A Floral Badge of Merit On NBC-The Original Purple Heart

A purple, heart shaped patch named the Badge of Merit was the first US military award both designed and issued by George Washington himself to the Continental Army on August 7, 1782 at his headquarters in Newburgh.    This was the first time in history that military awards were presented to common soldiers.  In Europe it was a long standing honor to be presented an award but of course to only high ranking officers.   However as General Washington said, “the road to glory in a patriot army and a free county is …open to all”

Original Badge of Merit patch

Original Badge of Merit patch

When I was asked to create a design for the NBC  shoot at Washington’s Headquarters, I immediately knew it had to be both striking for the camera and suited for the setting.   I also knew there was only one idea-replicate the Badge of Merit , the predecessor of the Purple Heart.

To be more historically correct…I made it by hand.  I cut a recycled (as always) styro base to heart shape covering it with hand dyed, purple burlap.  I used rope for  the words and vines; adding exact, real leaves.  The flowers could only…be my beautiful red, American grown, roses from Eufloria in CA.  Nothing compares to them in size, color, beauty, and eco growing standards.  In a rustic, old urn it all came together with the added and I thought, appropriate quirk of “English” Ivy tangled among it.  Striking at over 4 ft tall & wide; the camera loved it.

My Badge of Merit

My Badge of Merit 🙂

Only 3 people it seems received the Badge of Merit before it was replaced (never decommissioned) with the Purple Heart Medal.  Our own Purple Heart Museum in New Windsor is lucky enough to have one of them on display.

Happy 1776 on this our 240th birthday!  Think America-Buy American.

 

Lynn 🙂

Sustainable Flower And Garden Conference

Recently I was one of the guest, keynote speakers at the State University of NY at Farmingdale in Long Island.  It was a conference I was so honored to speak because  I never thought I would see one of its kind on the subject of my passions & work-agriculture that saves the environment and its inhabitants,  local farming, history of flowers, and-my US grown flowers to centerpiece movement.

The event is called The Sustainable Garden Conference which benefits their Sustainable Garden Dept. of Urban Horticulture & Design program; however I saw the real benefit as what it brought to all those attending.    Years ago, colleges had no sustainable programs at all much less on horticulture; you went like me for environmental science and forestry-that was option 1 and 2.  Now there are a whole new group of college curriculum emerging in all fields of sustainability across the country.

The presentations within this conference examined:

  • why locally grown flowers & food fell out of favor
  • why the growth of international flower markets dominate the industry
  • sustainable growing for planet, creatures and people alike
  • what opportunities exist here for local production agriculture.

The array of speakers went from landscape designing with native species, helping our failing pollinators , the local flower movement, non GMO varieties, natural strategies for flower diseases, finding  edible flowers, and myself who examined it all as an ecologist,  floral designer and florist owners point of view .  And… how I started eco-green floristry until now.

How wonderful a day was that for me?  Everything I passion and live for, continually promote and work at, in an all day conference.   I joined up with Cornell U horticultural specialists about helping our bees and butterflies, listened on agricultural chemical use, I molded with local growers and those that want to be, I absorbed intently about historical botanical prints and cooking with flowers (cooking has much mystery for me), and I repaid by giving details of all my transformations and advocacy to a fascinated public.

Lynn Mehl speaking on green floristy

Here I am-telling my story

It’s not every day you get to be amongst a large audience of the same mind and passion, kind of like fans at a Yankee game but deeper.  We ecologists and environmentalists think with our soul, not our pocketbook or for corporate growth.   I am so used to being the lone wolf out, that it nearly overwhelms you with emotion and glee.  I was with my pack.    As I always get at these like minded events; I was smitten, and I was giddy.  So giddy that my notes were useless so I just shuffled them around and went with my heart.  It was a rapt audience.   It kind of put me to mind of a Stephen King novel….there really are others out there ,  believing as I that we can do something to save the world-or at least our part of it. .

I came away with a renewed hope that the planet does have a chance and so do US grown flowers & food if we all give them a chance and patronize them.   Long Island was once one of the growing capitols in the East at the turn of the century, and it has seen resurgence with many new boutique food, flower, and wine growers emerging.  I see it also in NJ and upstate NY in the Catskill/Adirondack region.  I recently acquired (yet another for my collection) an original copy of the American Florist monthly from 1919.  If you could see the lists and adverts for seeds men and growers in the US then; in the 1000’s from Illinois to Minnesota to Virginia to New York.  Where and when did they all fail?  One hundred years and now only 8% of the flowers purchased in this country at any florist, outlet, or store  are US grown.    And I have them.

