The Best Way to Share the Love this Valentine's Day? Buy Organic Flowers
by Jaquelyn Lane
Of the approximately $20 billion a year Americans spend on flowers, less than one percent accounts for the sales of organic varieties. Surprisingly, in this age of booming natural-product sales, organic flowers suffer from lack of demand. Unlike organic edibles, which have gotten a major leg up in the market thanks to public concerns over ingested pesticides, organic flowers are not demonstrably safer for the consumer than their conventionally grown counterparts. Still, if you've never purchased an organic bouquet before, there's good reason to consider it for this Valentine's Day.
Organic flowers, just like organic food crops, are grown without the use of chemical pesticides. This is great news for the environment, but it's even bigger news for floral workers. According to a 2002 study printed in Environmental Health Perspectives, worker exposure to pesticides is of particular concern in greenhouses, where up to 127 chemicals may be used. Also, the vast majority of flowers sold in the U.S. are grown overseas70 percent in Columbia and Ecuador alonewhere the rules regarding pesticide regulation and worker safety are more lax. In Ecuador, nearly 60 percent of floral workers surveyed manifested symptoms of poisoning, including headaches, dizziness, hand trembling and blurred vision.
Thankfully, purchasing organic flowers has become easier. Organic bouquet ( organicbouquet.com), established in 2001, is the world's first online organic florist. Its owner, Gerald Prolman, saw a need for responsible standards that would help build the industry, and has since pioneered the Veriflora certification program, which, in addition to requiring growers to implement organic agricultural practices, addresses water conservation, waste management, and fair labor standards. Veriflora growers may use small amounts of low-impact chemicals, so they are not certified organic by the USDA. However, Organic Bouquet does carry USDA-certified flowers under the lables "Organic" and "Biodynamic."
Online organic flower retailers are few and far between. Organic bouquet is the largest; others include Diamond Organics (diamondorganics.com) and CaliforniaOrganicFlowers.com. Don't neglect your local farmers market, however. A small, but significant, percentage of organic flowers are grown on family farms in the United States. Check out LocalHarvest (localharvest.org/organic-flowers.jsp), which maintains a directory of small farms in the U.S. that may sell organic blooms. Just keep in mind, if it doesn't carry the word "Organic" on the label, it's not certified organic by the USDA; be sure to ask how flowers are grown before you but them.
Originally printed in the February 2006 issue of Plenty