I’m definitely on the bandwagon of buying organic, grass-fed, sustainably raised, fair trade, shade grown and probably every other socially progressive label that may ever be invented. But my buying habits usually go as far as what my family puts in their mouths―milk, eggs, beef; what they put close to themselves―organic cotton shirts, sheets, hats; or how we save fuel-carpooling and hybrid cars . But never have I given more than a fleeting thought to what we gaze at on our dining table, or inhale blissfully as we waltz by at the market―something that is especially popular this time of year―flowers.
I dove head first into the feature story of my favorite magazine, Smithsonian, this month. It detailed the “Secrets Behind your Flowers,” implying very directly that the majority of cut flowers we Americans so enjoy come from thousands of miles away. Columbia, South America holds sway over 70 percent of the U.S. market alone-that is A LOT of flowers!
As with many of our social concerns on importation, the flower industry has all the usual suspects: substandard labor laws, the use of pesticides and fungicides, harsh working conditions and often questionable loyalty to the thousands of employees it supports in developing countries. It is an unregulated market, but now consumer watchdogs are beginning to turn their attention to this lucrative industry.
My place here is not to point fingers, there are many others better suited to this task than I. Merely becoming aware of the issue and then acting in good conscience has been my goal. So, should we boycott another consumer item and refuse to purchase the lovely blooms we see at the store, amidst our gray and chilly winter backdrop? No. The story is actually more complicated than that.
The backbone of the flower industry is the people who work hard—from the farmers to flower assemblers to the drivers. Most of the workers (especially the farmers and assemblers) are women. Steady income from this work enables them to have autonomy and independence from fathers, husbands, and other male relatives. It empowers them to feel a sense of community and freedom. Something we here, in Californian paradise, take for granted.
If we suddenly shunned store-bought flowers, we would be putting people in a potentially worse situation. As I mentioned, regulators are starting to look more closely at growing and shipping practices and soon you will see certification labels on flowers in stores, much like you do on USDA labeled meat, fair trade coffee and non-hormone treated milk.
But you can also be a conscientious consumer, and ask at your local store―where are these flowers from? Will you be offering certified flowers in the near future?
And, if nothing else, when your loved one comes home tonight with flowers for you in his or her arms, give thanks not just to your thoughtful partner, but also offer a silent thought of gratitude to the person in a far distant land who nurtured a seedling into a beautiful bloom, packaged it and shipped it here, perfect and fragrant.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
For the original article in Smithsonian, you can read it here.