Rose Meadow Farm and the Politics of Organic Flowers
In Search of a Greener New York is an ongoing Garden Collage series of explorations about sustainability efforts in New York City and beyond– including the people, places, and ideas that are making Manhattan a healthier, happier place to live. In this column, we spotlight individuals who are making New York a “greener” place in an attempt to discover how, exactly, they are doing it. This week, GC spotlights Rose Meadow Farm, whose beautiful florals are part of a larger movement.
“We live in a society now where nobody grows anything,” says Michael Barry of Rose Meadow Farm, who has a corner stall at the Union Square Farmers market that sells beautiful ranunculus, anemones, and roses. “When I was little, my mom was president of the local gardening association, and when I was little, my mom was in her garden, gardening, and I was there playing with the dog. The dog doesn’t know the boundaries between the garden and the grass, and I remember her saying, ‘Michael be careful! My Johnny jump-ups are coming up and I don’t want you to disturb them’.”
“When I was a kid, I remember going to visit my grandmother on a 2,000-acre farm in southwest Virginia, and in the spring we’d go up into the mountains looking for Jack-in-the-pulpit [an herbaceous perennial plant that grows from a corm].”
“The market has evolved to where there’s a renewed interest in seasonal, local flowers…”
“Around the time that I finally got into [the flower growing business], roses were the queen of flowers. All of the growers operating around New York grew, like, 80% of their operation with red roses, because that’s what sold.
“And they did so beautifully– beautiful quality, excellent flower, and all of them grown here, within an hour of the city. Historically, that’s how it developed– but then the imports came in, and they put all the local rose growers out of business.”
“I got into the business just toward the end of that phase, and I started growing colors– I didn’t grow red. I went for varieties that had the fragrance, and I still almost went out of business because of all the imports, which destroyed the rose market. Quality was horrible, the colors… everything changed. Now, the market has evolved where there’s a renewed interest in seasonal, local flowers that are unique”– sort of like what has happened with the demand for local food, Barry suggests.
“I grow local anemones, sweet peas, and ranunculus, which are all Spring flowers. By this time next month, they’ll be finished, ’cause it’s gonna be too hot. And then I’ll move on– I grow a specific variety of sunflowers. People look at it and they’re not sure if it’s a sunflower or not. Ultimately, the flower market becomes seasonal just like the food market is seasonal– I move from the Spring flowers into the Summer flowers into the late Summer flowers and then finally on into the Fall flowers. My flowers are seasonal, because that’s what the market is demanding.”