“Flowers,” wrote Goethe, “are the beautiful words and hieroglyphs of nature, with which she shows us how much she loves us.”
And in turn we humans have, throughout time and across cultures, conveyed our love to others with the stunning beauty and enticing aroma of flowers.
But before you buy that bouquet for your loved one, or for yourself, consider some of the facts uncovered by Amy Stewart, who investigated the toxic back-story of floriculture for her book, Flower Confidential.
- Nearly 80% of cut flowers you find in the U.S. come from Colombia and Ecuador, countries with lax environmental regulations, and few if any worker protections.
- Flowers often have 50 times the pesticides and fungicides permitted on food crops.
- Since imported flowers must be pest-free (no insects, fungi, etc.) to be allowed into the U.S., they are grown in sterile soil, and doused with toxic cocktails of fungicides, insecticides, and nematocides, before and after harvest.
- Many of those chemicals are so dangerous they’re restricted or prohibited in the U.S. or Europe, according to reports by the International Labor Rights Forum.
- Unprotected workers (mostly women, but sometimes children) exposed to chemicals suffer from respiratory distress, spontaneous abortions, birth defects, and neurological impairment of infants.
But you don’t have to give up giving flowers just because their beauty has been tarnished by industrial flower production. Instead, ask the same questions you do of your food: “Where were the flowers grown, by whom, and under what conditions?” Luckily you have many more good options today than just a few years ago.
Ideally, you can find organic flower growers who use the same good practices that organic produce and organic livestock farmers use—ones that are good for the environment, good for farmers and farm workers, and good for the life of the soil and long-term sustainability. For convenience, you might start with Organic Bouquet, an online flower company with growers in North and South America, all of whom are certified organic. But if you don’t like the idea of having your flowers jetted and trucked to you, visit the Slow Flowers or Local Harvest website and enter your zip code to find local flower growers near you, most of whom will have less of a toxic load than South American flowers. Farmers may also sell bouquets of flowers at your local farmers market.
You can also choose to support a local farmer by joining a flower CSA. Many people are familiar with the subscription arrangement known as community supported agriculture (CSA), in which you subscribe to a local farm and get a share of the harvest each week. Flower CSAs are a bit of a newcomer, but they operate the same way, providing a local farmer with reliable income. In exchange, you or your loved one get weekly bouquets throughout the growing season.
If can’t find organic flowers you can:
- Look for the Veriflora Certified Sustainably Grown label, or the Fair Trade label, which show that the flowers have been produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way.
- Ask for organic, fair-trade, and local flowers at your local grocery store. More and more chains are responding to consumer demand for organic bouquets.
- Grow your own organic flowers by buying and planting organic bulbs or seeds.
If flowers are indeed the “hieroglyphs of nature, with which she shows us how much she loves us,” we can reciprocate, showing nature how much we love her by purchasing organic flowers, whose beauty is so much more than petal-deep.