Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Flowers 1I’ve always had a thing for flowers. I remember, as a young girl, sneaking outside early one morning after we had just moved into a new home. I eagerly made my way to the rose bush I had spotted in front of the house and snipped off a tiny bud that was still green. I couldn’t wait any longer and pulled back the outer layers as best I could so I could present this offer of love to my mom. Other mornings would find me out in the grass, picking tiny little violets and admiring the purple weeds across the fence in the cow pasture. Perhaps the best story of all is how my husband, knowing my love for flowers, took some roses off a neighbor’s bush in the hospital compound in Bangladesh after our first son was born. Outside of the compound, besides a random shop or two, were rice paddies for miles and miles. Florists weren’t really a thing there.

In researching for my blog post on Fair Trade On A Shoestring, I came across some startling facts about flowers and told my husband I don’t ever want him to buy me a bouquet from the florist again. Here’s why – according to the International Human Trafficking Institute, most flowers in the US are imported from Columbia and Ecuador. While Columbia recently stopped using child labor, 80% of the workers in the flower industry in Ecuador are children. Their tiny hands are prized for reaching in among the stems. In both places, workers have to put in up to 20 hour days during peak season and are exposed to an insane amount of pesticides because the USDA can turn back an entire shipment of flowers if they find so much as one pest in the shipment. Because these flowers are grown outside the US, they are bathed in pesticides which have been outlawed in the US. This results in diseases and birth defects for the workers behind the blooms we love. Add unfair wages and sexual harassment to the list and the perfect blooms have become like the plastic-pasted-on smile of a cover girl model.

The good  news is that there are alternatives. Fair trade flowers became a thing in 2001 and most come from East African countries, namely Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda. There are also fair trade flower plantations in Ecuador, El Salvador and Sri Lanka. Fair trade standards prohibit the worst pesticides and provide workers with protective gear, training and regular medical checkups. On top of this, fair trade standards endure that children are not employed and that parents earn enough wages to send their children to school. Women are protected, not exploited. In 2013-2014, 33% of the wages were reinvested in education projects. Fair Trade USA has a list of their partners here. Another one I came across is Wonderful World. Their bouquets are gorgeous and Fair Trade Certified. 1-800 Flowers also has a few Fair Trade bouquets available if you search. ProFlowers has a commitment to ethical labor standards. The Bouqs partner with farmers all over the world who practice sustainable eco-friendly farming and minimize waste. When you look at the bouquets on their site, you can see a photo of the farmer who grew the flowers and know exactly where it is coming from.

Another great alternative is to buy local. Slow Flowers is an online directory for American grown flowers. According to Slow Flowers, only 2% of the 224 million roses sold in the US in 2012 were grown here. That’s sad. A good portion of local flower farmers have gone out of business but there are some pretty awesome ones left and I’d love to see them do more than survive! One of my favs is Farmgirl Flowers. Those burlap-wrapped bouquets are some serious eye candy! Lush and Lovely out of Cleveland, OH, offers heart-stopping one of a kind bouquets and subscription services. If you live near a Whole Foods, you can find bouquets that are marked with where they were grown as well. Don’t forget your local farmer’s market as well. The list goes on and on but the choice is up to you. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner but with a little planning you can give a gift that makes the world a better place.