A BRIEF INTRO…
THIS new era of Covid-19 is scary and anxiety-provoking for many, no doubt. There are general worries about everyone’s health and safety, and then there are the worries that really matter. I worry about the November election. A lot. About what it means for the future. I worry that after seeing the sky bluer and breathing clearer air than ever before, everything will go back to business as usual.
I believe that the United States has been in crisis for a very long time… vast wealth inequality in the wealthiest country, along with mass incarceration, homelessness, school shootings….with existing and potential threats climate change looming over all of it.
While this crisis is just that – it’s terrifying and horrific – I also have to pause and reflect after seeing how once again, poor/black/brown folks are disproportionately affected by it. I used to think climate change was the biggest most urgent threat to humanity. But I definitely feel that systemic/institutional racism and classism are, because it’s what perpetuates climate change, and almost every other ill, in my opinion…. The systems that create the crises named above aren’t felt by wealthier (mostly white) people. I do feel powerless sometimes, to help with this giant and overwhelming problem. And then I try to do what I can. A little something every day. I attend a SURJ meeting. I #sharemycheck (or part of it). I try to disrupt white supremacy where I can.
Too intense for a floral blog?
I’ve digressed. The present moment is scary, and I know there are so many people out there living with chronic illnesses or pregnancies or grief over a loved one or lost relationship, home or job. Life was already hard before this. I am counting my blessings daily.
This is my first post in a long time, so I’ll begin with a brief introduction:
I’m a 38 year old (soon to be 39 year old) sustainable floral designer. Born and raised in Connecticut, and I’ve lived in NYC for 20 years. I found the joy of working with soil and flowers post-college at 23, after a year spent in South America. After several years working for food and environmental justice non-profits back in NYC, I moved to California where I dug in to learning and working on larger scale organic farms. I fell in love with growing flowers.
I returned to NYC in 2010, began teaching and co-managing a 1 acre educational farm in Brooklyn where I developed a training program in agriculture for adults with a couple other farmers. I launched Molly Oliver Flowers in 2012 seeing an opportunity to connect people with local flower farms – and new flower farms needing a market.
In addition to running Molly Oliver Flowers, I continue to teach Soil Science, Seed Stating, Crop Planning and more at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and The Brooklyn Grange.
W H A T ‘ S H A P P E N I N G W I T H F A R M S A N D F L O W E R S?
Outside of the ways this emergency is impacting everyone’s mental and physical selves, this emergency is of course impacting all facets of business and my industry’s universe.
So far, it seems flowers/floral shops are deemed non-essential. This affects flower farmers, whose livelihoods depend on flower sales (wholesale and farmers markets being open, and the ability to ship and deliver their flowers to florists); wholesalers who’ve closed doors because of the double-pronged situation of facing challenges to receiving flower shipments and because the loss of routine foot traffic from florists and flower retailers; and florists like myself and the many talented freelance designers, shop workers and delivery drivers who are losing work and cash flow through April or longer. I already sent in a petition to be deemed an essential business, to be able to receive direct deliveries of local flowers, and to do curbside deliveries.
Of course, as an event florist, my work and success is inextricably linked to the health and wellbeing of the partner event vendors who come together with us on events: venues (who create the very spaces for celebrations to occur), photographers, wedding planners, DJs, caterers and their large teams, make up artists, etc. I recently heard someone use the term “Friendors:)”, and its true. We are in conversation and we are supporting each other to understand the latest news on small business relief options and to navigate the many unprecedented questions arising.
I have spent hours on the phone over the past few weeks with flower farmers in our region, getting a sense of how Covid-19 is impacting their farms and livelihoods, and I’m feeling deeply grateful to have built such strong relationships with these local farmers throughout my career, working hard to send dollars their way and support them to survive locally in a globalized flower trade. If there was ever a time to see the necessity of shoring up our local farmers and ensuring their survival – this is it, in my opinion. Deliveries of flowers grown abroad (80% of the floral trade in the US) are grinding to a halt.
I have built my business around a belief in the necessity of supporting small farms, for many, many great reasons: connection to farmers and rural places, the ability to have transparency in farming and labor practices, sending dollars to our local economy, local green job creation along all points of the farm-to-vase continuum, and the list goes on.
The good news is that our local farmers have hundreds of thousands of tulips, ranunculus, anemones, peonies and other spring bulbs in the ground. The bad news is that these flowers represent thousands upon thousands of dollars in investment, and that investment ($25,000 in bulbs and labor on one local farm alone) would typically be rewarded through purchases by florists like me and wholesalers for March – June events.
I have also been in touch with wholesaler friends on 28th street (NYC’s beloved flower district – one of the quirkiest and most fascinating corners of the city). Many of them work hard to support local farms and much of the market still traffics in local product; there are so many wonderful souls who buy, sell, pack and deliver flowers on 28th street and my heart aches for them at an already-vulnerable time when commercial high rise hotels have been chopping up the district. I’ve seen at least 4 go up in the last 8 years, replacing small flower wholesale businesses every time, and replacing what little parking florists had with cordoned-off valet services. (That’s a rant for another day). Check out the beautiful image below of flowers being left outside for the people at G page. My thoughts are with the entire amazing universe that is 28th street and fingers and toes are crossed they’ll be open again soon.
We all need each other to stay in business and ride out the economic impacts of Covid-19 on our businesses. Supply and demand is the reality of our system.
Recently, a beloved employee, Eddie, of foliage wholesaler US Evergreens, died from complications from Covid-19. I didn’t know Eddie well, but I remember and appreciate his smiles, exuberance, good natured-ness at 6am. He was so hard working and so helpful.
