No (Imported) Flowers for Mom this Mother's Day

By Mary Beth Barber

Mother’s Day is right around the corner, and you’d think that as a new mom of a 1-year old, I’d oooh and ahh over a couple of nice bouquets from hubby. But those lovely white lilies? They’re actually coated in inches of diesel dust, metaphorically speaking.

A recent radio program has made me think better of hinting for flowers this year on Mom’s Day, or giving them to my own mother and mother-in-law. Freakonomics Radio, a regular program on public radio’s “Marketplace” program (which always seems to be on Capital Public Radio during my drive home at 6:30 pm), pointed out that all the “eat local” folks who try and purchase their produce within a couple hundred miles of home should really reconsider those Mother’s Day flowers this year.

“It turns out that about 80 percent of all cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported,” noted the Freakonomic blog that discusses their recent radio interaction with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal (listen to the show HERE).  “The leading producers are Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.” Even more disturbing is that, according to Freakonomics, most of these flowers are flown into Miami and then trucked to other parts in the U.S., including California. Miami is 3,048 miles from Sacramento. That’s a lot of gasoline.”

So what’s a new Mom to do? The Freakonomics commentator recommended plastic flowers … ick. Yes, I’m fine with a fake Christmas tree, but flowers? Fake plastic flowers make about as much sense to me as fake plastic fruit.

Buy Local

The first thing I did was hit the Grid and stopped by Procida Florist (12th and J Streets)  to get some advice. According to owner Bonnie Procida and designer Staness Jorge, there’s good news if you’re willing to buy flowers within a 300 mile range, as there is a thriving Bay Area-grown market, with most of the growers based out of the coastal areas surrounding San Francisco (Petaluma and Santa Rosa to the north, Half Moon Bay and others to the south).

California grown flowers are of very high quality, noted Bonnie. And San Francisco has an amazing flower market where farmers and wholesalers meet buyers. I’ve never been, but have heard it’s an amazing stop for a day-trip to SF. General public can get between 10am-3pm M-Sat. (Professionals get to start picking the best stuff at 2am, which is a little early for my tastes.)

I also did my research, and stumbled upon more information not included in the Marketplace report. While Kai’s guests were right that 80 percent of the cut flowers in the U.S. are imported, he neglected to mention that of the domestically grown blooms, most are grown in the Golden State. There’s even a Facebook page for California Grown Flowers, the common name for the California Cut Flower Commission, the trade group of all the state’s growers.

These folks participate in the “California Grown” campaign, but while it’s easy to put identifying stickers on oranges or include a slug on dairy packaging, those identifying marks get lost once a bouquet is assembled. Bonnie and Staness at Procida recommend asking a florist they trust about the origin of the flowers, and customers should be flexible in their flower choices if California Grown is a priority.

Paper Flowers

A sample of Kusudama flowers from Graceline Paper Studio of Davis, for the music loving Mom. Non-sheet-music paper flowers available too!

There are artistic flowers made of paper, like Kusudama flowers from Japan, or tissue flowers from a variety of places like Mexico or Thailand, that might make a classy substitute for the real (and carbon-coated) thing. I was able to find a gal out of Davis who specializes in Kusudama flowers and similar products.

You can try and make your own, too. The tissue flowers could even be a kids’ project.

Live Plants

My best option? Local lavender, from The Lavender Farm, based out of Lincoln. I met these folks at the Sunday farmer’s market in Carmichael last summer, where I bought a small plant that’s thriving this year. They sell amazing smelling bouquets, but I’d rather ask for (and give the new Grandmothers) a live plant instead. They’re at other local farmers markets as well.

And speaking of live plants, maybe THAT’s the better Mother’s Day present – an heirloom tomato plant for the summer, or a small herb garden planter with some thyme or oregano, or even a spicy hot pepper plant for the mother in your life who likes (or needs) a little kick. Fresh produce works too – I’ve seen and tasted some early-season strawberries that were amazing. And if you need something to put that plant into, check out Sacramento’s very own pottery factory, Panama Pottery just off the grid (24th Street, just south of Sutterville) for local pottery and inexpensive imports. Just nothing in plastic, please.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Have your own imported-flower-alternative idea for Mother’s Day? Please let us know! Leave a comment below with your best suggestions!

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