By Cindy McNatt, Orange County Register
Maybe I can finally stop pouting about the fact that for two decades I rarely get cut flowers from my husband on any occasion. He's a little shall we say, frugal? Or maybe he had foresight I didn't see.
The real cost of cut flowers climbs beyond $100 a pop for premium roses. Little did I know that floriculture represents a $40 billion a year industry in the U.S. and supports its own political lobby. Or that cut flowers can contain up to 50 times the pesticides and fungicides allowed on food crops.
Or that flower farms in foreign countries with lax pesticide regulations pose health risks for field workers including blurred vision, nausea and miscarriage. Or that the majority of all pesticide poisonings reported in California in 2008 came from rose farms.
The International Cut Flower Growers Association even asked the EPA for an exception to the Pesticide Worker Protection Standard in 1997. Their argument was that commercial standards demand that roses be cosmetically perfect.
And they are right. Who among us is going to reach for the flawed buds out of the bunch?
Amy Stewart, best-selling author of "Flower Confidential -- The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers," published by Algonquin Books, spent a year exploring the cut flower trade and says it's impossible for customers to demand anything different.
With 48 million flowers passing through Netherland auction houses every day, and up to 40 flower-laden cargo planes arriving in Miami airports each morning, and trucks rolling down the road from Northern California, it is not feasible to keep track of where your mixed bouquets come from and under what conditions they are grown.
"The scale of the flower industry is really surprising," Stewart said. "You buy a bouquet and think it's unique and individual, but it's a mass produced product. The thing about the industry is that the people in it (growers, auctioneers, buyers) don't see the flowers; they could be dealing with potatoes for all they care."
Factor in the fuels from trains, planes and refrigerated trucks that deliver fresh peonies and other flowers in pristine condition and you might conclude that your bouquets could stand to get a little greener.
"The flower industry is getting greener," Stewart added.
And she is not talking just about organics. California-based Veriflora is moving a billion stems a year and sets the standard for sustainability that goes beyond chemicals and includes worker safety, water quality and living wages.
California Organic Flowers is an independent family farm in Chico, Calif., that steers clear of the same old flowers from South America and plants pesticide-free daffodils, iris and dahlias picked the day you order them. Their flowers are seasonal, so you won't get lilies in December, but who wouldn't want a bouquet of winter anemones from their loved one?
Organic Bouquet is a larger organization that works with 48 partnerships and charities around the world to bring you traditional bouquets without the bad stuff. The mission-based company is proud that they have sent 300 Indian girls to school for the first time just from the savings they earned by using scrap cotton to ship their gift products.
Local Farmer's Markets might provide the greenest solution of all, with locally grown flowers that are often organic. "And organic is not the whole story," says Stewart. "Hydroponically grown flowers are not organic, for example, but it's a closed system that doesn't pollute."
Whole Foods carries flowers with the Veriflora certificate -- meaning growers abide by fair employment standards, provide safe work environments and prevent child labor. In some cases their cut flowers are also organic.
And you can always try showing that you care with a live plant that can go into the garden later and be enjoyed for years.
Sources: USDA; EPA; PelicanNetwork.net; The Society of American Florists; Aboutflowers.com; Amy Stewart; "Flower Confidential" by Amy Stewart.
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