Most folks probably don’t think too much about where those vibrant dahlias, perky coneflowers or fragrant lilies in their bouquets came from, but a group of local flower farmers hope to change that.
The Chesapeake Flower Exchange, a group of 10 flower farmers located in Howard, Carroll and Montgomery counties, formed earlier this year to provide locally grown blooms to florists in the region as a way to support small businesses and the environment at the same time.
According to Lisa Derx, one of the exchange’s founders and owner of Apricity Flowers, in Dayton, about 80% of cut flowers sold in the United States are imported and a quarter of the country’s domestically produced flowers are grown in California. Imported flowers are bred to sustain travel thousands of miles overseas and are covered in pesticides to preserve their condition until they reach the end buyer, Derx said.
“Buying local is a way to support local businesses but also lessen your impact on the environment,” Derx said. “If you’re purchasing from your local grower, you’re gonna get flowers that you know were grown here, you know were grown sustainably, they’re gonna be fresh; and in some cases flowers that don’t ship well, so you can’t get them from another country.”
Derx uses sustainable practices at her Dayton farm, growing tulips, peonies, dahlias and mums. She sells seasonal flowers and foliage to retail florists and also creates designs for weddings, parties or funerals.
During the past decade, Derx said, there’s been exponential growth in people interested in growing and selling flowers after learning the environmental cost of shipping.
Seeing a need for a cooperative to support small farms, Derx invited local growers to a meeting to discuss starting a company that would supply the flower-buying public with their products and help each other fill customer orders.
“What I could offer a florist was small, and when I had a customer who wanted 50 of the same flower and I knew I had 20, I turned to the other growers,” Derx said. “We informally did that for a couple of years and we all kept saying we should have a formal collaborative and finally I said let’s do it.”
The Chesapeake Flower Exchange is an online wholesale business that formed in January and began officially operating in April, selling to other Maryland florists as well as those in Washington and Virginia.
Kristi Gill, owner of Gill Hill Flower Farm in West Friendship and a member of the exchange,said she began flower farming during the COVID-19 pandemic. After purchasing a property, she wanted a job that gave her the flexibility to be home for her son and work around school hours.
She met Derx at a farmers market and worked with her and others to build the exchange. Gill said purchasing local flowers removes the chemical abuse and heavy tiling prevalent in large-scale agriculture, and encourages responsible farming.
Most imported flowers are grown in Central America, Gill said, and the year-round warm weather and labor costs drive flower costs lower. But not all flowers ship well and by the time they arrive in the U.S., several weeks may have passed. Certain popular species, such as dahlias, are best bought locally, Gill said.
Flowers bring people together and are a means of expression, said Nana Ellis, owner of Enchanted Flower Farm in Sykesville, and also a member of the exchange. Ellis said flowers represent joy and having flowers in your home can lift a bad mood.
“I think when you’re sad or have a bad day, just looking at a flower makes you happy,” Ellis said. “Anything you can think of that’s happy, flowers are involved.”
Derx said the gift of a flower can convey so much, and when that flower is grown locally, it can convey even more.
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“There’s something, an emotional reaction that people have around flowers and it’s all tied to the human experience,” Derx said.