The car is filled with a vibrant but foreign energy. I’ve just picked up locally grown flowers from a greenhouse grower and wholesaler, a short ferry ride from my home and farm on Salt Spring Island.
For nearly two years I’ve been growing and designing with my own flowers at Alchemy Farm. I truly love my flowers. I spend hours planning and choosing flower varieties that I then raise from seed, or seedling. They become beautiful flower messengers that carry special wishes for people’s loved ones, for their special life events and celebrations, and they provide a tangible comfort for those who have lost a loved one. I am honoured to be doing this work.
At the end of October, the close of our growing season, I felt sad to be waiting until spring to welcome my flower friends once again. I hadn’t planned on extending my design season with someone else’s flowers, but I had so many requests from customers that I began to investigate what was available. I also began to think about what was local.
Flowers are big business. In 2016, Canada alone imported $483 million worth of flowers, which is a tiny amount compared to the United States who imported $2,160 million! A fraction of the flowers sold to Canadian consumers are grown in Canada. Canadian flower growers cannot compete on price with cheap flowers grown in third world countries. But, price isn’t everything.
Most people have no idea that almost all flowers sold by florists and supermarkets are grown tens of thousands of miles away and many times in third world countries. The next time you admire exotic flowers in the store – and often they are not that exotic – try to imagine the journey that flower has taken to get to you. Perhaps it has travelled from Israel, South Africa, New Zealand or a South American country. You don’t actually know where these flowers are from or what their story is and, even more importantly, how they were grown.
Flowers are not consumed so they are not subject to the same stringent testing or regulations as food. Many flowers are grown in countries where pesticide restrictions do not exist, which means that the flowers they produce are filled with toxic pesticides and fungicides (such as DDT, dieldrin, methyl parathion and more), many banned in Canada and the United States.
Some flowers are grown using child labour, or by people working under terrible conditions with serious health risks, or by growers who use unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly practices. Not only are imported flowers grown with toxic chemicals, they are heavily sprayed with pesticides before they are shipped.
Has anyone told you they are allergic to flowers? Perhaps they have said that they feel unwell or get headaches when they are around them? They might not be allergic at all; they might be reacting to the chemical residue on the flowers. The heaviest users of agricultural chemicals are conventional flower growers who use pesticides that are some of the most toxic.
In 2016, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a study of pesticide residues on flowers from Belgium florists. The study found that the cut flowers were loaded with substances that present acute toxicity, with direct exposure affecting the nervous system of florists.
Many pesticides applied on flowers are persistent, rub off on hands with contact, and are easily absorbed through the skin. Flower workers and floral professionals worldwide have been reported health problems that include contact dermatitis, neurological problems, cancers, hematotoxic effects, endocrine disruptors and more.
With conventional flowers found in florist shops and supermarkets being grown tens of thousands of miles away from where they are sold, I decided that flowers grown within 100 miles of our farm would classify as local. Honestly though, I’m thinking of getting a heated greenhouse so that I can continue growing and working with my own flowers –flowers that are grown organically with absolutely no chemicals, pesticides or preservatives.
The flowers that are delivered to my customers couldn’t be fresher because they’re picked from my own gardens just steps away from my door. We grow hundreds of varieties of flowers and greens. Our flowers are specially chosen and hand picked to order 24 to 48 hours before they are delivered.
The Locally Grown and Slow Flower movements, which are gaining momentum in North America, are being led by flower farmers growing local flowers with organic and sustainable practices. When you buy flowers from a local flower farmer, not only can you meet the farmer and learn about your cut flowers’ journey from seed to vase, but you also contribute to the local economy and support local jobs where workers are paid fair wages.
Deciding to grow my own flowers, or using local flowers grown within 100 miles of Alchemy Farm, was a deeply philosophical and personal decision - it’s how I’m becoming part of the change I want to see happening in the world. It’s how I’m walking my talk as an environmental artist. I invite you to join me in creating real change in the world. It may seem like a small thing, but buying local flowers supports local farmers, and helps to create a more sustainable and healthy world for all beings. Every little bit counts.