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Sustainable Flower Growers Are a Few Roses Among Many Thorns

Words by Leon Kaye

If you are irritated because Valentine’s Day flowers are already dying, take a step back and consider the journey they took to get from farm to vase. In the U.S., most of the flowers sold are grown in Colombia and Ecuador; regular reports estimate that 80 percent of cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imports. Across the pond in Europe, the Netherlands ranks as the largest exporter, thanks in part to its enormous flower auction house in Aalsmeer, where flowers from elsewhere in Europe, Africa and Asia are traded and sold.

The fact you got flowers at all is the result of their journey by airplane, underlying the massive carbon footprint of the industry. But there is also a massive effect on people — and that footprint is more like a boot on the neck. As many journalists have demonstrated, most recently in the Guardian, the hours floriculture workers endure are long, the conditions often terrible and the pay low. So, if you’re considering flowers for upcoming Easter, Passover, Mother’s Day, or for that birthday or milestone, you may want to take a look at some of the more responsible flower vendors that are on the market.

More retailers including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offer a decent assortment of sustainable and locally-grown flowers — something to keep in mind when considering all flowers imported into the U.S. must be fumigated. But if your local retailer does not carry sustainable flowers, or cannot prove their flowers are grown more responsibility, other options are available via delivery — which is how we usually prefer those bouquets to be delivered anyway.

One place to start is SlowFlowers.com, created by author Debra Prinzing. Prinzing, who has written two books on the subject of American flower farming, created this directory so consumers can see which florists in their area can verify the origins of the flowers they sell. Users can search by city or zip code and additional features include reviews and photo galleries.

And local flowers are becoming an available option as more farmers turn to the cultivation of flowers to make a living, from Nebraska to Ohio to California, where just about every farmers market features a local flower vendor. The Certified American Grown Program is also adding more growers to its directory as more consumers realize the best flowers are often the ones grown locally.

Certifications are also on the rise. Fair Trade USA, for example, has been working with flower growers on programs for workers including unionization, health care and education. The organization brags that it raised US$600,000 with consumers’ purchase of 20 million stems — you will have to do the math per flower to see if that is a fair deal for workers.

With an industry estimated to be worth as much as US$8 billion annually, there is plenty of room for a retailer or grower to offer flowers a cut above the ones shipped thousands of miles from dubious farms. And those options may end up being more creative, and therefore more appreciated, by the recipient, too.

Image credits: Leon Kaye

Based in California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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