of Pesticides

The Real Journey of Flowers

By: Amber Tamm
Intersectional Community Strategist

The Victorian language of flower giving was once known as a way to convey romantic expression. But from a regenerative lens – the language of flowers seems to speak only of injustice.

The international trade of flowers got its roots in the 1970s, in the Netherlands, also known as “flower country”. This trade included expanding the importation of flowers from East Africa to Europe in congruence with the United States starting to channel their imports from South America. Thus giving us the international flower growing empires of today’s world: Columbia, Ecuador, Mexico, Kenya, Ethiopia and Costa Rica. For us in the US, most of the flowers at our local grocery stores are coming straight from Columbia. Which brings us to a number of important questions:

How are these flowers grown?

Who is growing these flowers?

Where are America’s local flower growers?

Are our local growers growing regeneratively?

As we head into Valentine’s Day, we may find ourselves engulfed in a realm of red roses as they have become the holiday’s most romantic symbol. Gratitude to Colombia’s flower growers for this-62% of the flowers that greet us on Valentine’s Day are straight from their hands. Unfortunately, these roses aren’t perfect by nature’s orders but rather induced with chemicals to create this flawless appearance.

The U.S. requires imported flowers to be bug-free, but unlike edible fruits and vegetables they are not tested for chemical residues.

Therefore, these roses are left to be sprayed, dipped and nestled into soils that are filled with pesticides and fungicides. This does not only pose harm to the earth but also the flower growers themselves, everyone from harvesters to processors to packers. In recent years, flower growers have been pushed to change their practices to be more regenerative making it healthy for the earth and the workers who steward it.

The most active substances that were tested reached concentrations that are approximately 1,000 times above the maximum limit set for food.

One study done in 2016 by a Belgian team of scientists led by Dr. Khaoula Toumi measured pesticide residues on three cut flower species: roses, gerberas, and chrysanthemums. They found 107 different active substances that were either herbicides, fungicides, or insecticides. What’s more, the most active substances that were tested reached concentrations that are approximately 1000 times above the maximum limit set for food.
Although this industry may seem stuck in it’s harmful ways, change has been blossoming through the work of the Slow Flower Movement. Although local flowers only make up 25% of the U.S. flower market, this movement is growing right in front of us. The Slow Flower Movement states “The local flower movement is progressing on a national platform and on a more organic, grassroots level … among flower farms and farms that grow flowers …” This movement got its speed off the local food movement and just like that movement, they are dedicated to not only localizing flowers but also growing flowers with the best practices for the earth and the farmers tending it.

Here’s a look at regeneratively grown, seasonally arranged flowers :

What a privilege it is that these flowers are on the market and readily available to us.

This is part one of a two series blog on the true nature of the flower industry and race. The second piece will be released on Valentine’s Day.

If you’d like to purchase local flowers:

Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers

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Flower Bucket Challenge

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Slow Flowers

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American Flowers Week

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Slow Flowers Podcast

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Certified American Grown

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Field to Vase Dinners

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Bloom Check Sustainability Certification

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