Uncovering the International Flower Industry

With inspiration from this month's giveaway, The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, I picked up another book by Amy Stewart from my bookshelf that I've been meaning to read for some time. You hear about it in conversations between folks who belong to this Slow Flowers movement that local farmer-florists dedicate their lives to. 

From what I understand, it is something of an exposé of the darker side of the commercial, international flower industry. I've been wanting to read it, but I've also been a little afraid of it. That might seem funny. We grow our own flowers (as much as possible) here on our farm. We follow organic practices as much as possible. We buy in beneficial insects instead of spraying with pesticides. We cover weeds and compost them into the soil instead of spraying them with herbicides.  

Occasionally, when we can't get what we need from our farm or other local growers, we tip toe cautiously into the commercial market. We try to persuade our customers to accept what is available locally and naturally. Stewart's book, Flower Confidential, the Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful, is a reminder as to why we should be apprehensive.

It is premature for me to write a review of the book now. I'll save that for another post on my blog when I've finished it. But, I wanted to share this brief snippet with you. I opened the book for the first time, turned to a random page and started reading the first paragraph that my eyes landed on. Here is what it says:

Excerpt from Amy Stewart's Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful -

"So I watched as bundles of roses went into the barrel of fungicide, head first, then got turned over and dipped again stem first. This had to be the nastiest job in the production room. The men handling the roses wore respirator-style masks and carried the flowers to the opposite side of the production room to do the dip, but there were no masks for the rest of us and the smell was horrible. Every grower assured us that they were taking all the necessary precautions to protect their workers and keep the chemicals out of waterways, but keeping runoff contained seemed like an impossible task. The guys in charge of the dip were drenched in the stuff. It spilled on the floor. It dripped off the flowers. For the first time in all the months I'd spent looking behind the scene at the cut flower industry, my heart hardened against the flowers themselves. If those rich velvety petals had to be dipped in a chemical to make them ready for market, I didn't want them."

Stewart goes on to explain that the type of masks the workers are wearing are not properly fit and that the chemicals that are applied are...lets just say...really terrible for people. I was hooked on the book, and I'd only barely started it on a random page, in a random moment in my studio. 

I read a little further and came to this bit:

"So...I said to one of the production managers, trying to sound casual as I watched the flower being dunked in fungicide, "about this dip. Does it remain on the flowers long?" 

"No," he said. "the more time that passes, there more it loses its effectiveness. As a contaminant for humans, it's very low. But" – and he flashed me a warm smile - "I would never recommend that you take a bath of rose petals. Never."

Gulp. So I guess this is my next project - find time to read this book. The farm is calling me, the seedlings, this blog, but I need what is in this book. I need it so that I really know how ugly things are and conversely how beautiful they can be. I guess that it the best kind of reading-- the kind that you need. The kind that no other task can keep you from.  

To learn more about what is on conventionally-farmed flowers and where they come from, pick up a copy of Amy's book at your local bookstore. We found our copy at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid. And then go find your local flower growers! Ask them what is blooming. We've had a colder and wetter than usual spring. It is kind of miserable outside. But the hellebores don't seem to mind. These 'Lenten roses' are in bloom right now. And I can promise you they aren't dipped in or sprayed with anything. The anemones are blooming, too :)