Power of flowers

Green floral designers deliver the good stuff by bike

Business is blooming for Cathy Brooks (left) and Erin Rochelle DeYoung of Visual Impact Design.

Business is blooming for Cathy Brooks (left) and Erin Rochelle DeYoung of Visual Impact Design.

Photo By Anne Stokes

On Tuesday mornings, Erin Rochelle DeYoung rides a pink cruiser bicycle a mile from her job in Midtown to the farmers’ market at Roosevelt Park, fills her basket up to the brim with fresh, locally grown flowers and heads off. This time of year, she buys dozens of sunflowers, dahlias and bells of Ireland, loading down her bike and making the return trip quite the balancing act.

“People think I’m crazy, wobbling back and forth,” said DeYoung, laughing as she stood in Visual Impact Design, the flower shop she manages.

But the bike is part of the image the shop has crafted for itself, as an eco-friendly business that opts for green methods as much as possible. Visual Impact Design offers free bike delivery to customers in downtown and Midtown to cut down on costs from rising fuel prices and to promote a car-free culture. The shop features flowers grown without the use of pesticides and produced by local growers, and staff encourages customers to reuse vases by offering discounts on future purchases.

“For me, I’m personally very committed to being sustainable,” said owner Cathy Brooks, who eats all organic, installed solar panels on her house and tries to be planet-conscious in all aspects of her life.

Her husband is an engineer from England, and the couple travels often, giving Brooks a chance to learn about progressive green ideas practiced elsewhere. She based her flower shop on the European model, with a table in the middle of the room that customers stand around to watch designers create arrangements before their eyes.

Brooks majored in environmental design at Sacramento State, and later did floral displays and worked in a flower warehouse. She opened the original Visual Impact Design 15 years ago off El Camino Avenue, and started the L Street location this past May. The shop caters to big weddings and events, including green weddings, but also sells small bouquets and single flowers to passersby.

Nowadays, large-scale flower distributors use too many chemicals on flowers, Brooks said, and some people are allergic to these chemicals, which can cause skin and eye irritations. Using organic may mean less freedom with flower type, color and size but the designers embrace the challenge; after all, that’s what floral design is all about—creativity, uniqueness and not being stagnant.

“To protect our Earth, it’s the direction we have to go,” Brooks said. “I’m a big believer in organics.”

Organically grown flowers tend to be more expensive, but as society embraces organic items more and more, higher demand will drive costs down, a shift Brooks thinks is already happening. Bridal magazines now regularly feature organic flower spreads. The shop also sells seasonal flowers.

“Seasonal is more natural because it’s supposed to be grown right now. It’s the flow of nature,” said DeYoung, who started working in the industry at a young age.

She was 15 years old when she got her first job at a flower shop. As a child, she’d chop up her mother’s garden, honing her bouquet-making techniques. She’s been with the company for three years now and calls the Midtown shop “my baby,” which is why she’s committed to selecting the freshest flowers available from local growers.

Locally grown flowers don’t travel thousands of miles on gas-guzzling trucks and aren’t shipped across oceans. Because Sacramento isn’t ideal for flower production, DeYoung said, by “local,” the women mean Monterey, Salinas, Half Moon Bay, Petaluma and Chico. They have no choice but to buy tropical flowers from Hilo, Hawaii, but they get the majority of ranunculus, zinnias, dahlias, orchids—customer favorites—from California growers, including The Flower Farm in Loomis and Full Belly Farm in Capay Valley.

As the rainy season approaches, shop staff will continue to deliver flowers on bikes; they won’t stop this method because customers love it. They’ll just throw on slickers and boots and hit the streets.

“It’s more personable and friendly,” Brooks said. “It goes well with the culture here.”

When DeYoung rides around town, a heavy load of flowers spilling out the bike’s basket, sometimes people laugh. But most of the time, she said, they give her a nod and a “bike power” shout-out.