From Field to Vase: An Interview with Tobie Whitman of Little Acre Flowers

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Tobie Whitman of Little Acre Flowers (based in Washington D.C.), is beyond passionate about flowers. She began her business out of a concern about where flowers were actually coming from (did you know most florists sell flowers shipped from thousands of miles away and more than 80% of flowers in the US are imported?). Her approach is socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and profitable. From the flowers that are sourced locally to the burlap donated by local coffee roaster that wraps each bouquet - Tobie devotes her care and attention to the details!  This Harvard-educated power-house went from International Relations to a career in the floral industry, and she shares with us her professional journey, her thoughts on the field-to-vase movement and her take on this spring's floral trends. [caption id="attachment_5725" align="aligncenter" width="521"]Toby Whitman of Little Acre Flowers Toby Whitman of Little Acre Flowers[/caption] Can you tell us a bit about why you are so passionate about flowers?  My love of flowers definitely comes from my childhood. My grandmother was Dutch and always had an amazing garden when I was growing up. I was raised in Carlsbad, CA, a major floral growing area in Southern California, where there are stunning ranunculus fields and tons of greenhouses. I was always around flowers in our community and they were abundant and relatively inexpensive to purchase. I’m passionate about flowers because I think I’m a very sensory person so I love the color and fragrance. I love that instead of a grey cubicle, I work in a studio with splashes of color everywhere. One of the biggest perks of the trade is getting to bring home leftovers for my house, too. What common themes are you seeing this spring in floral community? [caption id="attachment_5726" align="aligncenter" width="495"]A colorful floral bouquet...perfect for spring! A colorful floral bouquet...perfect for spring![/caption] We’ve been noticing increasing editorial coverage of super bright colors. For several years now, there have been lots of “blushing and bashful” as I call them – very pale, pales. Now we’re seeing more interest in vivid colors, including for weddings. Check out the last cover of Martha Stewart weddings—so much color! We also are seeing more variety in bouquets -- Little Acre Flowers has this style, as well.  While there is a lot of drama in using only one single kind of flower in an arrangement, having lots of different varietals creates a romantic, garden look that people crave. Who doesn’t want to be reminded of nature? Why do you think people are becoming more interested in the ‘field-to-vase’ movement? I see the field-to-vase movement as an extension of the local food movement. Customers are demanding fresher, higher quality food that has less environmental impact. “Field to vase” applies the same lens to flowers. Overall, there is growing interest in knowing where products come from and how sustainably they were created. Also, I think field to vase is growing in popularity because it truly gives customers what they want. When I worked for a traditional florist, clients always asked for something “fresh and seasonal.”  The imports they were getting were neither! Regardless of someone’s interest in “buying local” the flowers themselves are so stunning and fresh you can simply be motivated by aesthetics (or economics as local flowers last longer too). [caption id="attachment_5728" align="aligncenter" width="349"]2015-04-07 11-36-06 PM The burlap that wraps each bouquet is donated by a local coffee roaster![/caption] Do you have any advice for those purchasing flowers in the springtime? Of course, buy local! There are such amazing spring flowers – tulips, daffodils, hyacinth – three is no need to opt for imports. Spring also offers blooming branches like cherry, apricot and quince. May has to be my favorite month for flowers – by then you have lilac and peonies, too. Divine. What is the most rewarding part about having a business that is environmentally sustainable? The interest in our product shows that consumers are truly interested in new environmentally sustainable options. While we are making a very small contribution through Little Acre, I feel encouraged that there are growing numbers of people – across a broad demographic – making environmentally motivated choices. Preferences are definitely evolving which over the long haul is what it will take to make the hard decisions that sustainability requires. What would you are some of your major challenges and successes along your journey thus far?  I transitioned very slowly from a career in international relations to the floral industry. For several years I worked part-time in both professions and it was a little hectic! My identity was wrapped up in my education and career to date and I struggled making the change. I wish I had taken the leap earlier to start my business. That said, I gained a lot of experience over those years that I’m grateful for now. As far as successes, I spent a tiny amount on start up costs for the business and we were profitable in our first year. I’m really proud of keeping our expenses and overhead minimal. 2015-04-07 11-35-50 PM


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