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Organics in the nursery
by Judith Gerber
Organic Producer

Organic flower companies are working hard to transform the $20 billion retail floral industry by eliminating the toxic chemicals that are commonly used to grow flowers and satisfying an increasing market demand for organic flowers.

According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), sales in the organic flower market have grown steadily over the past several years, with sales growing to $8 million in 2003, a 52 percent increase from the year before. Sales for 2005 were at $16 million, a 50 percent increase since 2003, making organic flowers the fastest growing non-food organic category.
While this is a small part of the overall U.S. organic market, which is projected to grow to over $30 billion by 2007, it’s growing fast as the OTA also indicates that organic flower sales are expected to grow 13 percent annually through 2008.
It’s growing fast enough to cause some big players in the organics industry to think about starting their own organic flower companies.

One such company, Organic Bouquet, ships organic, sustainably grown, fresh-cut flowers and bouquets to customers and retail outlets across the United States, and was started by two well-known names in the organic and garden industries.
In 2001, Gerald Prolman, the co-founder of Made In Nature, considered a pioneer in the organic foods industry, and Dave Smith, co-founder of the Smith and Hawken garden company, started Organic Bouquet because they saw that the flower industry was not being represented in the organic market. Their company, the first national online distributor of organic flowers, has successfully established the market for organic flowers. 

Their goal from the beginning has been clear. “Previously, organic floral as a category had been overlooked by the natural products sector and is currently a wide open market opportunity,” said Prolman.
“As I have specific experience developing new product concepts in the organic world, the need was clear and the opportunity was obvious.”

“Organic Bouquet aims to be a primary source for socially and environmentally responsible gifts including organic flowers, organic fruits, organic gourmet food baskets and handcrafted vases,” Prolman said.
Some of the retailers they sell to include Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Markets, and Wild Oats Markets. They also sell organic flowers directly online to consumers via their website, and were the first online organic florist.
There are nearly 30 growers, both large and small producing flowers organically for the company in Oregon, California, Holland, and Ecuador.

Many have argued that there really isn’t a need to bring flowers to the organic arena in the first place. Prolman counters that it is. “Growing flowers organically is very important because it is safer for farm workers and is good for the environment. Overall, organic floral production encourages healthy stewardship of the earth and is part of one movement towards a better world.”

Aside from any philosophical belief that organic farming is a better way to grow, there is also a practical one. There is a definite market for organic flowers.

“Organic floral is the newest category in the $230 billion LOHAS market (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability). LOHAS consumers represent 30 percent of all US households or 63 million people,” said Prolman. “Organic Bouquet is the first company to reach out to this market with the best environmental alternative for fresh cut flowers and related products.”
The success of Organic Bouquet itself is an indication of the increasing market demand for organic flowers. In 2005, the company had $3.5 million in sales, which quadrupled what they had in 2004. They have also become the leading online organic flower supplier with their Valentine’s 2006 sales exceeding 10,000 dozen roses.

 “The company has quickly become the market leader in organic flowers and is recognized in the trade for having established the natural product industry’s newest category; organic floral,” Prolman said. They also introduced the world’s first crop of organic roses, which are imported from Ecuador.

And, it’s not just in the direct marketing area that Prolman has been influential. He has also joined with Scientific Certification Systems, an environmental certification agency, to create the Veriflora certification label.
The certification is an independent, eco-certification designed to help growers who want to switch to organic and sustainable agriculture by reducing chemical use, and adhering to other principles including social responsibility, water conservation, waste management, and ecological resource conservation.

The certification helps transitioning growers as they move to organic by certifying crops and growers and providing them with standards. It is also a way to demonstrate to consumers that there are controls over these growing practices.
Aside from Organic Bouquet, there are already some very successful organic seed companies including Renee’s Seeds and Seeds of Change. Offering the finished product like this takes it into an area that Prolman and Smith felt was falling far behind the rest of agriculture and that they paid little attention to.

There have been challenges to establishing an entirely new market however. “The initial challenge has been convincing farmers to convert to organic growing methods that they are unfamiliar with and at the same time getting the word out that there is now an environmental choice to consumers,” said Prolman.
Prolman said that there are several factors that motivate farmers to grow organically.

“Agri-chemicals are continuously being banned and most growers would prefer to not use chemicals if there were viable alternatives. Energy and labor costs are increasing, global competition is fierce, retail price pressures are severe, and consumer awareness of social and environmental issues relating to floral production continues to rise.”
For Prolman and Smith the bottom line is doing what they feel is best for the environment. “The future of agriculture exists in the utilization of sustainable farming practices that are environmentally and socially sound. Organic production systems clearly lead the way to this new standard.”

Organic Bouquet.Com

Veriflora Certification

Judi Gerber (farmwriter@californiafamilyfarms.com) is an agriculture and garden writer from Torrance California, and the author of the upcoming book Southern California Farm Adventures, www.californiafamilyfarms.com.


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