How the Slow Flowers Movement is Making Arizona Bloom
Three local flower farms are cultivating communities around eco-conscious blossoms.
By Carly Scholl
In this burgeoning age of global consciousness, such terms as “slow food” and “fast fashion” describe, in essence, the various values we place on the products we consume. Instead of the ready-made meal handed through the window of a drive-through, we’re rediscovering the value of a basket of seasonal vegetables passed over a farmers market folding table. Ever-expanding landfills of synthetic materials are causing sartorialists-on-a-budget to reconsider the true cost of a $9 blouse made in Malaysia. Our exposure to the far corners of the world is expanding, but our collective focus is beginning to shift back to our own backyards in an effort to highlight sustainability over convenience and community over consumerism.
“Slow flowers” is the latest movement to celebrate eco-consciousness and local economy, with farmers and florists all over the country calling on customers to stop and smell the roses grown in their own cities rather than the ones packed daily into jumbo jets and flown to supermarkets from such countries as New Zealand and Zimbabwe. By seeking out local growers who use sustainable farming practices, consumers are embracing an ethos that values shopping seasonally and responsibly.
The term “slow flowers” was coined in 2012 by author, speaker and agricultural advocate Debra Prinzing. While working as a Seattle magazine editor, she began meeting the friendly faces behind small flower farms around the country. “There are farmers who really care about the environment, about preserving heirloom floral varieties and the importance of seasonality. I wanted to shine a light on them. Once consumers meet these people, they get drawn into the story.”
Prinzing founded an online directory in 2014, where users can find the slow flower farms and florists in their cities who are committed to the tenets of the movement. “There is a rich history of cut flowers in Arizona that went by the wayside as the cost of business went up over the years,” she explains. “But there are farms throughout the state that are rejuvenating their local regions with fresh botanicals grown responsibly and sustainably. And if you’re a plant lover, you will find your tribe in your own community.”
We take a look at three flower farms in Arizona and the passionate people behind them.
Bursting with vibrant life under the wide blue sky of Paulden—a rural town located about 25 miles north of Prescott—the 18-acres of cultivated land known as Whipstone Farm began as a humble backyard garden more than two decades ago. “My husband, Cory, was growing too many vegetables for one man and began peddling them door-to-door at neighbors’ houses,” recalls Shanti Rade. Cory eventually started selling his harvest at Flagstaff’s first farmers market, which was when Shanti came to work for him while studying at Prescott College. “One thing led to another,” she says, “and today we own Whipstone Farm together.”
While the operation started out as a small vegetable farm, Shanti began growing sunflowers and zinnias about 10 years ago to display at their market stand. “They were selling really well, and I realized that people can only buy so many vegetables in a week, but they never needed a reason to buy flowers,” she says. “Plus, I enjoyed growing them so much, that now about one-third of our crops are cut flowers.”
Northern Arizona’s arid climate and high altitude require Shanti, Cory and their team of about a dozen staff members to observe a more traditional growing season at Whipstone: summer months hum with the bustle of harvest, while slower winters are mostly spent anticipating spring. “One of the perks of being a grower and having a long season is there are a lot of flowers that are in their prime at different times,” Shanti says. “It’s never boring.”
Frilly ranunculus, radiant dahlias and delicate sweet peas in ethereal shades of periwinkle and violet are only a few of the plant species grown on the farm. While those in the Prescott and Flagstaff areas can often find Whipstone’s blooming beauties at farmers markets, Shanti notes many local anthophiles invest in Community Supported Agriculture shares, which allow consumers to buy a subscription to the farm and receive a portion of the seasonal vegetable or flower harvest each week. “People sign up to reap both the rewards and the risks of farming through this program. It’s amazing to see them embrace that flexibility,” she remarks.
“In all honesty, it was a strange transition for me from growing food, which is a necessity, to growing flowers, which are seen as more of a luxury,” she says. “But I’ve come to see that people have a very emotional connection to them—whether through childhood memories, weddings or other special occasions—and I’ve garnered such satisfaction from selling these flowers and seeing the happiness they bring. I feel lucky that I get to have that experience.”
