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Flower farmer seeks to encourage Illinois-grown blossoms

 Kira's Flowers in East Peoria
Kira's Flowers / Facebook
Kira's Flowers in East Peoria

Kira Santiago is on a mission: as she enters her ninth year as a flower farmer in East Peoria, she wants to promote Illinois flower power.

“I’d like to open up a flower shop in Peoria that would offer 100 percent Illinois-grown flowers,” she said, adding she’d like the store to serve as a hub to help local florists find and sell locally-grown flowers.

Valentine’s Day represents one of the two biggest flower holidays in the year along with Mother’s Day, said Santiago, noting that the activity generated by the two holidays alone sustains some florists for the entire year.

Most people will purchase flowers grown outside the United States, she said. “Two-thirds of the flowers sold in supermarkets and by florists come from South America, mostly from Columbia and Ecuador. Unfortunately, these are countries where there’s little to no regulation on the use of chemicals. That means not great working conditions for the people who raise flowers,” said Santiago.

In the past 10 years year, Santiago said there’s been a resurgence in U.S. flower farms.

How can Illinois compete with countries where the growing season is year-round? “We can’t grow flowers here in the winter but we can grow beautiful flowers May through October,” she said, adding that dried flowers can also be offered as an alternative to fresh flowers.

Santiago, who offers a Community Supported Agriculture plan for both spring and fall, also suggested a flower CSA as a Valentine’s gift. “Flowers for the future” could be provided over a period of time, she said.

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Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.