Thursday, 4 August 2011

Earth-Friendly Flower Arrangements

Flowers are a wonderful gift – for someone you love or for yourself. But they are often accompanied by a high cost to the environment. Fortunately, there are some local, earth-friendly alternatives.

Carbon footprint
An article in The Toronto Star reports that approximately 75% of all cut flowers that are sold in Canada come from Colombia and Ecuador. Another 10% come from Holland, while the rest are from Kenya, California, Ontario, and BC. That’s a lot of air travel, one of the highest causes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Toxic pesticides
Commercial flowers from South America are among the most toxic and heavily sprayed agricultural crops on the planet. In addition, flowers are exempt from regulations limiting pesticide residues, and the South American greenhouses may be using pesticides that are banned in Canada.

Working conditions
It may sound like a pleasant job to work in a greenhouse full of flowers, but that is often not the case. Paul Hanley, in an August 12, 2008 article for The Saskatoon StarPhoenix, reports that “Colombia's flower farms use casual labourers who have no job security. Seventy per cent are women who earn just 60 cents an hour and work up to 60 hours a week, often without full overtime pay, before special occasions like Mother's Day and Valentine's Day.

By many accounts, these workers suffer from a myriad of health problems linked to exposure to pesticide cocktails that are applied frequently. They are sometimes forced to enter greenhouses only one or two hours after they are sprayed with toxic pesticides.”

Eco-friendly options – buy local
Nestled among the wheat fields and tree-filled gullies just east of Alvena, SK, is Mistik Acres, the flower farm of Joanne and Pat Halter.

The garden patches are a tangle of flowers and vegetables of all shapes, sizes and colours. Cheerful sunflowers immediately attract attention, but there are so many other flowers as well – sweet peas, snapdragons, borage, sea holly, strawflowers, asters, dahlias – and the list goes on and on. A rocky patch has a snug coat of sedum; a row of leeks shelters beside a row of sunflowers; and there are tomatoes, squash and corn amidst the flowers.

The Halters use absolutely no chemicals to grow their flowers, and they share their harvest with the local deer, birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.

Joanne and Pat sell their flowers, plants and vegetables at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market as well as to a number of local florists. There are pussy willows in the spring, peonies for spring weddings, and ornamental squash in the fall.

The following Saskatoon florists stock flowers from Mistik Acres: Carriage House Florists, Blossoms, Bill’s House of Flowers, Little Shop of Flowers (as well as Nosegay and Flowers by Fred on occasion).

What we can do
Saskatchewan has a short growing season, and there are no local floral greenhouses. But you can make more environmentally-friendly choices, even in the winter. Here are a few ideas.

Phone the florist in advance and ask them to help you create an eco-friendly bouquet. They can then research your request and identify the flowers that are grown in Canada, for example gerbera daisies.

Most Saskatoon florists purchase their flowers through Florists Supply, and several staff at local florists told me that the majority of the flowers come from the Lower Mainland in British Columbia and that Florists Supply tries to source fair trade flowers.

Buy indoor winter-flowering bulbs, such as amaryllis and hyacinth. They are often available in bulk from places like Early’s Farm and Garden Centre so you won’t be purchasing unnecessary packaging materials.

Take a cutting from a friend’s violet or try your hand at growing an avocado pit.

Create a bouquet from interesting branches and twigs.

We’re sure that there are many other options. What do you suggest?

Additional reading material
Valentine’s Day with a conscience: fair trade flowers
Florists go green with local flowers
Eco Guide flowers
Organic, fair trade flower industry emerges
What’s more fair about ‘fair trade’ flowers?