“I became an avid rose gardener after so many disappointing purchases,” explains the eponymous cultivator behind Anne E’s Garden Fresh, the cut-flower business she runs from her Scottsdale microfarm, Tre Soli. “Often, the roses I’d buy wouldn’t bloom before their heads drooped, and they all had an odd chemical smell that reminded me of the herbicides sprayed on medians and sidewalks. None of them smelled like a rose. Once I’d experienced the fragrance of cut roses in Europe, I wanted to find them at home. It turned out, though, that I had to grow them myself.”
With a background in teaching and nursing, Anne began growing vegetables, herbs, citrus, roses and other flora at Tre Soli because of an innate passion for holistic wellness and organic practices. “The way I farm comes from the same places in my heart and head that want to nurture and nourish the whole person,” she explains. “I just wanted to grow fresh, clean food for my family. People, plants, animals, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we grow in are all interconnected. And slow flowers are healthy flowers.”
Anne, a Maricopa County Master Gardener, had been growing slow flowers and produce long before Prinzing defined the practice in words. “She gave a name to what I’d already been doing,” she says. “She called this community of kindred spirits and growers to come together, support each other and make ourselves known. I was thrilled to know I wasn’t the lone voice in the desert.”
At the verdant grounds of Tre Soli, profusions of unique rose varietals blossom within steps of blooming native desert plants, such as penstemon and chuparosa. Fragrant herbs grow nearby, while voluptuous tulips in surprising hues of wine and brown sugar emerge from the ground. Edible flowers, including pansies, lavender, Johnny-jump-ups and snapdragons, are a favorite
category of Anne’s to cultivate. “They are so fun to toss on salads, baked goods or to freeze in ice cubes to float in a drink,” she says. “I wouldn’t dream of using most commercially available flowers on or in foods since they may have insecticides, herbicides or flower preservatives in them. When adding flowers to foods, you need to know and trust your source.”
Anne’s roses and other botanicals can be found at local farmers markets, occasional pop-up events and at classes hosted at the farm, but she also offers private garden consultations for likeminded growers. “When I can grow or purchase foods and flowers from my neighbors and community, it takes less fuel and energy for transportation and much of the money stays local—it’s a win-win.”
Patagonia Flower Farm
Aishah Lurry began her career in flower farming in 2017 after a bout of depression that left her craving a creative outlet. She and her husband, Sebastian, had moved to the tiny southern Arizona town of Patagonia—a rural spot on the map between Sonoita and Nogales boasting a population of less than 1,000—about four years earlier, and though she had been hired to run the sprout house for a local nonprofit, she was looking for something more.
“I had a strong desire to get my hands in the soil, and I knew I wanted to grow flowers,” she explains of her decision to start Patagonia Flower Farm, the microfarm she runs on her home’s property. “In this town, you had to drive 20 miles in either direction to get cut flowers at a store. I had a feeling that if I started growing my own, there would be a market for them here.”
On the 4,000 square feet of high-desert land she has dedicated to flower farming—“I won’t even let my husband grow vegetables; I need more room for flowers!” she laughs—Aishah cultivates dozens of varieties of coveted blooms year-round.
In the springtime, she harvests nigella, anemones, heirloom narcissus, lilacs and Icelandic poppies. Summer sees a colorful riot of zinnias, lisianthus and bells of Ireland burst forth, which then give way to autumn bounties of hydrangea, verbena,
dahlias, tea roses and sunflowers. Each crop is grown using organic and eco-friendly practices. “I try to recycle everything I have, be water-wise and avoid any chemicals and synthetic fertilizers,” notes Aishah. With its small ecological footprint and hyperlocal focus, Patagonia Flower Farm is a textbook example of a slow flower operation.
“I think slow flowers can really change the U.S. floral industry,” she continues. “Take Valentine’s Day, for example. So many of those perfect, long-stemmed roses you see at the grocery store are harvested in South America back in October, and then they’re preserved, shipped and stored until they can be sold in February. The slow flower movement is retraining people to buy and appreciate something seasonal. Why buy Frankenflowers when you can find a unique, special and locally grown bouquet at your neighborhood farmers market?”
While she hopes to soon branch into supplying the Tucson market with her cut flowers, Aishah’s homegrown blooms can be found at small specialty stores in Sonoita and Patagonia. She also has a subscription program for southern Arizonans, who can sign up to receive a floral arrangement weekly or monthly through the year. “When you find slow flowers, you can be sure they were either harvested this morning, yesterday or at the latest, three days ago,” she explains. “The flower is fresher; you’re supporting local economy, and you’re getting something completely natural and beautiful.”