Saturday, February 13, 2016

How Debra Prinzing is Changing the American Floral Industry



What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day ( one of the biggest flower holidays in the world ) than  a visit with Debra Prinzing, author, gardener writer, speaker, and floral designer. Debra is the  co-creator of The 50 Mile Bouquet and Slow Flowers (St.Lynn's Press) and the founder of Slow Flowers.com, ( a nationwide online directory of American flower farmers, florists, shops, and studios who design with American-grown flowers


 Debra also hosts Slow Flowers, a weekly podcast brimming with information & inspiration from America's flower farmers and progressive floral artists who are committed to growing and sourcing local flowers. Slow Flowers is a movement to help people find the best U.S. floral designers who are committed to sourcing from American flower farms.
 The excitement around sustainably grown, local flowers is buzzing through social media, the wedding industry and budding flower farmer/florists are popping up all over the United States in suburban backyards, farmland, sheds and urban alleyways. If Debra has it her way, ( and I believe she will ) soon everyone will be looking at flowers the way they once did when flowers were a given in the home garden right alongside vegetables and herbs.

 Debra is here to tell us all about her flower journey and her vision for Slow Flowers in years to come. It's a nice long chat so grab yourself something yummy to drink and dig in.

D.H.  As a garden writer, what prompted you to write The 50 Mile Bouquet and Slow Flowers? What was it about the timing that was just " right "? 
 
Debra- To answer your first question, as a journalist, I learn about topics by writing about them. I have had the immense privilege of spending time with so many amazing American flower farmers and florists who care about their sourcing practices – and in 2012 those conversations were documented for “The 50 Mile Bouquet.” That book was a six-year process that involved reaching out to flower farmers whenever I traveled and then following that thread to their clients – florists – to learn their stories. What prompted me to write T50MB? My collaborator, photographer David Perry, and I felt compelled to share the stories of the silent voices behind our flowers – and we created the book for love, not money. We couldn’t NOT create that book.
When it came to “”Slow Flowers,” a book project that is 100% my own designs, photography and text, well, that served as my “answer” to a frustrating conversation with a former editor of mine at a huge, prestigious, NYC publishing house. She said, “Organic and local flowers aren’t relatable to many people in the country. I can’t find them at the bodega on the corner of my upper West Side NYC neighborhood, so they must not be a mainstream topic.” It infuriated me and I started the Slow Flowers weekly bouquet project as a way to prove her wrong.
Timing? The timing was right for these two projects long before a publisher expressed interest. Yet, Paul Kelly of St. Lynn’s Press “gets it” – and because he cares about sustainable topics, he knew T50MB and Slow Flowers were books that he could produce for the marketplace of readers who care about sustainable living.

D.H.  How have these books changed you as a person, writer, gardener and pioneer of the slow flowers movement? 
Debra- These two books launched my “platform” as a communicator – and for that, I am grateful. I have been a freelance home and garden writer since 1996 and in that period of time, I always wanted a specialized subject matter. But it took a lot of false starts to land on American Grown Flowers. I am truly passionate about the topic. From 2000 to 2008 I wrote a lot about garden sheds – and I produced a gorgeous book with photographer Bill Wright called “Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways,” published in 2008. I thought my “brand” or “platform” was going to be all about sheds. But that never really had legs. In retrospect, I realize now that while I love the architecture and design of garden sheds, I’m not an architect or builder myself; I could never design or construct a shed. I could only point at fantastic structures and write about why they represented excellent or inspiring design ideas.
With flowers I’ve found my milieu. I can grow flowers in my garden; I can cut them and bring them indoors to arrange in a vase. It seems so much more personal. Slow Flowers has changed me into someone who isn’t just the impartial journalist who “observes” and documents the activities of other creative individuals. Instead, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to BE a creative individual myself. I find that so powerful. This experience with flowers has allowed me to have a voice and be an advocate for others whose stories I care about.
D.H. When did you begin to see the first signs of change or a shift in consciousnesses about American grown flowers and how they are grown, marketed and utilized?
Debra-That shift may have began with people like Lynn Byczynski writing "The Flower Farmer" (first published in 1997) and continued when Amy Stewart wrote “Flower Confidential,” which was published in 2007. Amy raised a lot of questions and stirred up the conversation about flower sourcing and imported flowers. She gave me her blessing to take the conversation to the next level and use my reporting skills to raise awareness about the positive ways people can “save” American flowers. Nearly 10 years later there is a true cultural shift taking place, which I find very exciting. There is so much further to go, but I believe more people than ever are asking “where did these flowers come from?” “who grew them?” and “what practices were used?”
D.H.  As a result of your books, new flower farmers are sprouting up all across the world. If you were to write a new book today that speaks to anyone entering the flower industry would you tell them?
Debra- Number one: Do not start planting seeds for the flower farm of your dreams until you understand the marketplace. Spend time introducing yourself to potential customers (florists, designers, retail channels for selling flowers) in your community. Don’t plant a single flower until you know someone wants to buy that cultivar or that color. Number two: Specialize in something uncommon. You can grow all the favorites – sunflowers, zinnias, celosia; all the summer annuals, but find something that makes you special in your own marketplace. Be the herb expert or the clematis expert or the flowering branch experts. Find that “sweet spot” that can set you apart and make you unforgettable (and necessary!). 
 