1919 carnation grower in NY

A carnation grower in 1919 Flatbush NY

 I ask you always to think before you buy and use your dollars to send a corporate message.  I do not want my only choice of banana to be from Costa Rica where they plowed a mile of the rain forest for the crop.   I don’t want my only choice of cooking oil to be from an Indonesian palm oil farm that ousted the last family of orangutans to grow it.  And….  I want my beautiful and aromatic, American Beauty roses; not scentless roses from the southern hemisphere.

Believe,

Lynn :))

Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards-Some Good & Bad Things?

Hi Casey-this one’s for you and California Cut Flower Commission and Debra at Slowflowers!

**Dear friends, A little background on this post.  Martha Stewart has initiated a new program whereby she is giving various US companies an American Made award.  This is a super idea, however there is debate as to her criteria with one of the latest awards given to online startup BloomNation who promote local florists online directly to consumers with a tagline of “American Made”.  The debate stems from the fact of American Made what? There are few to no American grown flowers or products offered by the member florists so Casey Cronquist of the California Cut Flower Commission along with American Grown programs and promoters (me too!) are questioning the decision and her program.  This also opened up discussion on various areas with the industry, problems, and imported flowers in general. I have written an article of what I see and know of the industry and decided to post it on my website to also enlighten my visitors of just what is happening in the industry and to get your thoughts.  CA grown flowers Everything you posted Casey on the CCFC blog has such merit as always-applause 🙂 so you inspired me to take the time out to write and walk the line with you.  As you know, in 2001 I chose to transform my full service florist of then, over 20 years; to strictly US grown product AND to green certify the business.  Was it simple?  Definitely not back then-it was a time consuming fright, and still takes a concerted effort with a continued waiting game for some products.  But I did succeed. I found a half dozen or so who gladly shipped to me for our issue season in NY, winter.  Some may say the carbon footprint is higher to fly in US flowers, but how much-what difference whether you fly them or the wholesale house flies them?  Yes there is a footprint in every action we do every day, so whether imported or American flowers, we all have huge energy footprints in all aspects of life and business which need serious thought.  You pick your battles compensating somewhere else (like the energy it takes for those giant Chinese vases many  designers use to get here) and carbon insets and offsets are always a positive initiative. So in rebuttal-yes, it was possible to be strictly US grown even back then and for me, today it is second nature- and yes the s/h is higher but the quality, longevity, and scent are incomparable. (btw-I will always be thankful to Chad at Eufloria, Gerald at the then Organic Bqt, and Chastity at Mayesh for being the firsts to help me. 🙂    California grown roses I see there are many reasons the flower industry has problems as to why florists/designers hesitate conforming back to American grown.  Florists never had to wonder where their flowers came from, but now it takes a weekly, committed effort which most see as just one more thing to add to their already harried workday and cannot be bothered.  Adding another effort is a big issue in life today as we are all overwhelmed; it is so easy to just go on and turn a blind a eye.  Second, the competition and pressure for lower prices by mega corporations pushing flowers (many had direct flower contracts with various farms-even Whole Foods) is daunting.  They spend millions advertising (dictating) to the consumer what to buy when, and what to pay-whether for a sympathy arrangement or grand scale wedding.   With these corporate intrusions, the internet sites, the lack of expense for wage, chemical, or environmental regulations of foreign growing, a perfect climate, toss in the economy dropping in 08;  it was the perfect storm.   Soon every internet marketer signed up for an affiliate site to sell flowers to be filtered down to florists to fill, big box stepped in the game, and flowers by wire services ran with it all.  Each promoting inexpensive, imported flowers which the farms gladly sold them as it was a money dream come true to them. The exclusivity, local grown, designer arrangements, and beauty of fresh flowers was lost to capitalism. Surprising me after my change; I realized a full service florist on a daily basis does not need 40 (out-of-season) varieties weekly any more than people in the northeast need mangoes in January (you are on point Christina-that is not contributing to any form of sustainability), but what consumers do like is 20-30 of the freshest, seasonal, and most beautiful varieties of US grown flowers available- arranged creatively.  It is all about quality, the design factor, and presentation because after all, that is what a florist does and I feel they need to get back to it.  All customers, inherently do want the best quality product out there and they love creativity as well; my customers would prefer 6 US Eufloria roses over 12 SA Rio roses any day of the week.  If it is US grown-they applaud it, and applaud the store even more for caring to stand up to the system to buy quality for them against a few dollars more profit.  That creates a loyal customer like no other. southamericanglobewithflowers We should also differentiate the impact of studio designers from full service, brick & mortar florists; not by talent J but with usage.  Sites like Etsy & BloomNation are wonderful for giving in-home, solo entrepreneurs exposure without having the expense and responsibility of a storefront.  However, we have to understand that studio designers are not florists in the sense of the word, so are not the weekly, bulk purchasers supporting this multimillion dollar, import industry with the day to day orders.  Hence, the traditional florist being the largest buyer of imported flowers, (through not all fault of their own) are the ones we need to get on track first to initiate the mindset.

