Sitting among the rows of flowers on her farm in Port Townsend, Lacey Allred carefully chooses daffodils to cut for a small bouquet. A breeze blows, mingling the sweet smell of the flowers with the earthy, wet soil and the damp grass. Nearby, there are chickens clucking and the sound of baby goats bleating.
It’s a picture of pastoral perfection. But for Allred, who started Sweet Seed Flower Farm in 2013, there is much more to it than beauty. For her, flowers are a kind of nourishment that is too often forgotten.
“Food is nourishing to our body and feeds us,” she said. “It gives us brain power and vitamins and minerals. I feel that flowers are also nourishment for our bodies and our souls. It’s undeniable that they bring joy.”
A bouquet of flowers can brighten up a room. But Allred, who started out in organic vegetable farming in Eugene, Oregon, is hoping to not only bring that beauty to people’s homes, but to help them begin asking the question: where did my flowers come from?
As she began to increase her flower production and as she moved her farm from Eugene to Port Townsend, she dove into learning about the U.S. floral industry.
“A lot of our flowers are grown in really harsh conditions, and poor labor wages and poor working conditions,” she said. “A lot of pesticides and herbicides and fungicides are used.”
In Jefferson County, the local food movement is strongly supported by an array of farmers selling veggies, fruit, meat, dairy and eggs at farm stands and farmers markets.
But knowing where your flowers are grown is not always on people’s minds, Allred said.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, during the 2015 Valentine’s Day season, from Jan. 1 to Feb. 14, CBP agriculture specialists nationwide processed approximately 976 million cut flower stems. The top three countries of origin for these flowers were Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico. While Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest flower importation seasons, Mother’s Day is even busier, according to the Customs and Border Protection website.
“Over 80 percent of our flowers that we purchase in the U.S. are imported,” Allred said. “We’ve had a lot of really wonderful movements and decades of people wanting to know where their food is coming from and who their farmer is. I think flowers are now stepping into a similar movement. Like food, flowers too have a season.”
At Sweet Seed Flower Farm, Allred grows an array of blossoms each summer to sell as part of her flower CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program. Similar to the vegetable CSAs offered by local farms, subscribers to Allred’s flower CSA pay ahead to receive a bouquet of flowers each week, or every other week.
The flower CSA allows people the opportunity to have in-season flowers in their home and gives growers advance knowledge of how much to plant, based on sales. In a way, it is an educational experience for customers, Allred said, to learn which flowers are blooming at different times in the summer.
Not only that, but each bouquet has Allred’s own personal touch to them. She does all of her farming herself: from germinating seeds, planting, watering and harvesting the flowers, to arranging the bouquets.
“It is beautiful, but it’s also a lot of work,” she said. “There’s trial and error and fails and hardships and loss in that, too. Flowers really are an ephemeral experience.”
FLOWERS FOR ELDERS
While she is in her second year farming in Port Townsend, Allred is hoping to get more acquainted with her new community and to bring beauty into the homes of those who might need it the most.
“Especially in the world we are in now, where things feel dark and heavy and we need beauty and connection to the world around us, I’m looking for ways to bring beauty to my community,” she said. “For me, that’s through flowers.”
She is in the beginnings of starting a “Flowers For Elders” program, in which people can donate a flower CSA to a nursing home, elderly care facility or a homebound individual.
“There are statistics on health benefits and mental health benefits of having flowers,” she said. “They reduce anxiety and make people feel welcome and increase levels of serotonin.”
She also hopes to begin teaching more workshops at nursing home facilities, to bring flowers back into peoples’ lives and to increase joy by touching, arranging, painting or just seeing flowers.
“Many people in those homes probably kept gardens of their own or worked with flowers in their previous careers,” she said.
Locally, organically grown flowers are even more important for those in vulnerable health, she said. Flowers that have been exposed to pesticides can offgas those chemicals long after they have been cut and placed in a vase in your home.
“I’m really looking for ways to provide that beauty to the community that maybe doesn’t have access to it all the time,” she said. “That’s where my heart is pulsing right now.”