OpEd Flowers that express love, not exploitation
By Kira Santiago
If you’re like most people, when you think of Valentine’s Day you think of flowers, chocolate or maybe diamonds. People have begun to realize there is a dark side to each of these seemingly bright and innocent things. We now know we should avoid “blood diamonds,” and we can buy fair trade organic chocolate to avoid exploiting workers and the environment. But what about flowers?
Well, once you look behind the bouquet, they’re not so pretty after all.
Most flowers that are sold in the United States come from South America where there are very few, if any, regulations on pesticide use or protections for the workers, mainly women. The average cut flower that you buy in the grocery store or at the florist can contain 50 times the pesticides and fungicides permitted on food crops. One study from Bogota, Columbia, found that farm workers were exposed to 127 different pesticides, three of which are considered extremely toxic. Chemicals that have been banned in the United States (like DDT which causes cancer and is a threat to wildlife) are applied in heavy amounts to these crops. These pesticides harm farm workers and contaminate the air and water. Two-thirds of farm workers in Columbia suffer from respiratory and neurological problems, often develop impaired vision and have still-births or babies born with serious birth defects.
So you see why handing your sweetheart a bouquet of flowers, might not be so romantic after all. Fortunately, you do have options when it comes to flowers, and you should seek out U.S. and sustainably-grown flowers.
I’m an organic flower farmer and I’ve often been asked, “Why buy organic flowers?” People understand why it’s important to consume organic food — the produce isn’t sprayed with poison that leaves residues you are going to ingest. Even though flowers aren’t ingested, they are still being sprayed with chemicals that harm workers and pollute the air and water. And what’s the first thing you do when you receive a bouquet of flowers? You put your face into the flowers and inhale deeply, breathing in the aromas (or lack thereof) and pesticides.
Another reason to buy local organic flowers is that the carbon footprint is very small compared with the average bouquet, which travels 1,500 miles to get to you. And just as many fruits and vegetables have been bred to withstand long-distance transportation instead of flavor and nutrition, the same is true of flowers that have been bred not for their aroma but for their durability.
Flowers are nice, of course, but it doesn’t really make sense to purchase flowers in February in the Midwest. But if you must have flowers for Valentine’s Day, there are certifications like Fair Trade and Veriflora to look for and, at the very least, you should purchase American-grown flowers. To find florists near you who are using American grown flowers, visit www.slowflowers.com.
But before you do, think of the many other ways to show you care on Valentine’s Day: make your partner dinner, help them with a project or purchase them a subscription to a flower CSA. Although they won’t get flowers in February, they will receive flowers in season, and instead of one bouquet they will get weekly bouquets that will serve as a continuous reminder of your love for them.
This year cast a vote for change within the flower industry by either not buying flowers at all or by purchasing sustainably, American-grown flowers for Valentine’s Day.
Kira Santiago is the fifth generation in a family of academics, writers and organic farmers. She will have pick-up locations for her organic flower CSA this summer in East Peoria, Eureka and Bloomington. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/kirasflowers) or Instagram (www.instagram.com/kirasflowers).