Bloomnation-American Made?

I looked into BloomNation at its start-up, and quickly saw it was another avenue the likes of FTD for florists and designers but without the noose as Brooke spoke of-although not without other nooses.  Also to remember, studio designers cannot participate in flowers-by-wire services without a physical storefront so this was huge for them.  In an early interview, one of the founders stated they saw a gap when trying to order flowers (Which-they could have just picked up a phone …) Upon deeper research and with input from a relative florist, they learned of the huge volume of sales and easy commissions the big 3, flowers by wire services and the 1000’s of affiliate sites were generating online from florists, and how both florists and consumers were suffering and more than unhappy with them.   It was, in their eyes, a small but massive, money making niche to fill and the idea was born.  If they continue to do it correctly and keep the fees at minimum, it may just be-but reaching the online public is another battle, as like local florists, they don’t have anywhere near the marketing budget of its entrenched, big competitors.  (Which is where offering American grown flowers is I believe one of the possible keys to saving traditional florists.) However, for this business to be given a MS American Made award (for what Slowflowers, CCFC, and myself for example are truly trying to accomplish and BloomNation is not) seems more than a technicality at best and a huge blunder for MS.  I know my industry and its products; I see the designs on BloomNation and I am also familiar with more than a few of the florists on the site and their product.  With that, I can in a minute-as I am sure you Casey and Debra can determine-the product is nearly all imported.  A few California OV stock & larkspur here, and some SV iris there, but not much more; excepting those florist members of course in CA flower farm areas. BloomNation, is obviously running with the American Made tag as a slippery marketing term and I find it hard to believe that MS advisors would send her their way.   But the flower industry in general is very unclear and even more mysterious to most, even those inside it.  This American made designation most definitely alludes to the flowers used as US grown; but as always it will be left up to the consumer to decipher, and most likely the consumer will fall victim to the confusing insinuation as usually the case.  To give them a benefit of the doubt; this may have not been their original intent (it definitely was not in the business plan I read about)-but this is how many consumers take it-as did MS.  The word American should not have come into the picture, and even a slightly more ethical term would have been “designed by local, American florists”.  But then again, as opposed to who?  Loose flowers packed in SA and shipped?  All florists in the US are both local and American who fill all the online, arranged orders anyway no matter what site an order was placed on, so the point?  The real point is no middle man, affiliate site, or flowers by wire service, which this company should have been seen by MS as just a consumer direct to florist site only; and that they are not the only one out there.

The World Is All Green-Or So They Say

This is the same happening with the terms ‘natural’ ‘fair trade’ ‘green’ ‘eco friendly’ or “sustainable’.  In marketing terms it is called green washing and every big corporation has jumped on the new green bandwagon as they now are attempting with American made.  It is the new gold in marketing-and just another way to get consumers to their brand which they never would have started if it were not the rage.  When we began seeing big energy companies making ‘clean coal’ commercials-I mean seriously now, how ridiculous is that.  Which is why new regulations are pending on many of these ‘eco’ terms including the word organic.  Again, this only confuses the consumer even more than they were and they don’t really know what they are buying.  The same goes with SA flowers and the many original & new ‘certifications’ they have. Who polices them I ask?  I am quite familiar and keep up on these certifications always hoping… (there are a lot) from Flora Verde to Rainforest Alliance and if you read the criteria (Veriflora is one of the most aggressive) you see it is very easy to do very little and be very certified something to put on the label.   But regardless, even the few commercially grown flowers certified USDA organic…are still imported, and this slippery marketing is the same with BloomNation.my grown in the usa pic cropped MS is a huge celebrity, and as many in the green arena complained when Walmart started carrying USDA organic food (from Asia), one has to look at the positive because known businesses & celebrities always give a cause a loud push of awareness.  MS American made awards I agree are a very  ‘good thing’ as she puts it; as are her ‘green’ show episodes and articles-however they are few.   With all her promotion of non earth friendly, imported craft items, out of season recipe ingredients, paints, glues, and the list goes on…it seems just another bandwagon for her to jump on as she does not honestly seem to walk either talk in her company.  (although she appears to live her personal life quite local & healthy) Giving awards like these to companies like this with obvious, little investigation or truism, just turns this ‘good thing’ to detrimental and confusing.  I think MS needs help with this one Kasey. 🙂

