Morning coffee finds my mouth and its hot invitation of day slips through, opening the eyes of my fleshy body. My alarm sounded at 4 AM with distant thunder rolling off from the night with clouds parting into the day. Light rain could still be heard dappled on the roof with the rooster crowing still sheltered in the coop. Wiping my eyes and losing thought in the kitchen I stopped in the middle of the counter, beneath the tapping rain, picked up my shears and began to build a bouquet.
My kitchen litter of the seasons is the most beautiful in its own right. Artemesia leaves sprinkle the counter next to large, beyond palm sized peonies. Anthers tower out of the first lilies of the year, petals ripe with a pale apricot center which fade out into a dusky pink of sundown. How you can see an entire sky in a flower, I think to myself as I strip the stem, thinking of how I will give the arrangement to my mother. My rule is that the first flower of each type is for Mother Earth and left alone. The first cut bloom goes to my Mother I hold so dearly, to whom I owe my life to – the one who gave me life. Trimming the stems of the drumstick alliums to size I fit them in to tower slightly above lemony irises and coral peonies half opened. Sweet Williams sing their unfurling of spring hugging the limbs of the lily. When all feels good and right to me, I stop, ending with another hot sip of coffee as dawn comes on.
The early preparation was for a local news segment who invited me to come on and talk about flowers. Two channels caught wind of a class I am teaching tomorrow on how to grow flowers, but I told each of them that I wanted to focus less on the promotion of the farm or the class, but instead to reach people and talk about why growing flowers is so significant independent if they can make it to the class or not.
Uncertain of how political they would let me get I forged ahead regardless. It turns out the news folks were just as surprised as I was to know that 85% of flowers sold in the United States are imported from South America. Flowers are a source of beauty used for all of our steps of life from celebration to grief and they have been a staple as such in all cultures dating back in the far reaches of time. Sarcophagi were draped with collars of cornflowers. We celebrate life, all the same, when we bestow flowers upon one another when a baby is born, or we make it one more round about the sun. Flowers are nourishment for our pollinators who help to secure and increase our food yields, and in essence, we need them to live. The ephemera and cycles of flowers mirror our own ephemera and it is perhaps for this reason that they are the symbol present for all life cycles and therein their presence is never unappreciated. Even when we say, “In lieu of flowers…” we still expect, desire, and appreciate the presence of the flower. I like to think that flowers are where we come from (the earth) and it is where we will also return to. In essence, we will become of the world again as compost to press up more flowers and organic matter. It is no wonder then that our fascination and need to addle our lives with flowers persists. We are Of the Flowers.
I agreed to the two news interviews to encourage the connection that growing your own flowers is a compassionate choice that spills love into the world because it disrupts a capitalistic, earth-blind cycle. Because the United States imports an inordinate amount of flowers from South America there is a chain of pain that persists impacting our environment and our global/common neighbors. We live in a place that feeds off of our disconnect (from one another, from the earth) and capitalism. Buying flowers from the grocery store seems like such an innocuous choice. The reality of that choice, however, is that it is a consumer vote that creates a demand for the unsustainable. The places these flowers are grown foster chemical laden work environments which compose a workforce where 20% of them are children. The men, women, and children who work in these environments are prone to neurological defects and myriad other health issues which are severe and life threatening. Those same toxic chemicals seep into our ground water, again threatening the health of the earth, its people, and all species who depend upon this place to live and proliferate.
Unfortunately, television blurbs only allow for so much time and only so many facts could be squeezed in between the same questions like, “How did you get into farming? Which flowers are good for bouquets?” I am happy, however, that I was able to speak a little bit of my gospel which is that the world is in trouble and needs our help.
A long walk through the countryside yesterday after a news segment it dawned on me how powerful that voice of reason is, and to fully embody that voice of reason to the best of my abilities. When I was a little girl that voice of reason came into me from another adult who cared a whole lot and I was deeply saddened when I found out that we had holes in our ozone layer and one day it would contribute to the end of everything we love, including ourselves, if we did not do something to help the earth. I remember crying at the kitchen table to my mom saying we had to do something. What we settled on that day was getting out my rainbow stationery and I was determined to write to the person I had already learned had the greatest power: the President. “Perhaps I could illuminate some realities for the president,” I must have thought, because I knew that anyone with that much power would absolutely do something about the crisis if they were only aware. (Later would come junior high and the awareness that the Holocaust existed, and how could NO ONE DO ANYTHING?!)
“Is growing flowers easy?” they’ve all asked. My answer, across the board, has been YES. I am a novice, at best. I am just a woman kissing bulbs before I set them into the soil and kissing the flowers when I harvest. I am a person with bare minimal knowledge of what I am doing or how to make a flower fruit. I invite children to plant alongside me, and we haphazardly scattered wildflower seeds into the soil last year just to see what would happen. Seeds are determined to grow. All they beg of is soil, sunlight, water, air, and some hand of motion to lay it to the ground (a wind, a bird, our hands, the defecation of another animal – truly anything in motion that will allow it to drop to the ground and unfurl its magic).
I realize my job now is to continue sowing the seeds and helping empower people to be the renegade flower planters, too. It is as though my purpose, as a more learned adult now, is not to write to The President but to write to all of the Many Presidents which populate this earth. The biggest problem is that we have lost our sense of agency to create direct change ourselves. Such a profound problem has been socially cultivated to disconnect from one another as humans and disconnect from the earth to perpetuate thick intertwined cycles of capitalistic culture which functions to keep certain populations of people down and elevates a select few into the heights of monetary riches, despite the risk and harm this places on human nature, real people, and ecosystems. We see ourselves as powerless and we accept the powerlessness of where we are as the place we are and will always be. It does not have to be this way. We think that we have to Be Somebody to plant a flower or a garden, that we have to have a green thumb or a background in biology, a farmer, or that we need the help of chemicals that are the antithesis of help and are more so a long term harbor of harm and will prevent the fruits of our desire (whether it be a flower, a fruit, a vegetable, etc.).
“Making changes is sometimes as simple as doing the doable thing,” a sign near me reads. We won’t be able to immediately unbraid all of the ills that have been instilled, and continue to thrive, world wide based on a sick chain that prizes money over, quite truly, ALL living things. But we always have choices in this life. I understand that not everyone can always make the most ethical choices because our world is built against the most moral, good ethics. For instance, it can be really difficult to abstain from purchasing goods encased in plastic, or non-recyclables like styrofoam especially if it is housing a product that we really need. But we still have agency. The most we can do then, is to try and be more careful consumers and use our consumer vote towards what we believe in, or rather, what we don’t believe in. Too, it is not to be underestimated the things we can do to offset the capitalistic chain we do not believe in by doing what we can to benefit our communities and environment in the ways that are accessible to us.
Sow the seeds and see what happens. You don’t have to be anyone but YOU to make a difference in this world. The world is your witness. Please, never underestimate your personal power to make a difference in this world. You need the flowers and the flowers need you! You can participate in a revolution beginning with one plant.
Written by Abby Juanita Rodriguez, May of 2016.