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Why Buy Flowers Locally? Part 1

A Brief History of the U.S. Floral Market

Before 1960, all cut flowers sold in the United States were produced domestically. Production of floriculture was mostly limited to the U.S. and Europe due to the lack of sophistication in transporting perishable goods. But domestic production thrived and was able to meet demand. The first greenhouses were reported in the mid-1700s which allowed a longer production season. Growers were located close to cities as transportation was slow and lacked refrigeration.

The expansion of roads, the innovation of air transportation, and the development of refrigeration

all accelerated the cut-flower industry. It allowed production to move, within the U.S., to areas with the most suited climates and lower costs. These innovations also allowed for cut flowers to be imported, as cut flowers don't have roots or soil, which had restricted other floriculture crops from importation such as plugs and potted plants.

In the mid-1960s the first imported carnation production started in Bogta, Columbia. From there, the industry rapidly grew in many South American countries as well as in the Netherlands. These locations are well suited for year-round growing, with little or no restrictions on inputs and very low labor costs.

Netherlands Flower Market
Royal FloraHolland flower auction located in Aalsmeer, a city in North Holland – the largest floral market in the world. Over 30 million flowers and plants are traded daily here.

In 1991, the United States entered into the Andean Trade Preference Agreement, which eliminated tariffs on many imported flowers from Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. The intent was to persuade cocoa farmers, who were growing for cocaine, to alternatively cultivate flowers. That same year domestic cut flowers accounted for 64% of the nation's flower sales. The impact on U.S. growers was and has remained devastating averaging only 20% of domestic production since.

The good news is people are becoming aware thanks to the slow food movement. When attention is brought to one sector of the agriculture industry eventually other issues will be brought to light. Slowly a small percentage of consumers are becoming aware of where their flowers come from and making different choices with that knowledge. In 2015 there were reported 5,913 cut flower farmers in the U.S. and in 2018, 6,386. These numbers are estimates as the USDA hasn't cared much to track smaller farmers. Flower farmers have been called upon to begin changing the U.S. market and we are ready to work hard and fight for local, sustainable blooms.

Stay tuned for:

Part 2 - Social Sustainability

Part 3 - Environmental Impacts

Part 4 - Looking Ahead with Hope


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