US FarmS Lose-SA Farms Win

On another note mentioned here; over these past dozen years I have had quite a few flower representatives from SA call me in response to my activism and writing;  they are very polite, they understand, they applaud my environmental efforts, they even invite me down expenses paid to see all the great things the flower industry does for their people. (which no conversation ever touched at the expense of our American farms which I get the feeling they see insignificant, as we are the ‘land of plenty’ and they do after all, buy our tractors and such?)  I give them all the same response, I am so sorry for their plight but I will not change my position or my mission.  As an environmentalist I feel for them and all the planet and its inhabitants; but the social, environmental, and chemical regulations are not there and even if they were, not at the expense of our own farms.  There are millions of struggling poor businesses and people in the US who need help along with mind you; one of the poorest indigenous races in the world being Native Americans.  As a buy local advocate, stocking imported products to sell local seems redundant.  As an industry advocate, selling imported flowers at the expense of our farms seems redundant.  Many florists advocate and display ‘please buy local’ signs in their windows, while with a cooler full of imported product that was delivered to them from over 50 and more miles away in a refrigerated, Toyota truck.  What’s wrong with this picture? I don’t understand why they don’t understand.

Florists Can HelpThe Change to US Grown And..Sustainable Products

Unfortunately it seems when it comes to profits, trade, and the global economy, there’s no room for activism or to follow a mission. Ask the Chinese; they import next to nothing and export everything…including the flags we so proudly wave at parades.  I say if those in the floral industry want to really make a difference, then take a stance with your passion and walk the talk, make the vow to at least educate and enlighten your customers; give them the facts and the positives to using American grown and the detriments of not.  All flower vendors need to start carrying our premium, US flowers so people can see the quality and longevity for themselves, and more importantly to just enlighten them that flowers are imported!  Wholesale houses will get a florist whatever they want as they want their business, but first the florist must ask for it. I ask all flower vendors to follow and learn from the likes of those as myself and our newest pioneers like Kasey of California Cut Flower Commission, Slowflowers, and Certified American Grown… and then, if we really want to get a crown-we need to lessen the floral foam use as that… is one the most dangerous, toxic nightmares in the industry that has silently slipped through all the cracks of warning, regulation, or recycling…buried in our soil since 1954 and still is.

Ranting through the snow....Lynn 🙂

   

About Flowers On Pearl Harbor Day

The Flower Wreaths...

Every year I am commissioned to create wreaths of flowers for the various veteran, ceremonies including Pearl Harbor Day; oddly it is now a different kind of order.  Flower remembrances for Pearl Harbor Day are traditionally tossed into a body of water, and somehow it seems people are aware of something amiss and requesting them to now be totally biodegradable.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 The new veteran ordering questioned me: “Why do we have to ASK for something non toxic-aren't flowers & wreaths made of natural things from a florist?”

american grown flowers

The 90%... Imported-Plastics-Foreign

For me, that is the best question anyone could ask even if it is a loaded one for sure.  Between the wreath forms, the plastics, the acetate, the paint, and the foams-there is nothing natural at all, much less biodegradable for Pearl Harbor Day or any day.  I ask you, what is the difference between poisoning our water or our soil, a landfill is one thing but a river is another?   We need to take a care with them both.  Nearly 90% of the flowers used at over 90% of florists and any flower outlet are imported with probably a 90% chance they are delivered in an import vehicle-which to me, is not a nice way to honor any veteran much less those lost at Pearl Harbor.

Traditional Wreaths

I get it-it’s so easy to make a wreath using all the ‘innovative’ and manufactured, flower mechanics of today.  It’s more expensive, but it’s quick and it requires little thought or creativity.  And it supports the global economy-which of course.....is more important than our own.   The wreaths I made for these ceremonies started with a vine, 2 branches, and an idea-the traditional way.  The greens and flowers are layered, tied, proudly grown in the US, and a US made ribbon.   The patriotic picture we aspire to paint with all our little American flags made in China, and veterans remembrance flowers imported from Columbia; in my thoughts does nothing to honor any veteran or ourselves.

hand made wreath for veterans

The back of the wreath.                          No plastics-no foam.

