When it comes to their impact on the environment, not all cut flowers are created equal. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it’s a good time to stop and think about where those beautiful bouquets really come from, and how they got to your doorstep.
Here’s a special guest blog from writer Charles Bergman, to help you decide where — or whether — to buy cut flowers for your sweetheart.
Do flowers harm wildlife?
Few of us are likely to make this connection when we buy a bouquet for our sweetheart or mom. Flowers are a symbol of everything that is pure and positive, expressions of love and joy. That’s why Americans spend $20 billion on flowers every year.
But during research on flowers in Ecuador, I learned they can harm wildlife and people. After touring a greenhouse full of stunning, near-perfect roses, I walked to the lagoon where run-off water is dumped. Several fish floated belly up by the shoreline.
“Poisons,” whispered my friend, a former farm worker. Pesticides in the waste water.
About 70 percent of flowers sold in the United States are imported. Virtually all of the 1.5 billion roses sold every year in the United States come from Colombia and Ecuador. In addition to ideal growing conditions, these countries rely on heavy use of pesticides to produce their flowers. One study found as many as 127 different pesticides in flowers from Colombia, including highly toxic chemicals banned in the United States. Numerous studies now have linked pesticides to serious health problems among flower workers, as well as harm to rivers and animals.
Growers’ associations counter that the flower business employs thousands of poor people who otherwise would have no jobs: over 45,000 people are employed on some 400 flower farms in Ecuador, making flowers the third pillar in Ecuador’s economy, behind only oil and bananas. Colombia employs over 100,000 flowers workers.
They argue they have lowered pesticide use and improved labor practices. In Colombia, pesticide use is down almost 40 percent. Yet environmental and workers’ groups in Ecuador told me that highly toxic pesticides are still used.
Those of us who love wildlife have good reasons to be concerned about the flowers we buy. Luckily, the market for green flowers is blooming. The key has been a certification program called VeriFlora, guaranteeing flowers (including those from Latin America) that are sustainable and labor-friendly. Though still a small and sometimes confusing part of the total flower market, sales of green flowers have grown by as much as 50 percent annually in the last decade according to the Organic Trade Association.
On Garcia Organic Farm near San Diego, I saw with my own eyes how wildlife-friendly green flower farms can be. Owner Armando [full name, pls] showed me his organic roses, as well as avocados and other fruits. “Sometimes we see bobcats,” he mentioned as we rounded the corner of an orchard.
Those of us who love wildlife have good reasons to be concerned about the flowers we buy. Luckily, the market for green flowers is blooming.
In the shade of a lemon tree, there sat a bobcat! It almost seemed summoned by Armando — eloquent testimony to the habitat values of organic flower farms.
Here’s some ways that you can seek out “green” flowers:
Online: Several sites sell organic flowers, excellent options for holidays, gifts and weddings:
- www.organicbouquet.com: One of the big drivers in sustainable and fair-labor flowers.
- www.californiaorganicflowers.com: Domestically grown organic flowers.
- www.sierraeco.com: A Canadian green flower company.
- www.thespiralstem.com: Green flowers for weddings, a major new trend.
Supermarkets: Many Safeway, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods stores now stock green flowers. Urge your supermarket to sell green flowers.
Florists: Florists are increasingly eager to sell certified flowers. Many florists are springing up who sell local flowers, cutting gas-guzzling flights from South America.
Farmers’ Markets: An excellent way to find farmers on the leading edge of green practices. Here’s a directory of nurseries and farmers’ markets.
Charles Bergman is a professor at Pacific Lutheran University in Washington state.