Home Blog The Farmer & the Florist Interview: Debra Prinzing
January 16th 2015

The Farmer & the Florist Interview: Debra Prinzing

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For the latest installment of the Farmer and the {Florist}, I’m delighted to welcome Debra Prinzing. For many of you, Debra needs no introduction. One or more of her ten books such as Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013) and The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers (St. Lynn’s Press, 2012) are likely already on your bookshelf. You may have also noted her by-line in articles in the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, Country Gardens, Garden Design, Metropolitan Home, Sunset, and Better Homes & Gardens among others. Her most recently published article for Gray magazine featured Floret’s Floral Design Workshop with Amy Merrick.med_DebraPrinzing-JelloMoldFarm-209Debra is the face and the force behind the “Slow Flower” movement, which focuses on promoting U.S.-grown flowers to conscientious consumers. Earlier this year she launched the website which includes a searchable directory of businesses offering domestically-grown blooms. Debra’s Slow Flowers Podcast features interesting and informative discussions with innovators and leaders in the American flower industry including floral designers, flower farmers, and farmer-florists. Usually, it is Debra on the other side of the desk doing the interviews, so it is a real treat for me to be the one asking the questions this time!

Erin: Thanks so much for taking time to chat with me today! First off, for the benefit of anyone not familiar with the term “Slow Flowers” how do you define it?

Debra: We first used the term in print as the headline for Amy Stewart’s foreword to The 50 Mile Bouquet. She contributed a fabulous essay reflecting back to her 2007 book, Flower Confidential, but there wasn’t a title. So Cathy Dees, my editor, and I cooked one up: “Slow Flowers: Or 50 Miles From Home,” which has echoes of the Slow Foods movement and the One-Hundred Mile Diet. So if you’re a foodie or are at all aware of the culinary world’s obsession with locally-grown, anti-fast-food (thus “slow”) or sourcing from artisanal growers and purveyors, you should be hip to the idea that “slow” means intentional, sustainable, local and produced by the hands of a maker or artisan. I see so many parallels in flowers to what occurred decades ago in food. The floral world is just waking up to the possibilities and many are working to change the broken U.S. floral industry.

The farm-to-table food scene is now 40 years old – can you believe Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley that long ago? Her iconic restaurant reflects the sentiment of seasonal and locally-produced food prepared simply and flavorfully. Slow Flowers mirrors the same philosophy. It pays homage to the flower farmer who grows beautiful flowers in season – and it celebrates those in the floral industry who consciously source domestic, local and seasonal flowers for their work.

SlowFlowers and debra prinzing on floret blogErin: The Slow Food movement remains pretty popular on the west coast, which means the concept of “Slow Flowers” is easily understood. How has the concept of “Slow Flowers” been received in the deep South, the Midwest and other parts of the country where the local food culture doesn’t seem to be as deeply entrenched?

Debra: The idea of domestic sourcing of any consumer good may not appear to be as pervasive as one moves away from the two coasts toward the country’s heartland but I think the fact that there are Slow Flowers members in all 50 states — farmers and florists — is impressive. And with the emphasis on regionality in cooking, I think the dots are getting connected. And thanks to Martha Stewart for the American Made Awards – it’s programs like hers that are lifting the consciousness of people across the country when it comes to questioning where we spend our dollars – with a maker/grower/farmer in our own community versus mass-produced and imported alternatives.

And finally, not to sound too extreme, but when I speak with policymakers about saving farm jobs and reducing foreign dependency on flowers, they listen. Jobs equal votes. And people need jobs in all 50 states, so I predict that we’ll see more awareness about U.S. cut flower farms work its way into all discussions about agricultural policy. Earlier this year, I participated as the only consumer advocate to speak on Capitol Hill at the press conference announcing the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus. The fact that many members of Congress are joining this special interest group indicates their growing awareness of the power of U.S.-grown flowers.

Debra PrinzingErin: Do you have specific goals for moving the needle on the percentage of flowers consumed in the U.S. that are domestically grown?

Debra: This is an important question, since the often-cited numbers are 80-percent imported/20-percent domestic. I have to credit your voice, Erin, for initially alerting me to these figures back in 2006 when we first met. I was a garden writer and you were just starting to grow sweet peas! You saw this disparity early on and were so passionate about telling that story. You and others shifted my attention away from garden writing to flower writing as a result. I often say to audiences and the media: Let’s not fool ourselves. Imports are not going away. But I would love to shift that ratio to 70-30 or 60-40. Ten percentage points would vastly improve the livelihoods of America’s family flower farms, as well as for the florists who support them – and ultimately bring benefit to the consumer in the form of a value-added purchase.

green_urn_hellebores_viburnumErin: What have you found to be the biggest challenges to getting more floral designers to use domestically-grown flowers? And what about consumers in general?

Debra: The biggest challenge for floral designers is to see domestic sourcing as a strategic advantage that differentiates them in the marketplace. You know all about this, and so do many in our community. The more conventionally-trained or traditional florists aren’t necessarily “buying” this notion. Change is hard and change doesn’t always pay off immediately. Sadly, without changing, I think those folks are going to go out of business. You can’t compete on price anymore. So you have to compete on value-added. And that’s the advantage of using American-grown flowers. They sell freshness, beauty, sustainability and seasonality.