Remembering Pearl Harbor Day

 My Mother has a faded photo of a skinny, 18 yr old kid who I remember had the softest voice and disposition and seemed anything but soldier material; her older brother.  My grandmother had a silk scarf he sent her from his tour in Japan that always fascinated me as a child. He was one of the lucky ones who did not perish then, but over 2400 did at Pearl Harbor in 1941.  A day, FDR rewrote his speech to say “this date will go down in infamy”

 Maybe today, a fitting honor would be to take the time to find just 1 local/American made item and buy it-instead of an imported.  Even the course of a mighty river is changed when it bends and every little change adds up to a big one.  As the veteran was leaving he turned and said, “thank you for what you are doing here, the guys we are honoring would be proud of you,  and so am I.”

I was grateful and proud, and it made my day.

Lynn 🙂

American grown flowers for non toxic veterans wreath

A real American wreath!

Flowers For The 4th of July

A festive 1960 Schwinn in our window display

“Nothing good is ever easy”, and if it is… then it usually is not worth anything. I  Wondered

When I began this ‘eco-green American thing” with my business, as is offhanded remarked to me; I had no idea how I would do it,  I just knew I had to do something or change careers.  As a serious environmentalist and avid user of everything natural; I one day began to wonder about my flower business. I am an inquisitive person and I asked to myself; when did those fragrant, American Beauty roses stop being available and what about those big, fluffy CA carnations?  I thought about all the wedding cakes I had decorated with flowers- was that a good thing to do?  And what exactly is floral foam anyway?  I really could not answer myself and I am a florist!

 So I researched; which led me deep into EPA reports, US trade agreements, product manufacturers, and organic chemistry.  You know, sometimes you just overlook that which is everyday in front of you.  We all do it. I was not really prepared for the answers and astonished at what I found out, for many reasons, but two mainly.  The massive, toxic, chemical use; and that almost zero of all the everyday florist products were made in America any longer.  Even worse, there was no import duty on fresh flowers.   I had a lapful with more than one issue to deal with; operating a green business, offering eco friendly products, and patronizing my own country.  It was a major epiphany for me.

Celebrate Imports

This weekend we celebrate with all sort of fanfare, the independence of our America.  We celebrate our freedom from controlling people and countries; we celebrate our beautiful land with its magnificent National Parks.  Our Native Americans knew, and still know.  They fought to protect it long before anyone else, and today I believe are more astute than we are.  I wonder this weekend if we deserve to celebrate and how proud those who fought years ago would be of us; or instead would they be just a little ashamed for what we have allowed to happen-for ease and money.    In my industry, nearly 80% of the flowers sold anywhere in the US are imported; along with chemicals and everything from petroleum based plastics and card holders to foams, are filling our beautiful American lands- landfills that is.  What a travesty for a Nature thought of business and I was a contributor. American Flowers

So, I chose not to participate as such any longer and did what I had the American freedom and power to do with my business-change it.  I was a little idealistic at the difficulty and the extra labor it would entail, but I have a passion and I just knew I could do it.  Now 10 years later, I have an eco- florist and I have fought and won my own independence from the imported flowers and all the rest.  I searched out American farms from NY to CA and my coolers are filled with over 30 varieties every week.  From May to November it escalates upwards to 60+ with our Eastern season in full swing.  The US has much stricter chemical regulations, and the life of these true, freshly cut flowers is triple; and....the money stays here supporting our country.

Worth the Cost?

Many think a higher cost; and yes they are a little more expensive.   However, the quality is like night and day to the imports.  I would bet on one of my CA Eufloria roses against a Columbian rose any day of the week for beauty, scent, and longevity. So, is 50 cents more for a rose really that hard to swallow?  Not according to anyone through my doors; the quality is obvious and I am so happy to hear it.  There has not been one informed person in 10 years that has not praised the flowers and gladly paid their worth.

A magnificent CA rose in the car door. A perfect "Meet & Greet"

Along the way, I have and still do learn a lot; nothing good is ever easy.   American flowers are alive and well for this 4th of July; and the next time you want a bouquet I hope you will declare your own independence and ask for eco friendly, American grown flowers. Then celebrate your freedom of choice, because you can.

Curious Fun     American Bouquet map                               Happy 4th!  Lynn