U.S. less costly these days.
Of course, it’s not really cheaper when you consider the cost to society of shipping flowers from South America or some other foreign producer. And the biggest form of subsidy is none other than cheap fossil fuels. If the cost to fly roses in from Colombia and Ecuador — or even places as far away as India, Malaysia, and New Zealand — is lower than the cost to grow flowers at home, offshoring is how you’ll stay competitive.
Over the last few decades, competition from cheap-labor markets abroad forced hundreds of domestic greenhouse operations to shut their doors, costing American jobs and sending yet more of our agriculture to other foreign locales. (And this is to say nothing of the moral cost of that cheap outsourced labor including poor and unsafe working conditions, unfair compensation, and other insults to human dignity at work.)
“Get it cheaper if you can” is the attitude of all consumption when we decouple what we can access from the impacts they make on our world. But for every mile transported by airline (flowers must travel fast since they don’t last long) there’s a troubling carbon footprint left in every pretty little flower’s wake. Put more simply, that’s pollution, fossil fuel filth. And nobody wants a bouquet of that.
So it’s worth looking at how the things we use to beautify our lives and touch our souls, things as lovely and meaningful as flowers and decorative greenery and natural floriculture in general, are just as worthy as our local foods and local artisinal crafts to have the modifier “local” placed before them.
Local sourcing just makes sense if your primary value related to consumption is creating and engaging with an economy designed for long-term sustainability in all its forms — local jobs and industries, keeping more money local, and lowering the waste stream and negative impacts of an economy too readily reliant on burning fossil fuels.
The language of flowers
Now, none of this was the motivation of Lynchburg Grows, a decade-old not-for-profit Virginia corporation whose rose greenhouses were the inspiration for this print. Or at least it wasn’t their first motivation out of the gate. Their first motivation was people, community.
Their hope was to help connect people of all abilities and income levels to the holistically nourishing aspects of gardening — in body, mind, and soul — including in urban spaces. That they then went on to revive nine historic rose greenhouses that had gone fallow in the wake of local floral industry decline, and now make those roses available locally, proves that local flowers can thrive. Thy also began growing vegetables and offering a CSA, while holding workshops and teaching thousands of people to garden.
Yet, all this combined had the net effect of decreasing the distance between people and food on the plate, and people and food for the soul in the form of flowers.
It stands to reason that like many other products, our flowers and other natural seasonal decorative items can and should be grown locally, and that cities are the right place for this to occur, as Lynchburg Grows has successfully proved for more than ten years.
I’m confident there are plenty of flower-loving, soul-nourishing, entrepreneurial types out there just looking for a way in to urban agriculture and its related offshoots. They should not fear that so much of our economy looks like it’s in ashes right now. Instead, they should believe that from those ashes they can grow the “roses (or irises or gladiolas or zinnias) of success!”
— Lindsay Curren