The conventional flower industry is no bed of roses

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet—but it would still be one of the most toxically grown crops on the planet. Actually, most conventionally grown flowers are.

Flower sales exceed $40 billion a year, making them a coveted commodity. Like other products that need to be mass produced, flowers have been bred and conditioned to withstand endless consuming. Unlike food or other edible crops though, these beautiful plants aren’t regulated when it comes to pesticide and other chemical use.

Pesticide use on conventional flower farms

rosesPhoto by Earl Wilcox on UnsplashThe flowers you find at the grocery store and in florist shops are actually grown thousands of miles away, in countries like Ecuador, Thailand, Kenya and Colombia. Weaker environmental laws and industry regulations on chemicals in those places have kept their practices far from sustainable for both the workers and the environment.

The work on flower farms abroad is intense, the wages are inhumane and the exposure to toxic chemicals is significant. A large percentage of workers in the past surveyed have reported serious work-related illness, including infertility, skin conditions and loss of sight.

Flower growers are traditionally the heaviest users of farm chemicals, which are highly toxic and suspected to cause cancer, neurological impairments and hypertension. While exposure for workers is direct and immediate, the pesticides still withstand the travel and impact the health of florists in North America, and the flowers still carry residues when sold to customers.

Transport, handling, and other environmental damage

Warm climates abroad are attractive to mega-companies for their year-round growing conditions, but these long distances also contribute to a large portion of environmental damages.

Imported flowers need to withstand shipping and handling. Flower breeders have had to work diligently to develop the stiffest, sturdiest flowers possible to reach us in a near-perfect condition. This may be why grocery store flowers look fake or coated in plastic—they’ve been bred to go without water for a week and then sprayed to last the journey. Not only are imported flowers treated heavily with an insecticide before being packed up, but then they’re placed in plastic packaging and onto a cargo jet, increasing carbon emissions.

Once they arrive at their destination, the products are inspected by border control, and any sign of an insect either results in a destroyed shipment or additional fumigation. So, any flowers that actually make it to our grocery stores and florist shops are some of the most genetically modified and sprayed in order to maintain their beauty.

The solution: Buy from small flower farmers

farmers market flowersPhoto by Shelley Pauls on UnsplashLocal and sustainable flower farmers are working day in and day out to change the narrative for the floral industry. Firstly, because grocery store flowers only last three days or so, bouquets have a bad rep, even if they come from small farmers. Though, what you’re getting in a small farm’s $40 to 60 bouquet versus a commercial $20 bouquet, amongst other things, is longevity. Since these flowers aren’t travelling long distances, being hauled in boxes, and thrown around, there is little to no damage in handling. Also, the flowers are usually picked that day or the day before, making your bouquet last up to two weeks with proper care.

Flower farmers are also competing with big-store pricing, because many consumers don’t understand the true cost of their conventional $10 bouquet: unfair wages, GMO farming, and unsustainable sprays that are detrimental to our health and the planet’s. Supporting a small, sustainable farmer is also supporting someone who is tending to the land, paying themselves and their workers, and increasing biodiversity. Since local farmers are planting countless varieties, and bringing an array of diversity to the landscape, they’re also helping feed the local pollinator species.

Flower farmers don’t have an easy job, but they have a love and passion for the planet and its native flora and fauna. Remember that when you see the price of a local bouquet, or when these farmers have no flowers available from December until April, that they’re still worth supporting. Plus, you’ll be rewarded with fragrant and delicate flowers, just as nature intended.