As for consumers, I think they are beginning to get it. Our domestic flowers have “a face” and “a story,” which compel consumers to respond and purchase them. Country of origin labeling requirements are not being enforced for flower sales, so with no industry-wide labeling, people don’t know where those bunches and bouquets are grown. As the new Certified American Grown labeling program takes off in 2015, I predict a related shift at the marketplace. We’ll see it mostly at the supermarket level at first, and then over the coming few years, through wholesalers and other channels.

sm_tight detail2Erin: You’ve been writing about flowers, talking about flowers, growing and designing with flowers for many years now. Given your historical knowledge of the local flower movement, how has it changed in the last few years? And, looking into your crystal ball, what do you predict for the future of this industry and this movement?

Debra: I think the largest change has been the proliferation of people wanting to grow flowers and self-identify as a “Farmer-Florist,” which is an idea that I know is near and dear to your heart. Membership in the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers is at an all-time high; there’s been sold-out attendance at conferences like ASCFG and the Northwest Lavender Growers Conference. The pages of Pinterest and Instagram are flooded with gorgeous local flowers – influencing the design preferences of floral consumers more than ever. I am very optimistic for the future of this industry and for many of its pioneers, such as yourself.

However, there is one critical thing that has to take place, and I’m not sure that we can wait for it to occur organically. While there are several product-specific, statewide, or regional organizations promoting aspects of the American floral community, there is no single entity whose mission is to market and advocate for the entire industry. Look at the huge success of some other single commodity groups (think: Got Milk?) and you’ll see what I mean. Right now, the story of U.S. flower farming and floral design is being told by many singular voices, including yours and mine, and by growers’ groups like ASCFG, CCFC and even Christina Stembel’s blog. But these are mostly farmer-driven and they don’t have the gravitas (or even the financial resources) to market nationally or lobby our policymakers. It is my hope that some type of domestic-only version of the Society of American Florists will emerge to advocate for U.S.-grown flowers and floral designers/retailers/florists who source American-grown blooms. Without such a group, we are all being hindered in achieving change.

trophy cupErin: What new flower varieties are growing in your garden this year? Any new surprises?

Debra: Right now, I am in love with a pale apricot mum called Hillside Pink Sheffield (Dendranthema x grandiflorum ‘Hillside Pink Sheffield’), a Dan Hinkley selection. A friend gave me two plants from her garden and they have become fall favorites. This is one of those plants that gets completely buried by Geranium ‘Rozanne’ each summer, and then, out of the blue, its lovely peachy blooms explode and dazzle my front border with a surprising fall gift of glowing, daisy-like flowers.

IMG_4027Erin: As a writer, I’m interested in knowing what you are reading. What are some of your go-to books for information or inspiration on flowers? What holds a prime position on your nightstand?

Debra: Here’s what’s on my nightstand right now: Red Bird, poems by Mary Oliver; The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on A Century in the Garden, by Stanley Kunitz; The Writer in the Garden, an anthology edited by Jane Garmley and A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed, by James Fenton. These are books that I read and re-read, rooting me in the garden, where I feel at home.

slow-flowers-receptionErin: I’m formulating my winter reading list, the only time I have time for reading it seems. Any new releases you highly recommend?

Debra: Not exactly new, but if you want to be inspired by the most lovely narrative, read Into the Garden With Charles, a garden memoir by my late friend Clyde “Skip” Wachsberger. I also have just read and plan to review my friend Stephen Orr’s new book, The New American Herbal, which is an exhaustive and fascinating herbal compendium for gardeners and chefs alike. Mystery readers will want to grab the first two books in Seattle garden writer Marty Wingate’s new “Potting Shed Mysteries” — The Garden Plot and The Red Book of Primrose House. Garden writing is a hard way to make a decent living and I’m so pleased to see my friend Marty’s mystery series take off. They’re delightful and horticulturally accurate and if you’re a fan of garden history, especially English garden history, reading them is a total delight.

Erin: Excellent! Thank you so much Debra for these recommendations and for your time today—I really enjoyed our conversation! And thank you for your commitment and leadership to bring more local flowers to our homes, tables and celebrations in the U.S. This world need more local flower champions like you!

Debra: Thank you, Erin. This has been a total pleasure and I appreciate you turning the tables and questioning me!

Connect with Debra: 
Slow Flowers Podcast


  1. Celebrating the 4th of July with local flowers | Fresh Homestyle on

    […] Debra Prinzing, author of the book and website “Slow Flowers” is the driving force behind American Flowers Week. In its third year, the campaign is helping to shine an even brighter spotlight on our flower friends who grow and design with domestic flowers. […]

  2. Joan E. Thorndike on

    Thank you for such a well rounded interview, rich with information coming from both sides of the interviewing table!

  3. Corinne on

    Great interview, I love all the work Debra does.

  4. Louise F on

    Strangely reassuring to hear the US problems with traditional florists not embracing the local cut flower industry is similar to ours hear in the UK. Slowly slowy catchy monkey…

  5. Rakesh on

    this is best post content.

  6. VillageKid on

    She is tireless and the energy she has is catching!! Thanks for this interview, enjoyed it.

  7. Karate on

    I love her enthusiasm and passion for what she does. I wish Canada had a version of the Slow Glowers Directory. She’s certainly made me want to develop one!


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