Saturday, October 6, 2018

rethinking luxury and the nyc flower market

This is the best time of year for flowers and recently at the farm I fantasized a world for myself where I never stepped foot on 28th street again. For a long time I loved shopping in the wholesale flower district, I felt my community there and loved the hunt. But the parking has become atrocious; as big hotels buy up the block squeezing vendors out and as the big NYC florists buy more and more product directly from South America and Holland there is less commerce for the middle men wholesalers of the industry like Dutch Flower Line and GPage. 

The reality of this is sad - a lot of those vendors have been good friends to me over the years and made Saipua what it is today through their help in sourcing us good product. But the world shifts and some sadness becomes other happiness. The quality and variety of the product in the market has continually declined to a point where the strife of parking and being harassed by construction workers is not worth it.

I like to tell new florists that when I first started shopping the market in 2006 there were garden roses that smelled like perfumed melon shipped in from Garden Valley in Petaluma, CA (now practically defunct) wrapped in small brown paper bunches for sale at Fisher and Page. There were giant stalks of black Angelica for $27.50 a stem. It was a truly luxurious flower world. Now the prices are high but the variety has dried up. It's pedestrian and predictable and no fun anymore.

I like growing my own flowers and I know it makes me and my team better designers.

Lately that's led me to think that maybe we don't need to shop for flowers in the flower wholesale district anymore. It would mean that Saipua would just make flowers between the months of May and October -- the parameters of our growing season here in zone 5 without plastic high tunnels (which I hate.)

But there is something to be said for the importance of marketplace in our lives. It is where ideas and information are exchanged and the community that emerges in them is invaluable. I would miss seeing many of the vendors/workers in the market many of whom have felt like mentors to me. (I won't miss the sexism and racism - both of which are unfortunately still rampant in certain corners of the district.)

We need new paradigms around our notions of work, value and luxury. Luxury has always been linked to those things we do not have; to scarcity. It has been often identified with 'the foreign.' Think about the silk road, the scarcity of red dye, televisions, cellular phones and other it's trips to outerspace. 

In certain European cities like Paris and Amsterdam, flowers are brought home with milk and bread daily. In India, flowers are prolific. Here we have not caught on in the same way to the simple pleasure of cut flowers -we keep them relegated to a luxury market (which considers flowers as a special-occasion device, appropriate for weddings, funerals, and the occasional celebration or apology.) Peonies are available in December for $7.50 a stem and get packed into a cube vase for Madison Avenue boutiques to translate luxury. It is a bizarre use of nature.

I used to want to crack the code on art and commerce, now I'd be happy to just redefine the notion of luxury, something which I feel I'm always both courting and rejecting.

Here at the farm we read a lot in the early mornings, sitting around the table together quietly. In the evenings we eat together and discuss ideas about how to make a better future for ourselves and those around us. Living with other adults feels like luxury, we take care of things together and it makes me feel supported in very simple, important ways. We grow a lot of food and flowers and that's very luxurious feeling. 

Now with all my overhead in Saipua consolidated here at Worlds End, I have (at last, at least!?) the luxury of considering all these ideas with a little more freedom. 


LPC said...

I think redefining luxury is an ongoing current, and welcome.

The move to embrace flaws, when those flaws are markers of handmade, small farm grown, small proprietor crafted - the low fidelity of truth becomes the luxury.

Shelley said...

Once when I was delivering flowers to a church downtown, a homeless woman asked “ can I have just one”? Luxery is subjective.

Anonymous said...

Have been reading through your blog for hours...
Feeling whole & understood. Challenged & changed.