As an educated Co-op shopper, you try to know where your food comes from; but, have you considered where your flowers come from?

Many cut flowers are imported from other countries or from climates that don’t have a Wisconsin winter to contend with. Often, they are shipped dry and sometimes dipped in antifungal solution and other chemicals prior to shipping. They are also then possibly fumigated and irradiated in customs before entering the U.S. The USDA inspects imported flowers for insects but not chemical residues. In order to keep the flowers from dying prematurely, the entire supply chain of warehouses, trucks, ships and airplanes is refrigerated to 34 degrees, which burns a tremendous amount of fossil fuels. Although the Co-op attempts to source U.S.-grown flowers, some do come from far and away.

Luckily there is a seasonal alternative; and, these gorgeous blooms are available from Fair Field Flowers at Willy Street Co-op!

Slow Flowers
“Seasonal, local, sustainable bouquets are in. And they smell wonderful! Welcome to the beautiful new world of ‘slow flowers:’ locally-grown, not imported…safe, not chemical-laden…vibrant, not lifeless” (from The 50 Mile Bouquet by Debra Prinzing). Sustainable farming practices can protect the health of both people and the environment. Farmers use crop rotation, diverse cover crops, compost-based fertilizers, good watering practices and limited tilling to nourish their plants and do no lasting harm to the land.

Madison and Milwaukee area’s local choice for “slow flowers” is Fair Field Flowers (FFF). They are an association of 10 partner growers, some of which have specialized roles in the organization in addition to flower cultivation. I spoke with Andrea Clemens, grower and customer services manager, who explained that FFF is a “cooperative partnership of experienced growers.” Most of the members have their own direct-marketing operations such as participation in farmers’ markets or flower CSAs, while some grow exclusively for FFF. Andrea, who is the newest member of the association, joined for the camaraderie of the group, the support and the ongoing learning opportunities.

How it works
Member/grower Erica Jensen explains the “bucket run” which occurs three times a week during the prime growing season, which is usually late May through October: “Growers contribute cut flowers, as available, to a van load which is driven to florists [and Willy Street Co-op]… Typically the van contains products from six or seven growers.” Longtime FFF member Joe Schmidt, who is the bucket run driver, calls it a “rolling candy store for flowers.”

The ten partner growers’ farms are located throughout southern Wisconsin and into northern Illinois. The group functions like a cooperative and they make decisions by consensus. During the past decade, roles and responsibilities within the group have changed hands making it easier for the farmers to see each other’s point of view. They sell exclusively to qualified wholesale customers and the businesses they sell to have changed over time as well. In 2003, their top customers were all florists; as of 2012 Willy Street Co-op was their largest account.

As consumers, we vote with our dollars every time we purchase sustainable products. As a group of over 30,000 Owners at Willy Street Co-op, we have a strong collective voice in our local flower movement. Buying FFF flowers from Willy Street Co-op will increase demand for local, sustainable blooms and will help to grow this market regionally while strengthening the local economy.

The Season is Now
Available now through early autumn, both Willy East and Willy West will carry both the “Mixed Bouquet” and “Single Bouquet” in the refrigerated floral cooler. If you are interested in local flowers for an upcoming wedding or other event, you can work with your neighborhood florist and ask them to source from FFF. For more information about this great organization and the flowers blooming this week, check out fairfieldflowers.biz/.

Hopefully reading about “slow flowers” has whetted your appetite for the visual delight of local blooms. This season, when you need to say ‘thank you,’ ‘please forgive me,’ or ‘congratulations,’ think first about a Fair Field Flowers bouquet from Willy Street Co-op!

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