Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When Flowers are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Sell Flowers

Exhibit A- Criminal Flowers

There are a lot of quirky towns and cities in these United States.  On any given day you will hear residents of any and all of them, upon hearing about some event or incident that has taken place there, roll their eyes and say "Only in ...insert Quirky Town name here!".  Only in Santa Cruz.  Only in San Francisco.  Only in New York City.

Well, here on Oregon's North Coast today we are rolling our eyes and saying "Only in Cannon Beach!"  As in, only in Cannon Beach would you have a city council that would outlaw selling cut flowers at their popular Farmer's Market.  I know, I know.  Selling Cut Flowers is a Crime? Can you imagine a farmer's market anywhere in the country that allows any and all manner of locally grown and produced vegetables, meat, fruit, cheese, fish, salsas and salad dressings, but will not allow a farmer to sell bunches of sweet peas or dahlias that they have grown on their own farm not fifteen minutes away?  And yet last evening the city council of Cannon Beach voted to forbid the selling of cut flowers at their farmer's market for the second year running.

There are, apparently, a lot of Very Good Reasons for this.  One of the reasons seem to be that re-writing the Cannon Beach ordinance that forbids any and all outdoor merchandise displays in town would be tremendously onerous, although this re-writing has already been done once to allow for the market to exist in the first place. Edible products only, please, and no prepared food to be consumed on the premises, because the market can't compete with local businesses or restaurants. Except it is OK for the market to compete with the one independent grocery store in town, because the council checked with the grocery store last year before setting up the farmer's market, and the grocery store said it was OK.  (And somehow, they have managed to stay in business, too.)   

Oh, and except that the city council voted last night to change the market rules this year to allow one local restaurant a week to sell prepared food at the market (thus, we must assume, competing with all the other local restaurants on that day) because of the enormous public demand for some kind of prepared food to eat at the market.  That there was equal, if not greater, public demand for cut flowers to be sold at the market?  Well... that's just not the same thing at all.

Another reason is apparently that allowing local farms to sell the cut flowers that they grow on their farms on one day a week between the hours of 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. from mid-June to the end of September would give these farmers an unfair advantage over a local florist who is not allowed to display flowers outside of their shop.  Florists are of course able to sell flowers inside their shop seven days a week, if they so choose, and they do not actually have to grow the flowers that they sell themselves.   They can purchase their flowers at the Portland Flower Market-  flowers imported from as far away as Columbia and Ecuador, if that is what they need. Yep, all the weddings and funerals and Valentine's and Mother's Day sales are nice enough, but that one afternoon of possible lost walk-in flower sales, three and a half months out of twelve, is what is really going to kill a business.
I'm sure there are many, many other reasons why buying a bunch of flowers at your local farmer's market would lead to the general unravelling of society as we know it, and complete economic collapse of all florist businesses within fifty miles of anywhere a farmer's market dares to raise it's many tented head. Competition can be scary for small businesses, and I say that as a small business owner.  I know it is scary, because we have weathered a lot of competition at farmer's markets from other vendors.  But I also believe that competition is good for us- it makes us better business people, more creative in defining what is unique about what we grow and make and sell, and it makes us better at finding new and more effective ways to connect with our customers.

Exhibit B   Not-Criminal Flowers.   Just add Salad Dressing.

The irony is that Cannon Beach will allow flowers to be sold as long as they are edible.  So a bunch of calendula is OK, but not a bunch of sweet peas.  As long as the bouquets we sold last year were entirely made of edible things, and were sold as a Food Product, we could sell them. This made for some interesting challenges, and a steep learning curve about what was, and was not, edible in the floral kingdom.  Did you know that snapdragons were edible?  Neither did I. They don't really taste like much, but I must say, they do look pretty scattered across a salad.

Why use croutons when you can use snapdragons?  Low-carb and colorful!

So once again we are limited to the Flowers as Food Product concept this year.  And once again, every time one of our customers from one of our other regional markets comes to our booth and asks, "Where are your beautiful flowers?!?" we will smile and politely say, "We are Not Allowed to sell Cut Flowers at the Farmer's Market in Cannon Beach, by order of the City Council."  

And they will roll their eyes and say, "Only in Cannon Beach!"


  1. Hmmm ... does it specifically say "cut" flowers?

    I mean, what if it's "pulled", "torn", or "ripped" from the ground ... but never "cut"?

  2. I can't resist telling you how much I agree with you about Cannon Beach. What a hoot those people are! How do they keep track of all the rules - keep a copy in pamphlet form in their pocket? You did an absolute quality rant, and I couldn't agree with you more.