Josh wasnâ€™t the only one inspired to write about the first snow storm last February. The aught seven Valentineâ€™s Day Blizzard, we are calling it. As the wind howled and snow drifted up in my driveway, I surfed the net to find a newslink to send to my scattered family.
Look at whatâ€™s happening here, I wanted to say. Instead, all I could find were stories about the roses that couldnâ€™t be delivered.
Thousands and thousands of roses! Actually, 175 million to be more precise. In February! Where on earth did they come from?
Red flowers have a magical power to lift my spirits, and I often buy whatever is on sale, gently placing them on top of other indulgences â€” organic broccoli and local lettuce. Where, I wondered, do they come from, these spectacular flowers that are so tempting, and cheap, year round in the local stores?
So, I did a little research on cut flowers.
Over 80% of the flowers sold in the U.S. are now imported, mostly from Ecuador, Colombia, and Costa Rica. (U.S. Rose production has declined 72% in the last ten years.) Kenya exports a huge amount of flowers â€” 80,000 tons of mostly roses in 2005 â€” but primarily to Europe and Japan.
Iâ€™m not qualified to analyze the economic question of why prices for the flowers and the produce we buy generally do not reflect the true cost of producing them. And the social and moral issues involved in relying on third world labor to produce our flowers is complicated by the fact that Ecuadorian economy, for example, is dependent on cut flowers as its primary cash crop.
The environmental costs involved in growing these flowers, however, are clear and well documented.
The issues are the same as for other kinds of industrialized agriculture: massive use of water, and often in areas where water is precious and a limited resource, high levels of pesticide use and worker exposure, release of chemicals and fertilizer runoff in local waterways and dependence on trucking and air transport to get the produce to market.
But for flowers, it doesnâ€™t stop there. Flowers are carefully checked when they enter the US for pests, but not for toxic chemicals. Those flowers I put on top of the organic broccoli â€” they are toxic.
In addition to having been heavily sprayed with pesticides, just before they are shipped the flowers are dipped, immersed head first, in a bath of fungicide to assure that the flowers arrive without unsightly gray or brown blotches from botrytis, a common fungus.
â€œWorkers, both children and adults, are exposed to pesticides and other chemicals that are illegal in the United States, and a small study by the International Labour Organization showed that only 22 percent of Ecuadorian flower companies trained their employees in the proper use of these chemicals.â€ This from Amy Stewartâ€™s â€œFlower Confidential.â€
So, I will add this to my list, getting longer all the time, of things I wish I could do something about.
Here are some things that I am doing.