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Fair Trade Flowers for Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2012

On Valentine’s Day, millions of people around the world will exchange beautiful bouquets of flowers — and have no idea where those flowers came from. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 Billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent every year in the United States, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-selling holiday behind Christmas. While sources vary, approximately 100 million roses are given out on Valentine’s Day in the United States. While roses are commonly associated with Valentine’s Day, many flowers are readily available year round for purchase in grocery stores and farmers markets across the United States. Here in Boston, I know of two stoplights where street vendors sell roses at the red light.

image from flickr / virgomerry

When people think of Colombia and Ecuador, flowers are not usually the first thing that comes to mind. But more than 90% of the flowers exchanged in the United States on Valentine’s Day are imported from Colombia and Ecuador. The remaining 10% of flowers sold on Valentine’s Day are either grown locally in greenhouses across the United States, or are grown in California or Mexico.

But even before the flowers are grown and cultivated in Colombia and Ecuador, the foundation for Valentine’s Day in North America is started in Europe. Laboratories, primarily in the Netherlands, work with the seedlings to ensure viability and other desired characteristics. Once tested for the required traits and purity, the seedlings are sent to South America to be planted and cultivated. The European labs have the ability to change the size and color of the flowers to accommodate the demand of North American consumers.

Once the seedlings are in the hands of the Colombian and Ecuadorian farmers, they are ready to be planted. The temperature is hot, the soil is fertile and these countries do not experience much variation in climate. Once the flowers are planted, watered, picked, and cut they are packed up and shipped north. Many of the flower combinations available at grocery stores are sorted and even packaged in South America. They are pumped with gases to keep them fresh and arrive in North America as soon as 48 hours after being picked.

Due to lack of regulations, many of the farmers in these countries are treated poorly. The employee base of these flower farms has always consisted primarily of women. But, since the early 1990s, a series of investigations has found young children working on the flower farms. And if flowers aren’t labeled “Fair Trade Certified,” they likely came from an area that may not practice ethical business behavior.

What can we do, as environmentally conscious consumers, when giving roses to a loved one on Valentine’s Day?

Look out for three types of certifications: Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance Certification and the Veriflora Certification. If your flowers are marked with any of these seals, it guarantees that farmers were provided with safe and ethical work environments and also receive their due pay for the work they put in.

Demand for Fair Trade flowers has driven the marketplace dramatically in the past decade. There are even plenty of local florist shops that support fair trade practices.

Have a conversation with your local florist to see what type of product they supply their customer base. Some grocery stores, such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, carry a supply of flowers that are cultivated with Fair Trade Practices. The Trader Joes flowers are marked with the Rainforest Alliance Certification.

The next time you walk by the flower stand on your weekly grocery run, look for Fair Trade certifications before purchasing them. Be a part of the fair-trade movement, and we’ll begin to change the world for the better!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. susan Rudnicki permalink
    February 17, 2012 12:35 am

    You are leaving out a lot of the nasty stuff—these flowers are often grown with a enormous array of pesticides and fungicides and the women workers have suffered terrible reproductive and other health problems from the exposure. Mother Jones magazine covered the problem a couple years ago. The carbon footprint from this industry is just incredible, also. It is a very frivolous industrial model.

  2. February 17, 2012 11:15 am

    Hi Susan –
    You’re right that the problem goes much deeper than this. The impact on workers, the carbon footprint, the overall use of chemicals — makes the flowers industry a scary one.

    What are the best solutions? Often, it’s to grow your own, or get them locally grown or from a farm nearby! And broadly, we need to engage to change the flower industry.
    The Green Life

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