Company banking on pesticide-free nurseries
by Dan Frost
SF Gate - San Francisco Chronicle
Organic Bouquet has only nine employees, but its founder, Gerald Prolman, foresees it growing like a weed.
Prolman said Organic Bouquet is part of a growing trend of socially responsible companies, many of them from the Bay Area, that have a mission to both make money and do good.
He points to studies of the LOHAS movement -- an acronym for lifestyles of health and sustainability -- that claims 63 million consumers, or 30 percent of all U.S. households, with buying power of $230 billion.
He's ready to educate those people, many of whom already buy organic produce, about something they rarely think about: pesticide use in flowers.
At least 70 percent of the cut flowers now sold in the United States are imported, mostly from Ecuador and Colombia.
Working conditions there are not nearly as bad as Prolman had believed, thanks in large part to pressure from European shoppers who buy a lot of flowers, yet workers still suffer illnesses that advocates attribute to poisoning from pesticides. Pesticide exposure is especially dangerous in greenhouses, where many flowers are grown.
Yet even as growers become increasingly progressive, organic is still a difficult standard to adopt, especially when the demand is still in its infancy. Prolman has found it more practical to work on a wider sustainability standard that still allows use of some pesticides.
That standard, called Veriflora, was developed in conjunction with Emeryville's Scientific Certification Systems, and it has Prolman selling two types of flowers, organic and sustainable. He sees the Veriflora flowers as building a bridge to organic, and consumers can feel good that they're helping not only the environment, but also the lives of the workers.
Prolman's flowers are priced competitively with nonorganic flowers, with a dozen roses selling for $39.95. A dozen roses at 1-800-Flowers.com sell for anywhere from $29.99 to $49.99.
Organic Bouquet sells its flowers online, in retail outlets -- they're in some Whole Foods stores, but not in the Bay Area yet -- and through an innovative program with nonprofits and other like-minded businesses. Under this arrangement, Prolman sells flowers at a discount to members of the World Wildlife Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups. Those groups then get a portion of the profits.
His newest deal was with San Francisco's Working Assets, which will sell flowers at www.flowersforchange.com, giving 2 percent of the proceeds to nonprofit groups.