These days, two dozen roses may only set you back $30. Yet, behind these cheap blooms is a $60 billion global cut-flower industry with a story that’s not quite as rosy. The modern flower industry is known for a voluminous carbon footprint, thorny labor issues and prickly land, pesticide and water practices.
The next time you pick flowers for your special event, think outside the flower box and consider choosing your blooms from the many local and sustainable flower options right here in Charm City.
Perfect and Sturdy Globetrotting Blooms
Flowers were once considered more of a luxury item. Getting red roses was a big deal because they were expensive. Not anymore.
Starting in the 1990s, cut flowers became a commodity. A bouquet ordered from a grocery store, florist or online was most likely cut about six days before in Columbia, Ecuador or Kenya. Along with millions of others, that bouquet was flown on a refrigerated cargo plane to a U.S. wholesaler and quickly shipped to a retailer within two to three days. The flower is sturdy and was bred to travel well. The blooms are most likely covered in pesticide and fungicide residue.
In 2007, Amy Stewart’s book Flower Confidential exposed the dirtier side of the global cut-flower industry. Like other commodities — coffee, chocolate, sugar, meat, seafood and energy — the flower market is highly efficient, industrialized, operates on paper-thin profit margins and is intent on delivering perfect product to “Anywhere, USA” at rock-bottom prices.
Incomplete Profit Equations
A commodity market usually is buoyed by the fact that its product’s full cost — including carbon footprint — is borne by another party, rather than passed down to the customer.
From farm to bouquet, the carbon footprint generated by flying flowers thousands of miles in air-conditioned planes is outrageous. Those air pollution costs don’t show up on the price tag at the store.
Equatorial flower-growing countries clear-cut forests for large-scale farming to grow the millions of flowers, eliminating bird and insect habitats. Plus, these countries aren’t exactly known for protective labor laws. Reports suggests that the heavy chemical use — with an array of up to 127 chemicals — is linked to negative health outcomes for laborers.
Smithsonian Magazine has more on the environmental justice issues surrounding the cut-flowers industry.
‘I Wanted To Keep The Money in Our Community’
Not all flowers come from seedy origins. Meet Ellen Frost, the co-owner of Local Color Flowers in Baltimore, Maryland’s only florist that sources 100 percent local calyx and corollas. Frost, along with her business partner /husband and their “LoCoFlo” team, work their floral magic for about 80 weddings every year. Add year-round floral arranging, flower classes, open flower studio time and even a book club, and Frost’s business is blooming.
Ten years ago, different areas of Frost’s life converged and inspired her to launch a first-of-its-kind green floral business.
“My background is in social justice, and I never saw myself as a for-profit business owner,” said Frost. “I had graduated from Cylburn Arboretum’s Master Gardener class, and knew that gardening was a passion. I then became interested in cut flowers after reading Flower Confidential, Amy Stewart’s expose about the global flower industry.”
She saw that many her friends were having weddings, but sustainable floral options were unavailable. After completing her MBA, Frost stepped into the business world with two partners and opened Local Color Flowers.
A decade in, she now says it’s not hard to source high-quality flowers year-round.
“Maryland has over 100 local-cut flower growers,” said Frost. “Many growers farm flowers year-round in greenhouses or heated units, and many choose sustainable farming practices.”
When you think of Maryland farming, chickens and corn comes to mind, not chrysanthemums. But in 1991, Maryland subsidized tobacco farmers to transition their fields to other crops, including cut flowers. Maryland’s cut-flower farmers today often practice eco-farming practices, including integrated pest management and crop rotation
For customers, buying local means your flowers travel far fewer miles farm-to-vase compared to conventional cut flowers. Furthermore, your local flower purchase keeps cash in Maryland farmers’ pockets.
You may be surprised that Baltimore boasts a few fabulous flower farmers. Both Butterbee Farm and Hillen Homestead are urban flower farms located right in the city. Within an 80-mile drive, Flowers by Bauers, Two Boots Farm and Seaberry Farm supply many of the eco-conscious stores and florists in our area with cut flowers.
Also check out Whole Foods, Wegmans and Trader Joe’s, and ask your favorite florist to consider local suppliers. Many farmer market vendors sell local flowers. Look for the Flower Label Program, Rainforest Alliance or Veriflora labels, signifying the flowers were grown by farms employing sustainable practices.