We’ll take “increasingly quaint” over “frightening imports” any day
There are so many assumptions–mostly wrong ones–that we’ve run into while trying to excite a potential publisher about this book project. David recently described one person as an “agnostic.”
Her non-belief is revealed in this statement: “Sustainably-grown or organic flowers are not mainstream; it’s a fringe topic.” In other words, she believed our idea lacks the marketing muscle required these days to justify the cost of producing a beautifully-illustrated book about farmers, floral designers and consumers who do care where, how and by whom the flowers are grown.
After many long conversations and sharing all sorts of our work (writing, video interviews and photography) with another person in the publishing industry, and realizing she still didn’t “get it,” we were bemused when later she contacted me to say: “I recently saw a small, hand-written sign at my local Whole Foods store’s floral department that said ‘local flowers’ – and all of a sudden I thought – oh, that’s what Debra and David are talking about!”
She went on to suggest that we are really working on a book about “politically-correct” flowers. So far, we’ve shied away from that term. While focusing our lens and tape recorder on the pioneering voices in sustainable flower farming and eco-floral design, we have tried to be a storytelling vehicle that can “show, not tell” through the authentic narrative of hands tilling the field or gathering and arranging the flowers.
This conversation of ours got a little louder recently with John McQuaid’s article in the February 2011 issue of Smithsonian magazine, called “The Secrets Behind Your Flowers.” You can click here for a link to the entire story. A revealing web gallery featuring the photos of Ivan Kashinsky accompanies the article. I wish I could reproduce one here, but without his permission I will merely describe it for you. Covered head-to-toe in protective garb and literally wearing a gas mask and gloves, a worker at a Colombian flower farm is portrayed in a greenhouse filled with gerbera daisies, ready to spray them with unspecified chemicals. And these are the flowers many people think nothing of handling, bringing into their homes, displaying on their dinner tables or giving to a loved one.
McQuaid is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who focuses on the geopolitics of environmental issues. He won the Pulitzer for a series of articles that basically predicted what could happen if New Orleans was ever hit with a hurricane. He’s a sage and a people should sit up and listen to whatever McQuaid writes. We applaud his thoughtful work.
The Smithsonian article’s subtitle gives you a good idea of where this story heads: Chances are the bouquet you’re about to buy came from Colombia. What’s behind the blooms?
There is a lot of sobering information in the article, thanks to McQuaid’s incredible reporting that helps me connect the dots as I wrap my mind around the data that Colombia now commands about 70 percent of the U.S. Market. “If you buy a bouquet in a supermarket, big-box store or airport kiosk, it probably came from the Bogota savanna,” he writes.
Why has this happened? Apparently, in 1991, the U.S. government suspended import duties on Colombia flowers, motivated by an anti-cocaine trade policy. “The results were dramatic, though disastrous for U.S. growers,” adds McQuaid.
Indeed they were. And in no fewer than 3,000 words, McQuaid reveals his amazing investigative skills. He peels off the petals of that inexpensive, steroidal Colombian rose that so easily seduces Americans consumers. Here are a few of the statements that jump out:
- Not so long ago, Americans got their flowers from neighborhood florists, who bought blooms grown on U.S. farms. Florists crafted bouquets and arrangements to order. They still do, of course, but this approach seems increasingly quaint. These days, the bouquets that many Americans buy, typically at supermarkets, are grown, assembled and packaged overseas.
- It takes about 48 hours for flowers to get from a field in Colombia to a warehouse in the United States, and one or two more days to reach a retailer.
- One incentive to use pesticides: the U.S. Department of Agriculture checks imported flowers for insects, but not for chemical residues.
- Producing a single rose bloom requires as much as three gallons of water, according to a study of the Kenyan flower industry by scientists at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. In Bogota, which receives 33 inches of rainfall annually, groundwater levels plunged after flower farms and other users drilled more than 5,000 wells on the savanna.
Thankfully, there are beautiful, earth-friendly alternatives. Buy Local! Please join us in making a conscious choice to support sustainable flower farmers in your community.
You do have a choice. Vote with your dollar and patronize a local grower, a farmer’s market or a floral designer who cares. We’ll take “increasingly quaint” over a frightening import any day!