The People Behind Your Red Roses

Flowers: Part II

By: Amber Tamm
Intersectional Community Strategist

The red rose, a symbol of love, has arrived at its spotlight moment: Valentines Day. These red roses hold secrets, ones that may surprise you.

In our last flower post, we focused on the journey of flowers and how these flowers are grown. It was revealed that flowers imported to the US are covered with and grow in harmful chemicals/pesticides which serve as an explanation to the visual perfection of the red rose. This led to exploring the emergent local flower grower movement in the US and wanting to uplift those doing this important work here.

But this may lead us back to wanting to explore the people behind our red roses on Valentines Day.
Who are they?

How has working around these harmful chemicals affected them and their families?

Why do they continue to do this work?

How does this play into environmental racism?

How do we support these flower growers?

Most of the flowers we are greeted with in lobbies and super markets are grown by Black and Brown peoples all over the globe. With local flowers only making up 25% of today’s US flower market – this makes it safe to say that the flowers that make up most of today’s market (in the US and in Europe) come from the skilled growers in Columbia, Kenya, Ecuador, Ethiopia and Mexico.

Women in the industry had more miscarriages than average and that more than 60 percent of all workers suffered headaches, nausea, blurred vision or fatigue.

Recent studies have revealed that flowers, especially red roses, hold 107 different active substances that were either herbicides, fungicides, or insecticides. The most active substances that were tested reached concentrations that are approximately 1000 times above the maximum limit set for food. For us as the consumer, receiving a bouquet one or twice a year might not pose a huge threat to our health but for the flower grower it’s a whole different story.

Regardless of location, these workers are struggling with the same symptoms: headaches, rashes, nausea and lack of appetite. In these parts of the world, most of the people doing the flower growing are women, in all of the big flower growing locations across the globe the women who interact with these chemed out environments experience miscarriages as an additional symptom.

Flower workers are particularly vulnerable to acute food insecurity…

…as earnings are low, the workforce relies on itinerant migrants who live a hand to mouth existence; without wages and no savings, they have no way of paying for food.”

Historically we’ve seen that many different types of farmers in different places struggle with maintaining access to food in their own homes even when they may be growing food for profit, for flower farmers this is no different. This is one of the many reasons these growers continue to do this work in such jarring conditions – for the sake of income to have access to food.
Because the flower grower industry is made up of predominantly women workers, these women continue to do this work because it allows for them to make more than or equal profit to their spouses. This leads to women reclaiming their space as head of households and more funds being given towards their children’s education.
When we step back and look at the floral industry as a whole it’s quite obvious as to how environmental racism is silently taking place on a global scale. When we survey the florist and floral design industry in the US or Europe you may find that it’s very white. There are currently very low percentages of folks of color doing this kind of work yet most of the flowers that these white florist and floral designers are arranging are coming from the poisoned labor and lands of black and brown indigenous peoples all over the globe. Additionally, their labor is more low paying than any other person in the flower industry.

95% of the flower farmer population in the United States is white.

As much as it helps the earth and your own personal health to buy flowers from your local US based flower grower, the reality is this grower is most likely white (95% of the farmer population in the US is white) and this takes away from supporting a black or brown farmers in Africa or South America. It is time for us to also use our intersectional, regenerative lens to acknowledge and work towards eradicating white supremacy in the floral industry and food system alike.

Some ways to support black and brown international flower farmers are:

Buy fairtrade flowers.

This ensures that the workers are given minimally healthy work environments and fair pay for their work. Fairtrade flowers are available at Whole Foods.

Find or ask your florist and floral designers to use fair trade flowers for arrangements.

Continue to educate yourself and community about white supremacy in the floral industry.

Here are some good resources…

Behind Roses' Beauty, Poor and Ill Workers

Learn More

Low Wages and Poor Conditions

Learn More

The Impact of Cut Flower Industry in Kenya

Learn More