Behind the Bloom
Three Cal State East Bay alumni launch effort to stem the waste of the flower industry
“I have an idea for a business.”
It was the text Corrie Christine sent her husband Cesar Lafarga and their friend Turner Crane on June 4. All three graduated from Cal State East Bay’s School of Engineering in 2012, and Lafarga and Christine married this past April.
Christine, former director of environmental affairs for Associated Students, Inc. at CSUEB, has always been passionate about sustainability, but it was through the process of planning her wedding that she was struck by how expensive — and wasteful — flowers are.
And to convince her friends to spend the summer opening the virtual doors on a new nonprofit called Repurposed Rose.
“When it came time for the flowers, I was not prepared for the cost. I had no idea it would be such a big factor. And then I went to a friend’s wedding and at the end of the wedding she was running around telling us ‘Here take, the flowers … they’re throwing them away.’ And I just couldn’t believe it — it’s such a waste.”
More than Christine could have imagined. In addition to the money spent on cut flowers (about $33 billion per year in the U.S.), Field to Vase, a coalition of domestic growers, estimates up to 50 percent of flowers hit the trash without ever gracing a tabletop — and as much as 80 percent of all flowers are imported from international growers, representing 9,000 metric tons (about 1,900 cars annually) of C02 to supply roses for the U.S. market on Valentine’s Day alone, according to Scientific American.
Christine immediately began researching alternatives to lining a dumpster with $5,000 worth of her own wedding flowers. What she found was a variety of nonprofit and for-profit businesses that collect used floral arrangements and deliver them to nursing homes — but none in the Bay Area.
“When I returned from my honeymoon, it was still bothering me,” she says. “There are so many people in nursing homes who sit there for weeks or months at a time with no visitors, and there are so many studies that have been done that show the joy that flowers bring to people.”
For example, she points to research from emotions psychologist Jeanette Haviland-Jones out of Rutgers University. Haviland-Jones has performed a variety of double-blind studies involving flowers, including giving women in nursing homes varying numbers of bouquets over a two-week period. At the end, the women’s reported emotional state directly corresponded to the number of bouquets each had received, including declining levels of depression.
With the help of Crane and Lafarga (former ASI director of science at Cal State East Bay), the three alumni have spent the past few months working out of Lafarga and Christine’s home in Newark, Calif., networking, researching, and filing for 501c3 status — a process that might not have gone as quickly without the shorthand they developed in college. “Having worked on projects together before [as engineering majors at Cal State East Bay] really helped,” Christine says. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to play off each other, and how to work together really well.”
In August, Repurposed Rose went live, and will collect used flowers from any event, cut and trim them into smaller arrangements, and deliver them to senior living facilities and veteran’s and children’s hospitals throughout the Bay Area and Central Valley — destinations that are close to the founders’ hearts.
“My passion is people,” Crane says. “I can’t wait to get involved with the kids and their families. I grew up with a brother with special needs … and we knew a lot of people, different kids with different things, in and out of hospitals. If we can do this for kids, not only will we be making them happy but giving their families those moments too.”