“The dream of sharing beautiful, sustainable local is what Sweet Posy is all about. Identical in idea to the slow food movement, we believe in the slow flower movement. We believe that a bouquet can come from a fifty-mile radius, even in Central Oregon’s climate. We believe that special, unique heirloom flowers can be accessible even if they aren’t bred to withstand weeks of shipping. We believe that a wider variety of flowers leads to a wider variety of floral visions we can make reality.
Local is beautiful, when local means real flowers that are pollinated by real bees and destined to brighten the days of real people who love supporting their local farmer artisans. Welcome to Sweet Posy’s growing world!”
Before the buds started blooming, I had the lucky opportunity to sit down with local flower farmer, all around bright entrepreneur, and owner of Sweet Posy, Jen Ladd.
So, what the heck is the ‘slow flower’ movement?
The slow flower movement runs parallel with the slow farming movement. People are growing increasingly more concerned about organically-grown, sustainably-made, low carbon footprint products and produce. The growing awareness continues around what type of seeds, pesticides vs. no pesticides, how long it travels to get to you or your store, and the care of the people who work on these farms - sustainable and organic practices now include flower farming! That being said, there’s no USDA approval for flower growers, like Sweet Posy, who use organic practices. For many small farms, it’s financially impossible to get the “organically grown” USDA approval. But there are plenty of ways we can grow flowers organically and share the knowledge with our customers. For example, there’s a season for fruits and vegetables and a season for flowers and we’re slowly moving away from the expectation that everything and anything we want should be available year round. (I asked Jen to elaborate on this educational piece later in the interview). This is what’s exciting about Sweet Posy’s farming principles. My farm is organic and I’m excited to share this knowledge with customers.
Explain a bit about organically grown flowers and that process.
I’m honored to be a part of PNW Cut Flowers, a farming collective joined together to support how we grow and sell our flowers, educate our communities and share our knowledge with one another.
At the end of the day, the entire “slow flower” movement is about growing flowers in the United States and therefore maintaining rules and regulations that require certain rules of play like “organically grown” and “locally harvested”. 87% of all flowers are grown outside of the U.S. For our region of the country, PNW Cut Flowers brings flower farmers together, many of us who are small and appreciate the support.
Not to overwhelm people with too many details here, but Amy Stewart’s “Flower Confidential” explains in great detail what actually happened to flowers grown in North America. It’s not because the US can’t grow amazing flowers, it’s a product of government-born decisions many years ago that limited the American-grown flower farmer. However, this “slow flower” movement is turning that around – slowly, yes, but things are changing. Much of this progress and awareness is from a Pacific Northwest/West Coast-based advocacy group called PNW Cut Flower Growers.
PNW Cut Flower Growers includes Oregon, Washington, and Alaska and we are now hooking up with California which is important, because we’re all knowledge sharers, idea curators and general supporters of this entire movement. This is an inclusive group because they want to help me, as a flower farmer, develop and improve my production. I just attended a conference with them in Washington…this group is supportive and growing. The slow food farmers are realizing the market is asking for flowers farmers to also grow organically and sustainably.
Why are CSAs important for flower farmer/sustainability movement?
We play on the idea of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) with our weekly floral subscription. Look forward to lush, gorgeous local blooms hand picked for you that morning. The CSA is really a contract between consumer and farmer that works both ways. The consumer’s financial contract invests in the seeds, care and full growing process to support the flower farmer in that commitment. Just as with any of these sustainability conversations, flower farmers want to have people buy and appreciate the final product: flowers! And not just any flowers but ones that were harvested locally to ensure the freshest product and lowest carbon footprint. All of this plays into that CSA contract just like your fruits and vegetable CSAs.
Whole Foods in Bend is very much on board with buying from local farmers like me. Our contract, which will officially begin this spring, is a big step in Whole Food’s commitment to growing and buying local.
Additionally, Oregon State University is a huge proponent for this movement and now offers workshops for flower farmers as well as organic food growers. This is so important to me for support and knowledge building and sharing. OSU Small Farmer’s Conference has met for three years and the PNW Cut Flowers group now meets at the end of this OSU conference. We get to have a chance to inform and share. That now includes California flower farmers, along with Oregon, Washington and Alaska and only makes us stronger in numbers which is crucial for this movement to expand. Another part of this puzzle is that we’ve now connected with flower collectives across the country. Why not have those smaller collectives join in what PNW is doing and eventually have even larger conferences, impact and policy change? If we’re all scattered, then we don’t have a chance of going to DC and truly impacting those limitations that need to be changed.
