Are you buying a loved one flowers this Valentine’s Day? Consider purchasing sustainably grown flowers as a symbol of your love.
Valentine’s Day used to be a time to write a love letter, craft a card, or pick some flowers for your love. Things have changed drastically as the holiday has become a commercial bonanza for large companies. Predictions are that 20.7 billion dollars will be spent on Valentine’s Day this year.
While a love letter or hand made card might be kept for years, and some beautiful hand picked, or pesticide free flowers can be composted when they wilt, most Valentine’s Day purchases will be thrown away within the week.
Traditionally, flowers are a large part of Valentine’s Day. According to the National Retail Federation this Valentine’s Day will see 1.9 Billion dollars spent on flowers. 198 million stems of roses will be sold for Valentine’s Day. That is A LOT of flowers.
So what do flowers have to do with sustainability?
It turns out, quite a bit when we consider the three legs of sustainability. (You can read more about that here.)
The three elements necessary for a practice to be sustainable are ethics, environment, and economy. Using these elements to guide us, we can see that growing flowers sustainably is a complicated issue.
Let’s start with the ethics of growing flowers sustainably.
Flowers and plants are grown on plantations, primarily in Ecuador and Columbia. These plantations depend on a large, poorly paid workforce. Many of these farmers are required to work 7 days a week without overtime and live in cramped, inadequate housing. Workers are routinely exposed to harmful fumes and pesticides and do not receive medical care packages.
The international organization that certifies Fairtrade products began certifying flower growers in the early 2000’s. Fairtrade certification means a significant improvement for workers as hours and pay are regulated and hazardous working conditions are addressed. Basically Fairtrade certifications seek to protect workers from abuse.
Additionally, farms that are Fairtrade certified give 10% of their sales to a Fairtrade fund that is used to benefit workers. Workers, then have a voice in how the fund will be used.
In one story I read, Joana, a 22 year old single mother, had grown up in a family of sharecroppers who worked in the flower industry. Her family worked under the poor conditions I listed above. Joana, however, was able to get work at the Fairtrade certified Hoja Verde Flower Farm in Cayambe Ecuador.
At Hoja Verde Joana earned higher wages, was paid overtime and had access to free child care and pediatric services. Additionally, she received routine medical screenings that discovered she had early stage cervical cancer which was then treated.
Additionally, Joana was able to take an affordable loan out from the Fairtrade fund, allowing her to purchase property she plans to build on. Without Fairtrade Joana would likely have continued to live in poverty perhaps losing her life to cancer.
Considering all of this paying a bit more for Fairtrade Certified flowers is certainly worth it! It’s not even difficult, both Whole Foods and Sam’s Club carry Fairtrade Certified Flowers. Consider those options when doing your Valentine’s Day shopping this year.
Our next consideration is the environmental element of growing flowers sustainably.
You’ve probably already realized that flowers raised in South America and Africa have a large carbon footprint as they need to travel in refrigerated units to stores in the states.
Beyond transportation issues, the flower industry is known for its large use of harmful pesticides and chemicals that help give flowers the uniformity customers desire. These pesticides and chemicals are toxic to the soil and to the people employed on the farms.
The chemicals, many known as forever chemicals because they never break down, also make their way into the water supply. We’ve already seen the devastating effect these chemicals are having on our oceans, yet we continue to dump, often untested chemicals, into our waterways.
Many hazardous chemicals are barely regulated on food crops in the U.S., the standards are even more lax when it comes to flowers. You might think it’s silly to purchase flowers from an organic farm since you will not be consuming them, but the environmental impact of pesticides to soil and water is present whether or not the crop is one we will consume.
Chemicals applied to plants and soil seeps into our groundwater systems, and many of these chemicals are now routinely found in our drinking water. Nature is not a closed system, what we do in one part of the system affects another. We know this, yet we ignore it.
What to do
- One way to reduce the environmental impact is again, purchasing Fairtrade Flowers. Fairtrade involves restrictions on hazardous chemicals, which contributes to growing flowers in a sustainable way.
- If you are purchasing flowers for someone who doesn’t live near you there are online sellers who offer Fairtrade or organic flowers. Even 1-800 Flowers has Fairtrade options available.
- The simplest way to protect the environment is to support small, local growers in your area. Farmer’s markets generally have flower sellers you can purchase from. Local flowers in February will likely mean your choice of flowers are limited, but think of it as an exercise in creativity rather than a deprivation. Supporting the local economy and small family farms is a great step toward greater sustainability.
Lastly, we need to consider the economics of growing flowers sustainably.
Adding the economics layer onto ethics and environment can at once create clarity and confusion.
Flower farmers need to make money to stay in business. Farms that are concerned about people and the planet still need to show a profit. That is where you and I come in, Our choices can support flower growers who are trying to grow sustainably.
Supporting local, small farms by purchasing flowers directly from them is one choice I can make to help these farmers continue to care for the planet. Supporting Fairtrade certified growers is another choice I can make to back the efforts to improve the lives of farm workers.
Or, my purchase of flowers at the local supermarket can send an entirely different message, and support a different type of farming. It is that simple, and that complex.
I’ve titled this website a ‘journey’ because it is. As different pieces of the puzzle change so do our options. As I close, I’d like to point you to an article by Felicity Lawrence that demonstrates the complexities involved.
The article, Why I won’t be giving my mother Fairtrade flowers, explores the problems with scaling the flower trade to holiday demands in the U.S. and Europe while caring for the workers that meet that demand. There is still work to be done.
So, if you are going to purchase flowers as a symbol of love, perhaps you can also purchase flowers that improve the lives of those behind your bouquet.