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Why Buy Local Flowers?

If you love cut flowers and the environment, it’s time to look into getting your floral fix from local growers, rather than commercial operations.

| July/August 2019

Photo by Getty Images/encrier.

We pay a high price for cut flowers in winter, no matter their price tag, through ecological and social costs. A recent push to treat flowers with the same seasonality as food suggests that consumers are no more entitled to tulips in October than to tomatoes in January. In our quest for more ethical cut flowers, the domestic flower market has begun to echo the slow food movement with a renewed push to buy local, and thus to buy flowers when they grow naturally.

Where Are Cut Flowers Grown?

A distinct mark of globalization is that the rose, a flower synonymous with summer, can be found in nearly every North American gas station and supermarket in the dark days of February, in preparation for Valentine’s Day. How can a summer’s bud flout millennia of natural law with such impunity? Of course, domestically, it doesn’t. Roses don’t bloom outside in February — at least, not in North America. For an American to receive a bouquet of the now-trite dozen roses, those flowers must first be grown in the high fields outside of Bogotá. At 8,500 feet, in 12 heavenly, light-filled hours of equatorial daylight, Colombia’s roses grow prolifically in February.

Massive shipments of cut flowers in all seasons make for a colossal carbon footprint lurking behind every beautiful bouquet.
Photo by Getty Images/DutchScenery

In the first six weeks of last year, some 976 million of these summer-loving flowers were shipped from Colombia to the United States. The most ubiquitous of Valentine’s Day symbols wouldn’t exist without Colombian flower farmers, who don’t even celebrate the holiday. Roses fill dozens of cargo jets from Bogotá to Miami in early February, with flights carrying more than 1 million stems per flight.

Florists’ roses used to be grown in the United States, but since the 1990s, some 95 percent of domestic rose production has moved to Colombia. Producers in the continental U.S. used expensive heated greenhouses to force blooms in the dead of winter, which added a sizable carbon footprint to every blossom and drove the price higher than the market was willing to pay. In addition, the Andean Trade Preference Act, passed in 1991, eliminated a 6 percent import tax on Colombian flowers. Producers moved entire operations to Colombia to take advantage of inexpensive contract labor and better winter rose-growing conditions. Such favorable trade deals, and globalization in general, mean buying a dozen cheap red roses on Valentine’s Day is now viewed as a consumer’s right.

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