Gertrude Stein declared that “a rose is a rose is a rose.” Ellen Frost might have something to say about that.
The owner of Local Color Flowers will tell you that when it comes to roses – or peonies, zinnias, and lilies – one flower is not necessarily like another. What makes all the difference is where they’re grown. And in most cases, those pretty blooms you bought to please your sweetie or decorate your office came from a long way away. Think Colombia or Kenya.
“The majority of flowers sold in the U.S. – about eighty percent – come from outside the U.S.,” says Frost, a North Baltimore resident who runs Local Color Flowers out of a converted auto shop on Brentwood Avenue in the Abell neighborhood.
Frost and her then-partners started the business in 2008 with a different idea: to only use flowers that were grown within 100 miles of Baltimore, and the closer to home, the better. That means she sells what’s in season. When you order from Local Color for your wedding, you get what Frost’s growers have on hand, which depends on the month and sometimes even the week.
For example, on a recent spring day, Frost’s floral design shop was full of peonies, but in a few short weeks they would be gone, replaced by a profusion of dahlias and hydrangeas. Frost’s customers know that with her, they get a different experience than with most florists. They can’t have tulips year-round, but they know the flowers they get will support local or regional farmers and are delivered with a gentler environmental touch.
“A lot of florists are disconnected from where their flowers come from,” Frost says. “Buying locally is a much different process. It means going to farms, talking to farmers, using what’s seasonal.”
Frost says she is the only florist in Baltimore, and one of very few on the East Coast, to choose exclusively local sourcing. She does not use the popular wire services favored by most florists, and she does not operate a retail store with regular business hours (although she does take orders for single arrangements, with delivery or pick-up by appointment). She says that despite her unusual business model, the approach works because she and her husband and co-owner Eric Moller are willing to spend the time cultivating relationships with farmers and customers who share their values and concerns.
That commitment means supporting new growers in various ways: by offering to buy everything they grow for their first year in business, helping them with crop planning, even offering advice on working with other florists. Frost currently does business with 30 to 35 farms. The closest is 1.8 miles from her store, but many are in the surrounding counties, with some in Pennsylvania and Virginia or on the Eastern Shore. Her most significant Baltimore-based partner is Hillen Homestead near Clifton Park. Frost is hoping to nurture more growers in Baltimore City.
“The goal is always to have the environmental footprint be as small as possible – buying as close to home as we can, and using farming techniques that are low impact to the earth,” she says.
In addition to developing more local growers, Frost is hoping to add more corporate clients to balance her current base of wedding and event-related work – and her business has just moved in an exciting new direction that may well help her get there.
Thanks to Strong City Baltimore’s new Community Wealth Building initiative, this week Local Color Flowers became the first non-food business to join Foodify, a web-based ordering service that allows smaller local businesses to compete with large catering firms for corporate and institutional clients. With over 2,000 registered users, Foodify encourages local purchasing by connecting Baltimore businesses looking for services with more than 100 local restaurants and caterers – and now a flower shop.
“The same people that order food in corporations for meetings, events, etc., are also ordering flowers,” says Eric Bonardi, director of business development in Maryland for Foodify (which also has operations in Virginia, D.C., and Houston). “It’s a natural fit, which is why Ellen and I are going to give this a try. We’re going to get her name out there so businesses in Baltimore are able to buy locally grown flowers from a local florist.”
In different ways, the business models of Local Color Flowers and Foodify both keep money circulating locally and prevent it from leaking out of the community – a major component of Community Wealth Building. Stephanie Geller, Strong City’s Community Wealth Building strategist, encouraged the partnership between Local Color and Foodify.
“Foodify is a good fit for us,” Frost says. “It gives us entrance into places we wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”
For more information about Strong City’s Community Wealth Building initiative, contact Stephanie Geller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-240-3373.