D.H.~  I love your Slow Flowers Podcast shows. What inspired you to feature farmer/florists in this way?
Debra- Those who have heard my 1-year and 2-year anniversary episodes will know the answer to this question because Kasey Cronquist of the California Cut Flower Commission and the Certified American Grown Brand has been my anniversary guest for the past 2 years – and I fully intend to invite him on my 3rd anniversary episode, too.

It all began when in early 2014, Kasey attended a conference where he heard a podcasting expert speak about the power of podcasting (also called internet radio by many). He actually called me from the conference, which I think was in Nashville, and said, “Debra, you need to do a podcast.” He persuaded me to see how impactful a podcast can be – and how podcasting was the new frontier, a way to break through the communications clutter of blogging in order to be heard by listeners in a more intimate, personal format.
Six months later, with CCFC’s support, I started the Slow Flowers Podcast with Debra Prinzing. The CCFC supported me financially by paying for me to take a 1-month webinar series about Podcasting A to Z. They literally had no strings attached. They just asked that I feature flower farmers and florists on my series. At first, I committed to producing an episode once every two weeks. As it turns out, I have produced the show weekly for more than 130 continual weeks since we launched in July 2014. We've had more than 82,000 listener downloads in that time.
D.H.    What is your ultimate goal with the Slow Flowers Directory and how can we farmer/florists help further your mission? Where are the gaps in educating the public about choosing local, sustainable flowers?

