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Buy Mother’s Day flowers from local farmers unable to sell in markets, not eligible for financial aid

Photo by Allie on Unsplash

Two weeks ago, the Ballard and University District farmers markets reopened in Seattle with strict social distancing rules and only 28 vendors instead of 150. The vegetable, fruit, meat and fish vendors are also open for business at Pike Place Market. But what’s missing are the big, colorful bouquets of locally grown flowers these markets are famous for. Right now, during the big spring blooming season, flower vendors aren’t allowed to set up shop.

Steps to stay healthy when shopping at local farmers markets

“Flowers are an approved [agricultural] product under the governor’s order,” said Zack Cook, farm program manager for the Pike Place Market. “But what local health departments and the city are concerned with is, at farmers markets flowers are very popular, so sometimes there are long lines of people who want to get bouquets made. So obviously with distancing being a priority right now, we really want to find a way to allow the flower farmers to be there but to make sure that it’s safe for customers.”

I find the city’s thought process confusing. Farmers markets aren’t allowing long lines or crowding; only two people can stand in front of a vendor at any time. Why couldn’t they assign the same protocol for flower vendors? Doug Farr wonders the same thing. He’s the executive director for the Seattle Farmers Markets Association.

“I basically begged the city to let us try and help these farmers out by allowing pre-ordering and purchasing of a number of bouquets, and then just hand them out at the market,” Farr said. “Unfortunately, they’re saying it hasn’t been clarified by the governor’s office and so they’re waiting for that clarification.”

I reached out to the mayor’s office and have yet to hear back. I also called the agricultural branch of the governor’s office and was told that flower vendors should be able to operate in a market setting. Last week, Governor Inslee added a note on floriculture, saying flowers may be grown, harvested, and sold but florists may not operate retail storefronts. They can take orders and ship or do contact-free delivery.

“It is a challenge, especially for immigrant communities and people who English is their second language, people who aren’t super familiar with the Internet or online orders who’ve never had to do that before,” said Cook about farmers setting up for online orders. “A lot of our vendors have been selling at the market for so long they’ve never had to do anything else but pack up their van, drive down to the market, and sell to people that are there. Our staff’s been working really hard to try and help people develop their online platforms. A lot of the farmers, especially in the Carnation valley, have been working together and creating a new formal co-op of families.”

Meanwhile, most flower farmers aren’t receiving any financial assistance. As business owners, they don’t qualify for unemployment, and since they’re based in Carnation or Duvall, Farr said they’re not eligible for Seattle’s Small Business Stabilization Fund. Without the money they’d be earning selling flowers, it could be a struggle to buy seeds to grow edible crops and flower seeds for next year. Right now, a lot of those gorgeous flowers are going straight from the field to the compost pile.

But there are ways to buy local flowers! Five vendors at Pike Place Market, including Sosio’s Produce and Piroshki Piroshki, are selling flowers for local farmers that you can pick up or have delivered. You can also visit local farms or order directly from a farm for delivery. Click here to explore all of these options.

Over Mother’s Day weekend, you can pre-order and pick up flowers as a part of Pike Place Market’s 12th annual Flower Festival.

“We are creating four, drive-thru flower festival locations, three of them are in Seattle and one of them is down in Renton,” said Madison Bristol, senior public relations and programs specialist. “People can go online and they will be given a ten minute window to come pick up the bouquets on May 9th at one of the locations. Also, when you go online to purchase a bouquet, you have the option to pick up a Pike Box, which is our CSA program so you are supporting our farmers.”

Farr also encourages people to come down and buy their produce, meats, fish and cheeses at the farmers markets.

“When you go into a grocery store, you’re buying produce that you don’t know where it came from, how many people have touched it, how many trucks have hauled it around,” Farr said. “When you come to a farmers market, you’re buying it from one person and that person picked it out of the ground, or brought it from the farm, and is handing it directly to you in the wide open air with lots of open space. So it’s an extremely healthy environment and safe. We just have to get the word out that we’re not the crowded situation that we used to be. Now it’s all about getting essentials.”

Support the Hmong and Mien flower farmers impacted by COVID-19.

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal,” featuring celebrities like Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Rainn Wilson, and Greta Gerwig. Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram.

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