STONINGTON — Peg Moran, a Pawcatuck flower grower and owner of Friends in the Country, is on the forefront of the field-to-vase movement, the floral equivalent of the farm-to-table campaign. She and other local growers want people to know that there are options nearby when buying flowers.
“It comes on the heels of the local food movement,” said Carol Mann of Brambles and Bittersweet in Stonington. “Maybe a dissatisfaction with standard practice in modern agriculture. People looking for local sources because they have more confidence in the product they’re getting.”
Some customers prefer to put a face on their flower growers, said Jimmy Moran (no relation to Peg) of Wehpittituck Farm in Stonington. And some enjoy being able to speak face to face with the person who grew their flowers, added Nancy Viseth of South County Flowers Farm in Charlestown.
Floriculture is a global industry and imports from countries like Colombia and Ecuador still account for the bulk of cut-flower sales. But the local growers say they have the advantage of proximity, giving them an edge in freshness.
Mann told the story of a customer who requested a weekly bouquet. However, because they lasted so long, Mann said he wound up waiting 10 to 14 days between bouquet sales.
There are also flowers that don’t ship well, such as dahlias and zinnias, that cannot be imported, Mann said, because they won’t survive the trip.
The local growers said their agricultural methods were sustainable.
“We use organic practices as much as possible,” said Viseth.
Mann said if she needs a fungicide or pesticide, she uses products like rosemary oil or a weak compost tea. Sometimes, if a flower is slow to hydrate, she dips it in a weak citric acid solution.
“That’s about the only thing that I use,” she said.
Mann added that she works in a scrupulously clean manner, using clean tools and cutting flowers into clean buckets each time.
All four local growers took a different path to reach this vocation.
Viseth said she wanted to make her family’s former horse farm viable again. She grew only sunflowers her first year, and drove them around to different florists to see if anyone would buy them.
“At least half of them called back the next day,” she recalled.
Now she sells to about 20 florists and floral designers each week, as well as to Sandy’s Fine Food Emporium in Westerly and Belmont Market in Wakefield. She previously sold her flowers from a farm stand, but this year is changing to a CSA, or community-supported agriculture business. The 10 participants in her CSA will get a weekly bouquet of whatever is freshest for a set fee.
Mann started growing vegetables, but then realized growing flowers would be more profitable.
“You can get more return per square foot with cut flowers than vegetables,” she said.
Now, after investing capital into greenhouses and hoop houses, Mann said she is primarily a wedding and event florist. She also sells flowers to other event florists and to Sandy’s. Her Internet presence has helped her grow, and she has gone from three weddings last year to 17 this year.
Jimmy Moran grows mostly vegetables, and also raises pigs, laying hens, and Jersey cows, in addition to growing about a quarter-acre of flowers.
“It just seemed to fit,” he said. He sells most of his flowers at his farm stand on 211 Cove Road in Stonington, and also sells at the farmers markets in Westerly and Noank.
Peg Moran had grown lettuce in her backyard in California to sell at a farmers market, and segued into flowers when she moved to Pawcatuck. She’s an inaugural member of the Stonington farmers market, and sells most of her cut flowers there, in addition to a few weddings and events each year.
The three Stonington growers have recently formed a cooperative, Stonington Growers, to find new markets for the flowers that are left over after the weddings and farmers markets. After discussions with McQuade’s Marketplace, they began pooling their excess flowers to create bouquets, wrapped in recyclable paper, to sell at McQuade’s stores.
“It’s an evolving story for all of us, and I don’t know where I’ll be next year,” Mann said.