My ultimate goal with Slowflowers.com is this mission: to promote American-grown flowers, to make it easy for flower consumers to connect with florists, shops, studios and farms who provide American-grown flowers, and to encourage truthful and transparent country-of-origin labeling in the floral industry.
D.H.   One of the things I love about your online directory and your podcast shows is the ability to connect virtually with others who are on the same path but in different places and regions. What is your vision for the Slow Flowers Podcast shows and the Directory in the future? 
Debra- We really are creating a community of like-minded entrepreneurs – flower farmers and florists – who believe in making important connections between the farm and the vase. My vision for the Slowflowers.com directory is to build it to 1,000 members (we are  nearly at 680 so it is conceivable that we could achieve that goal by the end of 2016). I also want to make the Slowflowers.com site self-sustaining. Right now, I am spending more money to run and develop/upgrade the site than I we are bringing in with subscriptions. With excellent advice from one of my mentors, Jim Peterson (publisher of Garden Design magazine), I have eliminated the “free” option for new members in 2016. The minimum investment to join the site is $50/year. Those who originally signed up for a free listing will be asked to start contributing on January 2017, so I’ve given them a grace period through the end of 2016. The increased subscription revenue allows for expanding and upgrading the site. In 2016, we are adding a Canada tab to help promote florists and flower farmers in the Canadian-grown movement; we are also adding 2 new features that will only be available to Premium members: A Slow Flowers Speakers Bureau and the Events Page, which allows members to promote their workshops and other events like pop-up sales.
My goal for the Podcast is to ultimately feature voices from all 50 states – and I have a ways to go on that front. We are currently enjoying about 1,000 listener downloads per week, and I’d like to see that number increase, although I’m very happy with that number – especially because we are the only floral podcast on the internet that I’m aware of.
D.H.     One of my dreams is to attend one of the Field to Vase dinners in 2016. How did the tour start out?  Describe the atmosphere, the people and the flowers from one the dinners you attended in 2015. What are some of the things people say about the movement from across the table.
 Debra-
 OMG, the F2V Dinners are must-attend events. The original dinner, created by Kathleen Williford, who is the event planner and floral designer for the California Cut Flower Commission, was designed to pair local food with local flowers and local wine. Easy recipe, right? That first event was held as part of the Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers Tour in 2013. Kathleen was the event manager and she (and the CCFC) asked me to be the first guest designer at the dinner on Kitayama Brothers flower farm in Watsonville. We used all local flowers and Kathleen’s amazing collection of vintage American pottery by McCoy. From that, there were a few other standalone dinners in California and Oregon. By the end of 2014, Kathleen and her boss Kasey Cronquist decided to create a national tour taking the F2V Dinners to 10 American flower farms in 2015. I signed on as a communications consultant, co-sponsor and co-host and boy did we have fun.
The atmosphere is so special because few floral enthusiasts ever have a chance to personally visit a flower farm. The farmers have been generous and gracious hosts, turning over their fields and greenhouses to accommodate a dinner for 100-plus guests, which is kind of like a crazy wedding, production-wise. The venues are so special because they showcase how and where flowers are grown, who grows them and what  the seasons mean for fresh, local botanicals. Each dinner has a host flower farmer, a guest florist and a guest chef. So this dream team comes together to produce an unforgettable dining experience where the flowers on the table are as local as the food on the plate.
In 2015, about 1,200 people attended a F2V Dinner. So not a huge number but I am encouraged by the immense “reach” these events have enjoyed. Photography and blog/media reports live on long after a dinner is over – and that inspires others to think about the flowers they use on their dining tables. The attendance has been split approximately between 1/3 floral industry folks (wholesalers and florists); 1/3 flower farmers; and 1/3 foodies and flower/gardening fans. That is a great mix for great dialogue. The events begin with a farm tour led by the host flower farmer. That’s followed by a hands-on design demo from the florist. During the meal, we hear from the farmer, the florist and the chef about the evening’s sensory ingredients (for the palate and the nose). It’s exciting to see flowers elevated to this level
The 2016 tour has been announced with the first 6 venues, including two repeat venues from last year. Four more farms will be announced soon. I hope to see you there!
D.H.    How much travel do you do promoting American Grown Flowers every year? What's the furthest you have traveled for a show or talk?
Debra- I traveled quite a bit in 2015 – in fact, I am now MVP/Gold on Alaska Airlines, my preferred carrier. I find that the Slow Flowers message gains credibility when I can meet people face-to-face and interview them, take photos of their farms, flowers, studios and designs – and record their voices for listeners to hear. I love the travel, although sometimes it’s intense. I often pair travel to a F2V Dinner or to a speaking gig with a magazine assignment. Whenever I can persuade an editor to let me document a cut flower variety or an American flower farm, I am thrilled – and that requires travel, too. The furthest I’ve traveled? I was hosted by the Homer, Alaska, Gardeners’ Weekend in August 2014, which was a blast because it was during peony season! I also flew to the UK last year to take my mom to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for her birthday . . . and while I was there, the flower farmers/florists in the British-Grown world who are based in Yorkshire, England, invited me to make a presentation. That was pretty special because there are so many parallels between their mission and what we’re pursuing in the U.S.
In 2016, I will be speaking in St. Louis; Davenport, Iowa; and many places on the West Coast, as well as at all 10 F2V Dinner Tour venues.
D.H. I know you recently relocated to Seattle, WA. from L.A. What prompted the move and how has it enhanced your mission for the Slow Flowers Movement? 
 Debra- Oh, just to clarify, I lived for a loooooong time in Seattle before I moved to LA for 4 years (2006-2010) so moving back to Seattle was easy (I went to college in Seattle and most of my journalism career was in Seattle).
My LA experience was absolutely wonderful and I miss So-Cal very much. We moved down there in 2006 with a job change for my husband, Bruce Brooks; and we returned to Seattle in 2010 for a similar job change of his. The benefit of living up and down the West Coast has been to expose me to the diverse horticulture and floriculture worlds of the Pacific. With California as the number-one cut flower producing state and Washington as the number-two cut flower producing state, I’m totally spoiled with the access I’ve had to domestic flower farming.

