Why I Do What I Do

Dave Smith, Flower Hugger
How often do you think about the impact of the products you buy? For socially conscious entrepreneur Dave Smith the answer is—always. Smith, who says he is "motivated by the business idea of doing well by doing good," is making his own big impact through a beautiful, delicate, and somewhat unlikely medium: flowers.

Smith had already been buying organic food for health reasons when he began working for United Farm Workers' (UFW) founder Cesar Chavez as an administrative assistant in 1968. But the four years he spent with UFW in California's San Joaquin Valley transformed his personal preference into a steadfast commitment.

Smith's office at the time was next door to the farm workers' health clinic. He and the clinic staff would frequently discuss the suffering of the workers and their children, who were regularly exposed to hazardous chemicals with little regard for their safety. "Back then they used no protection whatsoever other than, maybe, rubber gloves ... if available," Smith remembers.

The experience inspired Smith to continue using his business skills to promote organic farming. After moving his family to the San Francisco Bay area in the mid-1970s, Smith started Briarpatch, a natural foods co-op in Menlo Park. In 1979, he co-founded Smith & Hawken, which originally imported and sold British garden tools to organic farmers. He later served as an executive at the organic seed company, Seeds of Change.

The flower industry, Smith found, was largely overlooked by the organic movement. In California alone, one of the only states to carefully track pesticide use, flower growers still apply almost 800,000 pounds of pesticides each year. To help establish the organic floral market, in 2001 Smith co-founded Organic Bouquet, a company that ships a wide selection of fresh-cut flowers and bouquets nationwide. His focus on flowers was also inspired by his wife, Bev, whom he calls "a true flower hugger."

Smith hopes the increasing availability of naturally grown blooms will encourage consumers to broaden their awareness of the effects of their purchases. "We need to support organic production methods as a responsible way to grow crops without poisoning the Earth," he says. "Organic production enriches the Earth [and] reduces pollution of our soil and water ... with health benefits for farmers, farm workers, their families, and us all."

—Tami Anderson