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As an average consumer, you might typically go to a local florist, supermarket, garden center or farmers market to pick up some beautiful blooms. But do you wonder where your flowers have been before they met you??? Well, the answer to that question can be downright alarming. With a minimum of 60% of all flowers sold in the US being imported, they could have been anywhere: maybe harvested in Columbia, transported to Holland to be sold at auction, shipped to a major flower import hub, like Miami (which has an international airport, an international sea port and a “free trade” zone, which are all beneficial to the import process), distributed to a wholesale florist or super market and then finally making its way to retail sales. This process can take a full two weeks and sometimes longer. Along the way, your flowers may have been in contact with a host of undesirable pesticides.  Since the US Department of Agriculture does not test for chemical residues on flowers, it is possible that your flowers have been sprayed with EPA class 1 pesticides or chemicals that the World Health Organization would classify as “extremely or highly hazardous”.  Not to mention, your flowers may have been grown by underpaid workers with unsettling work conditions.

It’s enough to forget about buying flowers all together! But they are so beautiful and uplifting… So what can we do to avoid the antiquated and unsustainable practices of the floriculture industry? Fortunately, there are many growing possibilities!

1. Buy Local

Flowers grown in the United States are regulated by the Department of Agriculture and must comply with US pesticide standards which include the outlaw of chemicals like DDT. Locally grown flowers travel less and reach the consumer much faster than imported buds.  There are many small-scale farms concerned with sustainable practices and although most do not spend the money to obtain certification, they employ the good practices of integrated pest management, soil erosion control and sometimes go as far as maintaining 100% organic practices (which you will be hard pressed to find in large-scale operations).  So even if a local flower grower is not practicing sustainable floriculture, at least you know that less fuel is being used to transport your flowers to market. A number of local growers contract with supermarkets and wholesale florists, so it is very possible to go to the Wholefoods, Wegmans or even your local florist to find locally grown flowers. Additionally, farmers markets are a great resource. Many growers will sell directly to the public or have the option of picking your own flowers directly from the fields.  Local Harvest is a great national resource for locating local farmers markets, family and organic farms and CSAs in your area: http://www.localharvest.org/. Many national cut flower growers are members of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers and are listed in their annual buyers guide: http://www.ascfg.org/images/stories/buyersguide11.pdf .  Finally, you should look for local magazines and newspapers that promote sustainability. In Philadelphia, we are lucky enough to have Grid Magazine which just published their August issue on green weddings, listing a number of cut flower growers and florists.  http://www.gridphilly.com/digital-edition/august-2011-029.html

But if you live in an area like I do, this is only an option for a short part of the year. What if you need flowers in the late autumn, the dead of winter or early spring?

2. Sustainably Certified

In 2005, Scientific Certification Systems started Veriflora, a sustainability standard for the cut flower industry. They are a self-proclaimed “agricultural sustainability certification and eco-labeling program recognized as the gold-standard in the floriculture and horticulture industries. The program is administered by Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), a global third-party certifier of environmental, sustainability and agricultural product quality claims.”(www.veriflora.com )  The Veriflora program establishes criteria in the following key areas:  environmental sustainability including: sustainable crop production, resource conservation and energy efficiency, ecosystem protection and integrated waste management;  social and economic sustainability including fair labor practices and community benefits; and lastly product integrity including product quality and safety.  All Veriflora certified flowers are marked with Veriflora emblem and can be purchased in supermarkets and through floral retailers. 

You may also find flowers at your local florist or supermarket that are marked with the Rainforest Alliance emblem.  Since the mid 80s, flower production has grown considerably in South America and Africa. Because of this, the Rainforest Alliance created the Sustainable Agriculture Network, which is a group of 9 leading environmental groups in Latin America. This group is responsible for creating a set of standards for responsible flower farm management.  If growers meet the Sustainable Agriculture Network standards, their flowers bear the Rainforest Alliance label. Although not as stringent as the Veriflora standards, Rainforest Alliance certified flowers represent a big step towards protecting the environment and the workers involved in the growing process. http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/agriculture/crops/ferns-flowers

3. Fair Trade

The Fair Trade Federation has also gotten involved in certifying cut flowers, particularly roses. The focus of their program is to banish discrimination against woman workers and to provide a working environment that provides fair wages, healthcare, education and supports the local community. The wholesale and retail sales of Fair Trade flowers are heavily regulated and can only be purchased through a few sources. Because of this, the cold-chain transportation process is shortened and the quality of the products is very high. Each and every fair-trade flower is labeled with the fair trade emblem. Most retailers do not carry fair trade flowers because they are more expensive (almost double) but they can be found in super markets.  http://www.transfairusa.org/products-partners/flowers-plants

4. Organic

Organic flowers are the hardest to find probably because they are the hardest to grow. Few large-scale organic production farms exist so it is more likely to find organically grown flowers from small local growers in your area (see “Buy Local” above). Organic Bouquet (http://www.organicbouquet.com), an on-line retailer of Veriflora and organic flowers, as well as their wholesale counterpart, Eco-Flowers (http://www.ecoflowers.com ) both sell some organically grown flowers nationally.

Now that you are armed with the resources to find sustainably grown flowers in your area, I will be continuing my series of Sustainable Floristry 101 articles to help you navigate the green world of flowers!

Sustainable Floristry 101