Connecting flower farmers and floral designers

Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall have opened many garden gates for us as we create “A Fresh Bouquet.”

Among other luscious flowers, the peony is a favorite crop grown locally by specialty cut flower farmers.

David has spent countless wonderful hours photographing the fields, crops and individual flowers at Jello Mold Farm, the couple’s wonderful flower-growing endeavor in Mt. Vernon, Wash. And I’ve been fortunate to visit and tour at the peak of the season.

Diane and Dennis have connected us with the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, its executive director Judy Laushman, and many colleagues and fellow flower farmers around the country. Last year we attended a regional ASCFG meeting in Oregon and I traveled to the national ASCFG conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The “local flower” movement is happening everywhere, thanks to passionate flower farmers like Diane and Dennis and their counterparts in every state of the country and Canada. This momentum is moving flowers grown locally, in season, with sustainable practices from the fringe to the mainstream. This was evidenced by our visit last month to the Portland Flower Market, an established venue open daily operated by the Oregon Flower Growers that connects directly with their customers – the designers.

So what’s going on with Seattle? How can floral and event designers meet and discover the farmers who are growing and selling fresh, sustainable, seasonal and local ingredients?

Of course, it’s no surprise to learn that Diane and Dennis are at the heart of this solution.

Two things are happening in the near future:

First of all, a group of growers in Washington and Oregon is joining forces to launch a local wholesale growers’ market in the spring. It will be called The Seattle Wholesale Growers Market and the plan is to launch May 1, 2011 as a Wednesday early morning (5-11 a.m.)wholesale cut flower market. Diane has been sharing the group’s plans with us for months; when I recently spoke with her, she said the members plan to establish an outdoor location in Seattle’s Georgetown district. Stay tuned for details on the timing and location for this soon-to-launch market.

Flower farmers are talented folks, no doubt. Gather up an armload of fresh-cut stems that have just been harvested from a local field and it is an incomparable sensation. Nothing that was farmed, harvested and imported from across the globe a week ago can  truly compare (not to mention the consideration of the heavy carbon footprint of a luxury item like an imported flower!).

The appeal of a central place where flower growers sell their crops to their customer, the designer, is obvious. “If you’re a farmer, you don’t also have to be a master marketer and run your own deliveries,” Diane explains. “Eventually, we would like to be an indoor, year ’round farmer’s market with a modern edge, using the internet to publish ‘fresh sheets’ and run our own truck for deliveries.” The Seattle group has been inspired by some other exciting farmer-to-designer marketplace business models, including Portland’s market and Fair Field Flowers in Madison, Wisconsin, a cooperative of that region’s flower farmers.

So here is the second, related, piece of news: To kick off the upcoming flower-growing season and reach out to other small, family flower farms in Washington, Jello Mold Farm and others are staging a two-day educational program next month. A Specialty Cut Flower Growers School is presented by The Seattle Flower Growers Market in collaboration with Washington State University, Mt. Vernon Research & Extension Center. The school will be held February 18-19, 2011 at the WSU venue and on-location at Jello Mold. The cost is $125, including lunch both days. (See registration details at the link above).

One of the instructors is Joe Schmitt of Fair Field Flowers, from the Wisconson flower-market cooperative, who I met at the national ASCFG meeting. He is an incredibly smart, unassuming guy who generously shares knowledge and experience with younger or newer flower farmers. Joined by Joe as fellow instructors are Diane Szukovathy of Jello Mold Farm and Vivian Larson of Everyday Flowers, a grower in Stanwood, Wash.

The two-day workshop will focus on sustainable growing techniques and address the following topics:

  • Business planning basics
  • Plant selection
  • Growing techniques
  • Pest management strategies
  • Specialized equipment
  • Quality postharvest care
  • Season extension
  • Marketing opportunities

A combination of classroom and on-farm instruction, the workshop will help students begin growing and selling high quality cut flowers. “Our industry is young and can really use this education in quality growing and post-harvest techniques,” Diane says. “It would be so beneficial to the local economy and local agriculture.”

Hope to see you there!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Hydrangea Flower Arrangements January 23, 2011 at 5:15 am

Great information here! Thanks for the post!

Terri Carstens February 3, 2011 at 8:18 am

I am going to be there!! I can’t wait! A little bit of a drive, all by myself, but I’m excited!! (Pray for dry roads, especially over the Pass!) Oh, and Pat Munts said to tell you “Hello”… She wants me to tell her all about it.

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