Local florists at Urban Buds tackle waste and share spring planting tips
The local farmer-florists behind Urban Buds, Karen “Mimo” Davis and Miranda Duschack, have defied the odds.
Only 14% of farmers are women — and even fewer are Black (a mere 1.4%). Plus, small-scale farms are more likely to fail than restaurants. Despite those challenges, Urban Buds is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
“The statistics were stacked against us from Day One,” Davis said on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “I think it's about our tenacity and will to make it happen. And the flowers themselves are so beautiful. It's a totally different product when you buy a locally grown flower.”
Their business didn’t look promising at first. The Dutchtown property they bought had a rich history as the site of John Held Florist, a farm that grew flowers for nearly a century throughout the 1900s, but the greenhouse had since fallen into disrepair.
“We walked in and glass was crunching under our feet,” Davis said. “Miranda was like, ‘I don't know who would ever want to buy this,’ and I turned around and said, ‘We do, right now.’”
Davis and Duschack had a vision to bring back a lost industry — and do it sustainably.
“When tomatoes come into the marketplace, everybody's got tomatoes,” Davis said. “When beans come in, everybody's got beans. And I looked around, I was like, ‘OK, what's missing?’ Nobody had flowers.”
At Urban Buds’ stand at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, shoppers won’t see bouquets wrapped in plastic. They’ll see fresh-cut ranunculus, sweet pea and snapdragons lying in water buckets.
That’s intentional, Duschack said. The Dutchtown farm specializes in growing about 80 flower varieties and prides itself on staying local. “Grown, not flown” is its motto.
“Our main market is three miles from the farm, which reduces our carbon footprint,” Duschack said. “That’s why our bloom lasts longer.”
Around 80% of cut flowers in the U.S. are imported from overseas. A majority of domestic flowers come from California. Almost none come from Missouri.
“I would say it's more complicated than growing vegetables,” Davis said. “There's so much variety to choose from that you can grow all the way from native plants to exotic roses.”
St. Louis used to be a decent market for flowers — until a U.S. trade deal destroyed the local industry. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Andean Trade Preference Act, which gave Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru duty-free access to export cut flowers to America. It was a political move to disrupt the cocaine industry in Andean countries. The result was a dramatic transformation of the international flower industry.
Now, America is one of Colombia’s biggest clients.
Still, David and Duschack have seen a renewed interest in farmer-florists domestically. Supply chain issues due to the coronavirus pandemic pushed people to look for local growers, like Urban Buds.
“We kind of say, ‘What we're doing is so old, it looks new,’” Duschack joked.
Their methods also help reduce waste in an industry that produces 100,000 tons of plastic a year.
Together, Davis and Duschack make a good pair: Davis has a green thumb and Duschack is a fourth-generation beekeeper. And they have found immense support in the St. Louis region.
On St. Louis on the Air, Duschack shared the secret to why Urban Buds has been a success.
“We can be the dynamic duo,” Duschack said. “We can complement each other very well. We can also drive each other crazy.”
They also shared tips for growing flowers:
Soil tests are a must to determine how fertile your ground is and see if there are metals in your soil that can interfere with flowers and make food inedible. Here’s how:
- Get a soil sample six inches deep, mix it in a cup
- Take it to the University of Missouri Extension office in Kirkwood
- Ask for a gardener's makeup (if you’re concerned about heavy metals in your soil, also ask for a heavy metals concentration. Soil in vacant lots sometimes has high amounts of lead.)
- Make sure to read if the plant needs full sun, partial sun or shade
- Use pesticides rarely and try to use organic ones when you do
- Plant native flowers to attract more birds and other pollinators
What: Urban Buds at Tower Grove Farmers’ Market
When: 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays, April 2 to Nov. 5
Where: Center Cross Drive, St. Louis, MO 63116
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.