Tell me about this growing season?
As this is my second season, I attended my first Slow Flowers Summit in Seattle over the Fourth of July weekend. This is also the week that the flower industry as a whole, through Slow Flowers, florists and farmers, create all kinds of floral and post at #americanflowersweek. It’s also been called the “TedTalk for Flower Lovers”. For me, it reinforced my passion for flowers and for this industry.
Would you say there’s an important educational component necessary to your movement?
One hundred percent. Valentine’s Day just happened and my husband, who is a fireman, was nudging me to get some Valentine’s bouquets together because a lot of people at the station would put in an order. But here’s the problem: its 21 degrees today and I’ve currently got covered crops of buds that will be ready when it’s time for them to be ready. Flowers that we see at shops and grocery stores, we’ve come to expect, are available year round…which is simply impossible. They aren’t available year round but because we’ve all become so used to seeing flowers (imported from other countries) in our stores and having that access now – there’s a huge educational component for our customers to understand. This is built on seasonality. There’s a time for fruits and vegetables and there’s a season for flowers.
I’m also a small business but I want to maintain my integrity. So this is a balancing act where we stay connected to our values and then try to educate consumers about what is “in season” and what isn’t. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it’s just part of the responsibility and the process of being a pioneer.
There’s a common notion that nothing grows in central Oregon - it’s a phrase I hear a lot - what’s your response to that notion?
Before we bought the farm, (which is a sentence I can’t even believe is true, but we did, “buy a farm”) we were in the city and I grew all sorts of vegetables and flowers. We would have friends over and create our own farm to table dinners. It was fun to surprise and shock our fellow Bend-ites and, at the same time, there’s a serious misconception about central Oregon and a challenge I’m aware of in my endeavor to create a sustainable farm here.
I need to work on changing that mindset. For example, if you look at where food and flowers are farmed, they were harvested a month earlier – at least. If we begin with this knowledge and focus specifically on flowers, they are harvested at least a month earlier, shipped to the U.S., then distributed and transported, as in the case of Trader Joe’s, for example, to all the stores. We’ve had to move away from heirloom flowers, those quaint and fragile varietals that we think about sometimes in a bouquet. Those fragile heirloom varietals cannot stand up to that level of transport and distribution - so what happens? We don’t see them anymore. They don’t arrive from our exports because they’d never live. Like sweet peas, they’re too fragile, and only have a seven-day vase life if they are harvested and clipped right. Because the transportation process is so heavy handed, growers who ship to the US have bred out scent and fragility and gone for sturdy. Like mums, what do you think of when you think of mums?
Something hideous - like you hate me?
That’s right because there are hundreds of varietals you don’t even know exist, I could show you pictures of gorgeous mums and you’d have no idea that was even a mum. The problem with 87% of all flowers we see being imported is that the beauty of varietals of flowers and their scent is reduced or gone. When we pick up flowers, we instantly smell them, we expect a scent but there most likely isn’t one in many of the bouquets we find in grocery stores.
Farmers are realizing they don’t need 15 acres to grow flowers – that’s what happened with my farm- once I understood what I could do with my acreage, I was off and growing. It’s an exciting time to be a flower farmer and I’m proud of my work and how caring and concerned Oregonians are about where they shop and where things are sourced.
Where did the love for flowers start for you?
My grandmother! In my grandmother’s garden I was taught how to care for and grow flowers, when to plant seeds, pull weeds, everything. She gave me more than an education; she really turned over her passion for flowers and an appreciation for their beauty and scent. Those memories and experiences have never left me and I want this farm to be a part of a larger movement to share the love of flowers with the next generation.
You’ve mentioned organizing field trips with local schools. Is that a part of paying it forward?
Absolutely. It’s a part of the education that I’m committed to as a part of growing this organic (local) flower movement. I’ve already spoken with many of our friends in education around Bend and they are fully behind using our farm as a way to educate and inspire. Community is at the heart of this challenging work. I want to share my passion for flower farming and acknowledge the fact that Mother Nature is the one in charge. As much as you gain experience and plan, organize, think of everything that could or could not go wrong, Mother Nature is the one who calls the shots. Farming is really humbling; it’s a mystery. But it’s also that nostalgic piece that I gleaned from my grandmother that motivates me to want to share this knowledge with the next generation. We’ve moved away from family farms and being close to the earth. Everyone deserves to know how things grow because then we appreciate it all so much more. Flowers are for everyone; kids still have that curiosity about how the world works and can take pride in participating in the process of how things grow.
That’s the future of my flower farm and I look forward to growing and sharing this with my community.