First came slow food. Now, think slow flowers.
Following the trend of locavores who seek food close to its source, interest is growing in seasonal, local, sustainable flowers.
The farm-to-vase movement is gaining momentum as small organic and urban farms add more flowers to produce stands.
Local farmers markets feature colorful bouquets of old-fashioned summer favorites. Restaurants are requesting slow flowers to accompany their locally sourced entrees. Gardeners are finding joy in growing their own table toppers.
To Shawn Harrison, "slow flowers" make sense. That's why his farm is producing some zinnias and snapdragons along with tomatoes and snap beans.
"The floral industry traditionally is chemically dependent," said Harrison, co-founder and executive director of Soil Born Farms, near Sacramento, Calif. "Most of the flowers you see in stores are grown internationally. Their carbon footprint is huge.
"We can grow a lot of gorgeous flowers in our area, just like food," he added. "We know people want locally grown food. Locally grown flowers are a big opportunity."
Helping to drive the trend, chefs started requesting bouquets as part of their produce orders.
Said Harrison, "It doesn't make sense to go to all of the trouble of using seasonal, organic, locally sourced food, then putting some flowers on the table that may have been soaked in intense chemicals and come from who-knows-where."
Garden author Debra Prinzing, who moved to Seattle from the Los Angeles area, challenged herself to make a bouquet of locally sourced flowers every week for a year.
"I wanted to debunk the myth that I'd have limited options," she said. "If the weather is cold in winter, what would I have to work with — twigs and berries?"
Instead, she found that there were more than enough flowers to dress her table year-round. She just had to look past the old standbys and think seasonally.
Instead of relying only on annuals, Prinzing mixed in perennials, flowering trees and shrubs.
"It has to be intentional, just like food," Prinzing said. "You have to make decisions. Everything is about choices."
Prinzing's personal challenge grew into her new book, "The 50-Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers" (St. Lynn's Press, $17.95, 144 pages).
She chose 50 miles as an arbitrary limit, but stretched that boundary on occasion. The idea is to buy as local as possible. Even better, grow your own.
"I worked on this book for four years," she said. "The publishing world didn't get this book for a long, long time. We don't eat flowers; why should we care if they're organically grown?"
The recession also slowed interest in slow flowers, she noted.
"Flowers in America are considered a luxury good," she added. "We may not eat flowers, but we do handle them. The pesticides they're treated with come into our homes. Interest in health as well as sustainability has helped drive this movement."
So have farmers markets, a natural for offering seasonal flowers.
"Farmers markets are exploding," Prinzing said. "A lot of farms have found they can grow flowers, too."
Some farms have taken the next step by competing directly with floral imports. They fill the demand for organic, American-grown flowers coupled with the convenience of ordering by phone or online.
From its Terra Bella Farm in Chico, California Organic Flowers now ships bouquets via its website nationwide (www.californiaorganicflowers.com). The family-run farm is a popular source for organic wedding bouquets and flowers for other special occasions.
Seasonal bouquets often look like they were pulled from Grandma's garden. That's not a coincidence. Past generations grew many of these same flowers to decorate their homes and tables. Snapdragons, zinnias, asters, cosmos, bachelor buttons — these flowers add a touch of nostalgia as well as color.
Growing flowers also helps attract pollinators to farms and vegetable gardens, which means a larger harvest.
"I enjoy seeing the multitude of bees and insects that enjoy the flowers, too," said Cristina Martinez-Canton, who helps tend Soil Borns' flower garden at its American River Ranch in Rancho Cordova, Calif. "This place is just buzzing."