I'm giving away flowers right now. I see a lot of people selling flowers on Instagram in the middle of this pandemic. Instagram is not reality, I know. But just in Washington, I'm seeing people selling flowers to florists, florists doing deliveries, and flower farmstands staying open. (I've also seen a lot of growers getting things into new grocery outlets or shipping, which is great.) But I've felt a lot of pressure to sell my harvest in a time when we have been ordered to stay home. Typically, I would be doing weddings and events and filling CSA orders for pickup. Instead, I'm giving away flowers right now. It sucks. I'm losing money on these bulbs I spent hundreds of dollars on. And I'm frustrated that there is so much tension between doing the right thing and making money. So here are the reasons why I am giving away all of these juicy stems that were supposed to be a large chunk of my spring sales. (Spoiler: I'm not a secret millionaire.)
- I'm not set up for grocery or shipping. Neither of those channels are things I have ever done before. I would most likely need bigger quantities for grocery orders, and special shipping boxes for anything going overnight. I don't have either right now, and I'm not sure I'd know where to start. (If you have tips, please comment!) I also don't want to expose myself and others by running around a bunch of office supply stores to figure out shipping boxes.
- Flower deliveries, pickups, and drop-offs are legally dubious in WA. Florists were not on the essential list, y'all. And 99% of my fellow florists are completely shut down. (Some florists are continuing to operate, despite being ordered not to.) There is literally a form to report businesses who are continuing to operate against the order. I have no idea what happens if someone gets reported. But is it worth risking your business?
- It is unclear whether flower farmers are legally allowed to sell direct-to-consumer in WA right now. I've literally submitted a form to the governor's office for clarification, with no response. Again, I'm not willing to stake my business on an assumption that I can legally operate. There are pretty clear provisions for growers or purveyors of food, and their ability to deliver and transport goods. There is absolutely nothing in there about non-food-farmers, except that we are allowed to tend to our fields.
- I refuse to increase any of my clients' risk for coronavirus. Y'all might not know this about me, but I have a master's of public health from one of the top programs in the country. I worked with CDC for about a decade in infectious disease epidemiology, including influenza and RSV. You can google my name and find my research publications. This virus is NOT playing, and neither am I. Any time we venture out, we increase our potential exposure to the virus. This means every delivery, every pickup, every time I have to get gas--that's additional exposure for me and my clients. I find this unacceptable. Even if I did everything perfectly, I don't have an unlimited supply of gloves, masks, or clorox wipes. If I did, they would be donated to a clinical facility, where our frontline healthcare workers are running out of PPE. There is no universe where I use up PPE on flower deliveries when it could go to healthcare workers. I'm sorry, it's not happening.
- Solidarity. We are in a really unprecedented time in labor history. We have higher unemployment right now than we saw in the Great Depression. There is no reason why my business is any different than the millions of other small businesses that have been forced to close their doors, lose inventory, and lay off staff. This is not a radical stance. It's just obvious that right now is NOT the time to operate illegally, increase clients' risk of exposure to the virus, and try to make a little cash. I would love things to be different, but we're in a global freaking pandemic. We are all broke right now. We are all suffering. We are all vulnerable. We are all losing money. And we are all going to get through this together, by trusting each other to do the right things.
- Good cheer. I could compost the stems, but why? Why not cheer up someone who just had to lay off their staff or file for unemployment? Why not make my neighbors' day? Why not spread some good cheer? Not everyone can pay for basic needs right now, let alone flowers. But everyone needs something good to happen to them right now. If I can be that something good, it's worth it.
I hope this explains my thinking in giving away flowers. I certainly feel better having written it down, even though I know it might be controversial. And in an effort to not undercut other growers right now, I'm not telling you where you can find my free flowers--you just have to be my neighbor. Please go to Town & Country for groceries and flowers from some of my fellow local growers. Flowers that would normally be at Seattle Wholesale Growers Market are being channeled to Town & Country!