from The Happy Gardens Gazette – Spring, 2009



We have all noticed an increasing awareness of environmental issues among many business sectors as well as among the general public.  The greenhouse industry is no exception.  Virtually every issue of every greenhouse trade magazine contains an article about moving toward “sustainability”.  This got me to thinking:  “Just what is ‘sustainability’ and what does it mean to The Flower Farm.”


I think of sustainability as being like a three legged stool.  One leg is economic sustainability.  A business must be able to sustain itself in order to continue to provide the products its customers want and to provide wages to its employees.   The second leg is community sustainability.  How does a business contribute to sustaining the quality of life within the community in which it operates?  The third leg is environmental sustainability.  How can the business operate in such a way as to minimize any adverse effect to the environment?   All three legs must be in place if one is to maintain a sustainable business.


The importance of economic sustainability cannot be overstated.  This leg of our metaphorical stool bears most of the weight.  A business cannot contribute to the community or be good stewards of the environment unless it remains economically viable.  There is no doubt that this is a tough business.  Greenhouse growers must face enormous risk, rising prices, shrinking margins and a flat market.  Yet, I think it safe to say that most of us chose horticulture as a career path for love rather than money.  The Flower Farm endeavors to maintain economic sustainability by offering good value, high quality, and excellent service while controlling costs through efficiency and by offering its product directly to the consumer.


We are fortunate to have the opportunity to live and work in such a wonderful community.  We believe it to be important to “give back” whenever and wherever possible.  To this end we support many worthwhile organizations in our little corner of the world.  Among these are Angels Over Sandpoint, Panhandle Animal Shelter, Bonner County Fair, Bonner and Boundary Counties Master Gardeners and Northside School.  We buy locally or regionally to the greatest extent possible.  Most of the money we spend in our own region stays in our region thus contributing to the vitality of the general business community.  We continue to seek ways in which we can be contributing members of our community.


The greenhouse industry is inherently a “green” business.  Our product is plants.  Plants are indisputably good for the environment.  Even ornamental plants contribute by providing forage for bees, birds, butterflies and, though we might prefer not, food for the deer.  Further, all plants convert carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into oxygen.  Even so, there are many aspects and practices of the greenhouse business that concern me as an environmentally conscious person.  Primary among these are the widespread use of plastics and the potential for pollution from our use of fertilizers and agricultural chemicals.  The greenhouse industry as a whole and The Flower Farm in particular are working to address these issues.


Back in the day, when you went to the greenhouse and bought a geranium, the grower scooped it up out of the wooden flat in which it was growing and wrapped the roots and soil up in a piece of newspaper.  Eventually we began growing plants in clay pots which were heavy and expensive.  Plastic containers revolutionized the industry and made the availability of such a wide range of plant material at reasonable prices possible but it is time to move on.  The container industry is responding by developing biodegradable pots for greenhouse growing.  Currently there are problems with these.  Primarily the issue is price.  At 4 to 5 times the cost of a plastic pot, they are just not economically viable at this time.  There are issues with their use in greenhouse production systems as well.  I am sure that as time goes on, biodegradable pots will become cheaper and the kinks will be worked out.  Meanwhile, at The Flower Farm we re-use or recycle as much of our plastic as we possibly can.


At The Flower Farm we are keenly aware of the potential for harm in our use of fertilizers and agri-chemicals.   Fertilizer is essential in the production of high quality plants but the nitrates and phosphates they contain can be problematic if allowed to enter our ground or surface waters.  We add fertilizer to our irrigation water but we are very careful with where that water goes.  All of our plants are hand watered.  We apply only enough water to moisten the soil, minimizing runoff or leaching.  Very little of the fertilizer we use ever touches the ground.


We continue to reduce our reliance on potentially harmful chemicals for pest control as well.  Our first line of defense is sanitation.  Many of you have noticed that we maintain an exceptionally clean facility.  A clean environment deprives insects and disease organisms of a place to harbor.  We do not spray for insects preventively.  Instead, we are using beneficial insects to control harmful pests.  As we gain familiarity with this methodology, our use of chemical insecticides continues to decline.  When we do find it necessary to spray, we use the softest (least potential for harm) pesticides available that will provide acceptable results.