Feb. 11, 2008 | Dear Pablo,
Valentine's Day is coming up, and I feel I should get my significant other
some flowers. But I've read that flowers, especially in winter, have to be
shipped from South America and other places. What's a responsible Cupid to
Yes, Hallmark Day is upon us and it's time to give our sweethearts sappy
cards, chocolate and little heart-shaped candies that taste like chalk.
Aside from the commercialization, I do appreciate the intent behind the
holiday and intend to brighten my wife's day with some flowers. You are
right, though: With most of the nation in the midst of winter, there is
little chance that those dozen roses are coming from your neighborhood
The United States imports between 60 and 80 percent of its cut flowers, and
most of them come from greenhouses in Latin America, or even as far away as
Africa or Europe. Up to 90 percent of the roses sold for Valentine's Day are
from Colombia and Ecuador; in 2006, the wholesale value of imported roses
was over $300 million.
The additional air freight for bringing these flowers in is certainly not
insignificant. If your order (plus packaging) weighs two pounds, you are
contributing more than six pounds of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In
addition, growers of flowers do not have to adhere to the food safety
standards that produce suppliers do, and so flowers may be doused in
chemicals to ward off pests to maintain their unblemished appearance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service checks for pests and invasive weeds on around 500 million plants
(live and cut) each year, but they do not test for biocide residue. Even
though you hopefully won't be eating your bouquet, the mere thought of skin
contact or inhalation of chemicals may leave you in a less-than-romantic
mood. This is also bad news for the people that pick the flowers and for the
creeks that receive the runoff. In Colombia, flower-plantation workers are
exposed to 127 types of pesticides, the Sierra Club
tells us, and flower farms have polluted and depleted Bogota's streams and groundwater.
In case you're feeling your amorous intentions slip away, don't despair.
is a certification program for sustainably grown flowers, requiring not only
high environmental standards but also fair labor practices. Several months ago,
I noticed that my local Trader Joe's was selling VeriFlora-certified flowers,
and now I always look for the VeriFlora label before I buy flowers for any occasion.
You can venture online to Organic Bouquet
where you can find a wide selection of VeriFlora and USDA-certified organic
flowers. Organic Bouquet imports its flowers from Ecuador, but insists they
are grown on farms that meet organic standards. Although your order is
shipped from the company's Miami headquarters via overnight air, it will
have a lower environmental impact than non-organic flowers because the
flowers won't be saturated in biocides. If your sweetie would still be
appalled by all of those aircraft emissions, you can always get a potted
plant of a native species at your local nursery.
Besides, who said you even have to give flowers? Consider gathering local
organic produce that is in season and making a romantic dinner. To save on
electricity, you can turn off the lights and dine by the soft glow of
soy-based candles. No matter what you do, as long as you keep the
environment in mind, it will surely be a Valentine's Day to remember.
Got a question about the environment? Ask Pablo at AskPablo@Salon.com.