Valley Bounty: Rooted Flowers
Daily Hampshire Gazette, February 8, 2021
For some, the cold days of February are a winter wonderland. Others wish spring would hurry up. For the latter, let the words of Rebecca Sadlowski, the woman behind Rooted Flowers in Agawam, be a bridge to warmer days:
“We should be harvesting and selling our first flowers by March.”
Details? “We’ll start with anemones (delicate blooms of red, purple, and blue around a soft black center), and ranunculus (with a whorl of tightly packed petals in whites and warm colors), shouldn’t be too far behind,” Sadlowski says.
Rooted Flowers’ premise is simple: They sell what they grow, when it’s ready, connecting people with whatever beautiful blooms are in season.
“We’re truly a farm-to-table business,” Sadlowski explains. “Ninety-five percent of the flowers we sell are grown by us, and the rest come from nearby growers during peak times, like Mother’s Day or other holidays. Just like a vegetable farmer who harvests and sells their products the same day, we’re cutting flowers in our field and getting them right out to you, whether through delivery or at our stand.”
Farming is like breathing for Sadlowski, but growing flowers is a relatively new venture. “I started working on farms when I was 10,” she says. “That’s what you do growing up in Hadley.”
For years she ran a farm stand in Hadley selling a mix of homegrown veggies, as well as eye-catching cut flowers.
When customers began asking for her flowers for private events, she realized the slim availability of locally grown flowers and considered how she could fill that niche. In 2016, Rooted Flowers was born, with Sadlowski growing on rented plots near Hadley.
Then in 2019, she and her supporting cast — husband Albert and their two young daughters — bought land in Agawam and started breathing life back into it, enriching the soil and erecting hoop houses to extend the growing season.
Comparing the food and flower industries helps explain why Rooted Flowers’ model is so different.
More and more, people are asking where their food comes from. But what about where their flowers come from? In the United States, 70% of all flowers sold are imported, according to the The U.S. Agency for International Development. Most imports clear customs at Miami International Airport, air travel being the quickest way to transport something so perishable and Miami being quite close to our biggest suppliers, Columbia and Ecuador.
From there, they are whisked to floral shops around the country.
This works well for retailers who want a steady supply of the same popular flowers. But just like globalized food chains, there are drawbacks when it comes to quality, reliability and sustainability.
If it’s a tomato, the difference between local and imported is something you taste. With local flowers, “It really comes down to the scent,” Sadlowski says. “Local flowers tend to be more fragrant.” Getting them cut fresh locally also lengthens their life in a vase.
Most of all, choosing local flowers opens a new world of unique and delicate varieties that don’t travel well, including zinnias, dahlias,and all kinds of wildflowers. “The ability to embrace diversity makes using local flowers more interesting,” Sadlowski says. “It’s fun to work with broader color palettes and styles.”
Buying a local bouquet also means fewer flowers are shipped by air from overseas, or carried by refrigerated truck from California or Florida, where most of the U.S. supply is grown. In contrast, Rebecca notes their heated greenhouse burns less fuel in a year than a jet does in one hour.
Just as non-local food supply chains were scrambled by COVID last spring, the same happened for flowers. “Many big wholesalers were shut down or couldn’t get anything from overseas,” she explains. “It forced people to look locally.” It also turned her business on its head.
“Previously, 85% of our business was growing flowers for events,” Sadlowski says. “With COVID, the events market crashed. I went almost completely to retail, opened an online shop, and started offering delivery to get our flowers out the door.”
The change shook up her business. “Almost nothing is the same, growing for events versus retail, which kept us on our toes all season long,” Sadlowski says. Planting plans were thrown out the window as they went from growing batch harvests to picking a steady stream of flowers for individual customers. They also had to plant different species, since flowers for an event need to be beautiful for a day but an arrangement for a dining table should last a week or more.
Scheduled events remain sparse for the coming year, so starting in March, Rooted Flowers will continue selling via their roadside stand in Agawam and online shop at rootedflowers.com. Customers can wait and see what’s available, or purchase monthlong subscriptions now in advance, guaranteeing them delivery of a fresh local bouquet each week.
“If you buy a bouquet weekly while grocery shopping, this is a great alternative,” Sadlowski says.
For her, joy comes from connecting people to something beautiful that sprang from local soil. “I love when people say with amazement, ‘This was grown here?!’
“I like being able to grow something and share it with the community. That’s what it comes down to.”
To check out other local retail flower growers, visit the Massachusetts Flower Growers Association at massflowergrowers.com/.
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).