skip to main content
skip to newscasts

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Public News Service Logo
facebook instagram linkedin reddit youtube twitter
view newscast page
play newscast audioPlay

Trump running mate Vance to deliver 'the most important speech' of his career at Republican convention tonight; Alabama group receives grant to boost FAFSA submissions; Bilingual, multicultural staff needed for NJ addiction treatment; Toledo plant to manufacture EVs with federal funding.

view newscast page
play newscast audioPlay

The Republican National Convention connects crime to migration. Kari Lake and delegates from Texas, Florida, and California talk about border issues. Desantis pokes fun at President Biden and Nikki Haley gives the night's big speech.

view newscast page
play newscast audioPlay

It's grass-cutting season and with it, rural lawn mower races, Montana's drive-thru blood project is easing shortages, rural Americans spend more on food when transportation costs are tallied and a lack of good childcare is thwarting rural business owners.

Growers Tout Exotic Local Flowers

play audio
Play

Monday, April 10, 2023   

By Michaela Haas for Reasons to be Cheerful.
Broadcast version by Eric Tegethoff for Washington News Service reporting for the Solutions Journalism Network-Public News Service Collaboration


Debra Prinzing won't get red roses for Valentine's Day. She and her husband have been married long enough for him to know that Prinzing doesn't appreciate long-stem roses in winter. "I don't want to shame anybody," she says from her home near Seattle, "but I feel bad for the men who are targeted with TV ads before Valentine's Day and then think they need to get red roses to somehow show their love."

What's wrong with red roses? Quite a lot, as it turns out. "At this time of the year, you can hardly get any US-grown roses," Prinzing says. "They are flown in from Ecuador, Kenya or the Netherlands, packed in cellophane, which is not recyclable, not to mention the pesticides that have been used to grow them. When they are imported, custom officials are only interested in ensuring they don't bring in any pests, but nobody controls with which chemicals the flowers have been treated. To ensure that the flowers clear US customs, they definitely have been fumigated."

Exotic flowers might look appealing, but their ecological footprint is devastating, and Prinzing has set out to raise awareness of the truth behind the pretty blooms. As the founder of the Slow Flowers Movement, Prinzing and her colleagues want the floral industry and its clients to embrace local, seasonal and sustainable flowers, grown without pesticides and under fair conditions for the workers. "We take our name from the slow food movement," she says. "Everybody knows that this means regionally grown, nutritious and delicious food. But because people don't eat flowers, they pay less attention to where their flowers come from."

Buyers who do want to know the source of their bouquets can search the Slow Flowers directory, which lists hundreds of local flower farmers and florists that are part of the "farm to vase" effort. "We're growing by about 10 percent every year," Prinzing says of the Slow Flowers Society membership, which is 850 and counting. Or fresh flower fans can take a Slow Flowers workshop and learn to grow their own. This February, Prinzing is tending to hellebores, tulips and daffodils in her yard. "You can make a nice arrangement with some flowering winter ornamental shrubs," she suggests.

Cutting Out 'Fast Flowers'

Americans buy about 10 million cut flowers per day, spending between $6 billion and $7 billion every year, with the vast majority imported from monocultures in Africa, South America or Holland. Unlike with food, there are no restrictions on the quantities and toxicity of the pesticides used for the flowers that are often harvested by underpaid workers under inhumane conditions, packed in plastic and then transported over thousands of miles.

Prinzing refers to the imports as "fast flowers." Similar to fast food, the advertising might look appealing but the products are often full of toxins and won't contribute to anybody's health, least of all the planet's.

Since Amy Stewart published Flower Confidential in 2007, a scrupulously reported behind-the-scenes look into genetic engineering, exploitation of workers and pollution, awareness of the outsize impact of the international flower industry has been growing. Because the use of pesticides and CO2 emissions are not measured in most of the mass-producing countries, the true ecological cost is hard to prove. But on average, the production of 12,000 roses in greenhouses in the Netherlands, with artificial light and heat, produces roughly 35,000 kg CO2, about 10 times as much as a conventionally grown local bouquet. And according to Greenpeace, roses in Colombia are sprayed with 200 kilos of pesticides per hectare, about five times more than is conventionally used in the US.

Slow Flowers member Becky Feasby of Prairie Girl Flowers in Calgary, Alberta, is working on a master's in sustainability at Harvard University. Her research analyzes the environmental and social impacts of greenhouse rose farming in Canada (BC), the US (California) and South America (Colombia). She points to studies that show how excessive water and pesticide use in floriculture is threatening local water supplies and wildlife in Kenya. And if the slogan "Grown not flown" is taken seriously, every flight not flown from South America to North America corresponds to the reduction of approximately 1,000 kg CO2 emissions.