Being on the West Coast has enhanced all of my Slow Flowers activities, but my focus going forward is to celebrate the fact that there are flower farms in all 50 states.
That’s one reason why I launched American Flowers Week in 2015 and why I plan to continue that social media-awareness campaign in 2016.
D.H. What's your favorite thing about being where you are "right now" in terms of your work, home and personal life?

  Debra- Such a good question. One thing that I’m particularly excited about is that I’ve cleared my schedule for the past 3 months to really focus on expanding membership in the Slowflowers.com web site. There are so many fantastic flower farmers and floral designers listed on the site and I am committed to featuring as many as possible as Podcast guests and in the many PR projects and press opportunities that come my way as the creator of Slow Flowers. In a way, Slow Flowers serves as a PR agency that strives to support, encourage, and promote individuals (and their farms/floral studios) in this movement. The more support the site receives from subscribing members, the more we are able to do, such as creating visually-compelling Info-graphics and holiday-specific flower promotion campaigns.
D.H. What's next, in your wildest "field of flowers" dreams?
Oh how sweet of you to ask! I alluded to the American Flowers Week project, which I launched in 2015 (www.americanflowersweek.com), after my friends at the British Flowers Week project encouraged me to do so. In an interview with a local Seattle newspaper columnist this past fall, I was urged to disclose “my next book project.” And when pressed, I told the columnist that I am working on a book called “50 States of American Flowers.” I’m not sure how that will be manifested but I envision such a book as an inspiration for others to join in the American Flowers Week activities (this year, the dates are June 28-July 4, 2016).
D.H.  What would you tell a new flower farmer or floral designer just starting out? 

 Debra - Don’t compare yourself to what others have done. Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest show the fairy-tale part of flower farming and being a “farmer-florist.” There are those who portray the life of a flower farmer as bucolic/romantic/dreamy, when I know from those who are more honest how incredibly difficult it can be. I think people can strike a truthful balance between gritty hard work and the beauty they create.
Similarly, floristry is grueling work. The “pretty” often masks the agony. I am so grateful for those who honestly dispel these myths -- you've heard many in our Slow Flowers Podcast interviews.
Obviously, what I wish for everyone in the Slow Flowers Movement is to find one's passion and nurture its growth. If you can get up in the morning (like I do) with excitement about jumping into your creative work . . . . you know you are blessed.

Also, create community and support one another. Competition is fine in terms of driving you to achieve your best and most beautiful work. But to succeed at the expense of another fellow flower farmer or florist is soul-sucking. There is no “gain” by diminishing another human being. And, I truly believe that each of us in unique enough to stand alone in his/her path without harming or hurting a fellow flower farmer or florist. Flowers are not the cure to cancer or rocket science. They are things of beauty, and likewise, we should be celebrating beauty, nature, ecology and women entrepreneurs instead of feeling threatened by another’s success.

  
 Facebook https://www.facebook.com/debraprinzingSlowFlowers



I loved having Debra over to Dandelion House to talk all things local flowers and hear her vision for the future of Slow Flowers. I'm feeling inspired as ever to keep moving forward with my flower farm dreams and I hope you are too! 

It's going to take all of us to bring flowers home, back to American soil and into the hands of our customers, friends, and loved ones, right where they belong.

Happy Valentine's Day! 

Deb   
Put Down Some Roots and BLOOM!  





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