As I’m now small business owner, I am paying close attention to NY state agriculture department websites for the latest news on how COVID-19 affects small farms and associated businesses. The workforce in general has been told to work from home. Food producing farms are essential; flower farms are not. Farmers I work with have reduced their labor to be more in line with social distancing guidelines, but this means what are normally hustle and bustle days with full staff and never enough time are even more packed and stretched.
While it is a big adjustment for my clients and myself to suspend events for the next couple of months, it’s so critical. I see the bigger picture here, and I know many people who run small businesses in the events space do as well, despite the threats to our financial health. The most important thing right now is everyone’s health and safety.
To couples: postponing, rather than cancelling, is hugely appreciated. Fortunately, all of our March – May clients are doing just that. Try to postpone within 1 year of your original date. Reach out to your vendors and to your most important guests, and take the decision making one step at a time. We’re here to work with you on ensuring you have a meaningful and beautiful event, and we need to ensure our longevity in the process! So reach out.
Book us now for a future event! We provide flowers for events of all kinds. Or, if you are a client with a contracted event with us this fall or next year, consider sending 1/2 of your remaining balance to us now, to help us with cash flow relief. Of course, only if this is financially viable for you. We understand many of you may be small business owners or otherwise negatively impacted by COVID-19. And of course, none of us know how this will pan out. (Deep breath.)
ONE NEW WAY TO SUPPORT MOLLY OLIVER FLOWERS THIS SPRING: TAKE A SEED STARTING CLASS WITH ME!
WITH most spring events have been postponed (a necessary thing), I’ve been thinking over the past week about how what I can do for the world at this time, how I can cover my overhead, and whether there are ways I can support small flower farms who’ve got thousands of dollars of anemone, ranunculus, and tulips in the ground.
You may or may not know that prior to becoming a full time sustainable florist, I was a farmer. I’m 38 now. At 23, I wound up working in food access and education in NYC, and eventually, at 27 began training seriously as an organic farmer. After several years in California, I returned to the East Coast, where I’m from, and re-joined an incredible community of urban community gardeners and urban farmers. I co-managed a 1 acre educational farm for 8 years in Brooklyn, trained dozens of adults in organic farming – yes, while running and building Molly Oliver Flowers. (Was there any doubt trying to do this work and live in Brooklyn, NY would be a hustle?) I continue to teach gardening-relationed courses and classes at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Grange Farm, because I absolutely love teaching.
All that to say: you can JOIN ME FOR AN ONLINE BY-DONATION SEED STARTING CLASS over Zoom in the coming weeks! Starting seeds is something you can do in your apartment. You’ll also need a plan for planting out your seedlings: if you don’t have a rooftop, backyard, community garden plot, or land around your home, you may know someone who does. If you have decent light in your apartment or home (ideally south-facing, though west facing can also work), you could likely grow herbs for your kitchen or cat grass or catnip for your cat.
Why seed starting? It’s the ultimate act of hope. In my experience, growing something on your own, even just a basil or lavender plant, can bring some peace to your mind and body, and help soothe feelings of anxiety or helplessness. When we learn to grow our own food, we build our self-sufficiency, and ensure we’ll have herbal medicine, nutritious food, or calming greenery in our lives.
I’ll be donating 1/2 of donations to Citymeals, which is an organization bringing meals to homebound elderly folks. The other half of sales will help me cover overhead costs for my business due to postponed events March – May.
HOW ABOUT WAYS TO SUPPORT LOCAL FLOWER FARMERS?
So what about local curbside flower deliveries, you may wonder? It remains to be seen whether folks such as yourselves – who are likely facing some kind of economic hit from this pandemic – are interested in purchasing flowers. Health and safety are the most important thing – shelter and medicine – basic needs. Flowers are a luxury. Less so if you can grow them yourself!
While I feel flowers do help lift people’s moods, and bring happiness – so needed right now – there are also questions around the safety of deliveries. I am looking to do this only if there is interest and if it can be done safely. I am keeping track of daily changes to city and state guidelines re: curbside deliveries on that front.
Farmers I work with are using gloves and masks as they harvest; and again, that’s one thing I love about having tight relationships with local farmers – we can see their practices (Treadlight farm posted an Instagram Story yesterday featuring their new harvesting garb).
HELP ME AND LOCAL FLOWER FARMERS GAUGE INTEREST IN CURBSIDE WEEKLY DELIVERIES OF FLOWERS! TO YOUR DOOR!
I spent a lot of hours speaking with local farmers this past week that I regularly purchase from: Tiny Hearts Farm, Rocksteady Farm and Flowers, Treadlight Farm and others. Of course, they all have thousands of dollars’ worth of spring bulbs in the ground that were slated for special events: these of course were the flowers I would have purchases for spring events.
If you’re a Brooklynite and are interested in weekly curbside deliveries of locally grown flowers, PLEASE FILL OUT THIS POLL!!
If there is enough interest, AND I can be deemed essential by NY State (That’s the tricky part) we’ll be able to receive deliveries of fresh, sweet-smelling weekly spring flowers from the Hudson Valley and do curbside deliveries to your home, business, or place of work. Much like restaurants are doing contact-free curbside delivery.
Even if the curbside delivery dream can’t happen quite yet, please fill out the poll regardless. We would be interested in providing local deliveries to you in the future, so this will help us keep track of your interest!
We are interested in producing a short video clip to accompany your weekly delivery, explaining the seasonal flowers in your delivery and including a free tip on flower arranging and flower care. Please fill this out so the farmers and I can strategize, or leave this idea for another day.
Ideally, in this case, by supporting Molly Oliver Flowers, you would also be supporting small farm businesses, the workers they employ and 1-2 healthy freelancers who would work to receive and deliver the flowers.