The movement is self-policing, and of course, there are instances of greenwashing. Slow Flowers have become popular enough that some farmers promote their crops as US grown despite importing them from Mexico. "I tell everybody: Go to your local grower and ask questions. What do you spray against mildew? What do you do with aphids?" Prinzing advises. "Most growers are incredibly proud of their work and will happily show off their flower fields or greenhouses."

In the end, Prinzing is convinced that clients and their wallets will decide the future of the flower market. Locally grown flowers tend to be more expensive than imported ones, so educating people on their value is crucial.

"We can't compete with the importers," Prinzing admits. Mass flower production tends to migrate to wherever labor is cheapest and regulations are laxest. Prinzing asks consumers to keep in mind, "The cheaper the import, the more damaging for the planet." When they buy from local farmers, clients know that the blooms haven't been flown thousands of miles and will last longer because they didn't get stuck in transit for days. "There is also less waste because about 20 percent of flowers can get crushed or die in transit," Prinzing warns.

She has noticed that the pandemic gave the slow flowers ethos a boost, and more local food farmers are offering bouquets from their fields in farmers markets. "More people decided to grow flowers or vegetables themselves or buy locally. Even if people don't care about the toxins in flowers because they don't eat them, many care about supporting their local economy, the mom-and-pop shops."

The growth of the Slow Flowers Movement is in part due to the popularity of social media. Erin Benzakein, owner of Floret Flowers near Seattle, has more than a million followers on social media and her online workshops, which cost $2,000, are sold out as fast as Taylor Swift concerts. Her professionally produced images of dahlias and sunflowers invoke a dreamy wonderland of pink, orange and red shades almost any time of the year.

But Slow Flowers proponents like Prinzing and Benzakein also admit honestly that organic farming without pesticides and artificial fertilizers can be hard work and the flowers don't always look perfect. "It breaks your heart when a late frost or a summer storm destroys everything," Prinzing admits. Nevertheless, she says has never ever used a single toxin in 30 years of gardening.

How does she get rid of slugs and aphids?

"I use beer for the slugs and non-toxic soap to wash off aphids," she shares. Or she might plant a "sacrificial batch of zinnias that attract the aphids, so that the aphids don't go find something else," she explains. "Maybe some bugs nibbled a bit at the leaves," Prinzing says. "You might have to adjust your definition of beauty and accept that not every leaf is perfect every day."

Just like with true love.


Michaela Haas wrote this article for Reasons to be Cheerful.


get more stories like this via email

more stories
Workers can file safety or heat-related complaints at the Cal/OSHA office nearest their work site or by calling 866-924-9757. (Sculpies/Adobe Stock)

Health and Wellness

play sound

California has shattered heat records left and right this month and temperatures are forecast to be 10 degrees above normal this weekend, so the …


Environment

play sound

Ohio will receive more than $32 million in federal funding to help revive auto manufacturing and jobs in the state, specifically electric vehicle …

Environment

play sound

A court is soon expected to decide a Wyoming case between hunters and landowners which could affect public land access. When a group from Missouri …


Experts say addiction treatment outcomes are much better when a health care provider speaks the language and understands the culture of the patient. (Adobe Stock)

Health and Wellness

play sound

More than 85,000 people are admitted each year in New Jersey to treatment programs for alcohol and drug addiction, and experts say language can be a …

Environment

play sound

Massachusetts will receive close to $1 billion in federal funding to replace the Cape Cod bridges. Lawmakers said it is the largest single bridge …

Researchers said children who live in poverty lose an additional two months of reading skills over the summer, with a lack of proper nutrition serving as a key factor. (Adobe Stock)

Social Issues

play sound

Some North Dakota leaders believe healthy food is part of what is needed to help all kids achieve better outcomes and they hope low-income families si…

Health and Wellness

play sound

In the past year, the Colorado AgrAbility Project added four behavioral health specialists to help the state's agricultural producers, workers and …

Social Issues

play sound

The nonprofit Este Poder has a goal of helping more young people of color in rural east Texas exercise their right to vote. The organization holds …

 

Phone: 303.448.9105 Toll Free: 888.891.9416 Fax: 208.247.1830 Your trusted member- and audience-supported news source since 1996 Copyright 2021