Sustainable Living: Mothers Day Alternatives

 By Shawn Dell Joyce

     Flowers are big business. The U.S. floral market is a $20 billion-a-year industry, yet the vast majority of the 4 billion flower stems sold here every year come from Latin America. Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have been exporting flowers to us duty-free since the 1980s. As part of the “War on Drugs,” import taxes on South American flowers were eliminated to give farmers a profitable crop to replace cocaine.

           All the flowers in corporate chains and box stores are imported. The cheap abundance of imported flowers not only has an impact on Mom-and-Pop-owned florists and supermarkets, but also makes it very hard for American growers to compete. One grower complained: “We can’t allow other countries to come in and impact our bottom line in the name of free trade. How can you compare foreign labor costs of $3 an hour compared with our labor costs of $12 an hour?”

           “We can’t compete with imports,” a nursery owner said. “Those flowers are loaded with pesticides that local growers can’t even think about using.” A survey on Columbian flower plantations found that workers were exposed to 127 different pesticides. One-fifth of the chemicals used in flower production in South America are restricted or banned in the United States and Europe (such as DDT). Since there are very few environmental laws in South America, these chemicals wind up in drinking water, causing species decline as well as damaging human health.

          Workers are often denied proper protection and become sick after applying herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. Two-thirds of Colombian flower laborers (mostly women) suffer from impaired vision, respiratory and neurological problems, disproportionately high still-birth rates, and babies born with congenital malformations. When workers try to organize unions to defend their interests, they are often fired, ridiculed, or harassed.

          In response to the horrendous social and environmental costs of cut flowers, green entrepreneurs have stepped up to the plate. Organic florist Lynn Mehl of Good Old Days Florist in New Windsor, N.Y., had an epiphany recently when she discovered the thorny underside of the floral industry. “I did a little research on my (previous) products and found that roses alone, according to recent studies, can contain up to 50 times the amount of pesticides that are legally allowed on our food. I shop organic, I support fair wages, I cannot consciously continue with a business practice that is against all that I have supported for years!”

       Mehl got proactive about it and located a U.S. import distributor who sells exclusively certified organic, eco-friendly, and soon-to-be fair trade flowers in bulk resale.  She also found some smaller suppliers of locally grown organic flowers in season.  All varieties are not yet available, but will be in the growing season. These include the heavy-demand varieties like roses, lilies, sunflowers, tulips, baby’s breath, assorted greens and ferns. “Ironically,” notes Mehl, “these flowers are more fragrant, last longer, and have very little cost difference. They are healthier for those who enjoy them, help protect the environment, and support sustainable farming.”

       “And would you believe,” adds Mehl, “I am the only professional florist buying these flowers on the East Coast for resale?” 

Want to celebrate both Mom and Mother Earth this year?

—– Ask your local Mom and Pop florist for organic flowers
—– Buy flowers from a local farm like Twin Ponds in Montgomery.
—– Give Mom a live plant from a farm like Manza’s in Montgomery.
—– Give Mom an edible bouquet of salad greens and flowers from a local farm
—– Buy Mom a flat of flowers from Hoeffner’s farm and plant them in flower beds for her

 Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.


2 Responses to “Sustainable Living: Mothers Day Alternatives”

  1. ncangelone Says:

    Shawn, thanks for this article, I am going to put a link to it on my FB page…very informative. I can remember as a kid growing up in Goshen, the only place we ever went to for flowers was Tom’s Greenhouse. Later on, before moving to FLA my mom worked for a small family owned florist in Middletown – flowers were always lovely from there. Couple of years ago though to make a little xtra money, I delivered flowers on mother’s day weekend for the 1-800 outlet here in Tampa Bay…not only were they extremely crummy people to work for (tried to gype me out of mileage) but the flowers were just awful. I had to do several re-deliveries. And that is when I first heard about these mass-imported flowers. And there folks, is the reason why the bunch of roses from the walmart supercenter have no scent.

  2. One World Flowers Says:

    One alternative for buying flowers that are not full of pesticides and support fair wages for workers are Fair Trade Certivied ™ flowers. Fair Trade is a great route to take when concerned about the environment and humaity. One World Flowers believes in sustainable business practices, human rights compliance, and fair compensation for workers in countries all over the world. We educate consumers about Fair Trade practices, and how to be aware of the human rights happening everyday in the global supply chain.

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