So....Here's what we've been up to all week, and tomorrow, we offer it to you. Come by and take home a bouquet. Let's spread these flowers out all through town.
SPACE Gallery, 1st Friday, September 5, 2014.
In a small indigenous community in Ecuador called Saraguro, flower wreaths are made every Sunday on the steps of the church at the center of town. Though Ecuador is one of the leaders in the global export floral market, the home-grown flowers used to make the Saraguran wreaths are made as an offering to the community itself, to simply be enjoyed as an object of beauty and gratitude. Broadturn Farm in Scarborough grows flowers for local markets alongside their organic vegetable plots. Their offering of a flower wreath is made in the same spirit of giving to Portland Maine. They will construct the arrangement on September’s First Friday and it will be on display for as long as the effemeral nature of the flowers allows.
Nature finds its most expressive form in the flower. It's scent, color, form, and it's ephemeral beauty has endeared the flower to humanity, despite its utilitarian shortcomings. Most importantly, the flower inspires an embrace of the natural world; a mysterious part of a living system of beauty for its own sake.
But as humanity's symbol of love and beauty, the flower has a more troubled history. Just as industrial production has transformed all aspects of traditional life, flower growing has left the backyard and the country lane to production in large agricultural settings. On the global scale, it is subject to monoculture, chemical pest control, and intense hybridization. The industry is dominated by few corporations, and characterized by capitalism's incessant search for the lowest labor standards and production costs.
The irony of industrial beauty runs deeper still, in the export markets of South America and Africa. There, communities of farm workers, mostly women, are exposed to pesticides which due to the inedible nature of flowers, are some of the least regulated in agriculture. Farmland is converted to vast plastic greenhouse structures, where water resources are compromised and the landscape becomes less diverse. Global trade of this perishable product employs jet transport at tremendous environmental cost.
Ecuador is one of the global leaders in the flower export industry. In the 1990s the US was waging its War on Drugs, and sought to encourage alternatives to narcotic production throughout Central and South America. The US flooded Ecuador with technical assistance for the flower industry and implemented tarif-free import policies. Global producers (mainly Dutch corporations) established farms throughout the Andean highlands where the climate is unsurpassed for floriculture. During this time period, the costs to consumers of roses in the United States dropped by a factor of 10. US markets were flooded by South American imports, driving many local farms out of business.
Awareness of the consequences of cheap imported flowers has begun to shift how people perceive flowers. A long stemmed red rose no longer expresses nature, any more than a French fry implies a potato (let alone anything French!) Dyed carnations and spray-painted hydrangea only add insult to the idea that flowers are at their essence a natural expression of beauty.
However, there is a revival happening. In the recent decade local flower growers on very small scales have been able to build sustainable markets. Floral designers have begun to use less conventional material, sourced locally, which recalls a more natural, less manufactured feel. Even modern design aesthetics have become conscious of the variety and possibility of flower material locally grown.
Broadturn Farm in Scarborough has been part of this movement. Stacy Brenner is the lead grower and designer of the farm's design business, Flora Bliss. Her husband, John Bliss manages production (along with another 9 acres of organic vegetables.) Her design crew is lead by Laura Williams of Biddeford and made up of several other talented design artists. Their focus is on romantic, flowing arrangements and large structural pieces which evoke the natural origins of the farm. Flora Bliss makes a point of incorporating unconventional material, not excluding elements revealing the temporal essence of nature. Just as the Dutch Masters incorporated hunted game, and blemished fruit, as artists our goal is not to conceal, but to reveal a more full impression of our world.