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Roses are... green?

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and we all love to receive flowers -- especially red roses. We love their heavenly scent, and we love the color they add to our desks at work and to our kitchens at home. But we don’t often stop tothink about the source of those flowers we love so much.Many of us do think about the chocolates we buy and consume on Valentine’s Day. We look for ethical sources of chocolate, and we might even choose something like delicious direct trade chocolates from companies like Taza. Yet somehow flowers often escape our radars.

I spent three years living in Ecuador, and while I was there, I went inside some of
the rose plantations that produce the vast majority of the roses we see here in
the United States. Two-thirds of the workers in the rose plantations are women,
and they work with pesticides on a daily basis. Around Valentine’s Day and
Mother’s Day each year, the rose plantation employees often work 80-hour
weeks with no overtime pay. They don’t have a union to represent their interests,
and one employee told me in 2008 that most workers don’t last more than two
years on the job before they become sick or have a miscarriage as a result of
their contact with the pesticides.

Poor labor practices, dangerous pesticides, and environmental abuse.

Not exactly romantic, huh?

fair trade flowers

Greenhouse of roses at Nevado Farms, Ecuador

The good news is, industry is starting to understand that we consumers do care a great deal about environmental and labor standards – even when it comes to flowers. Through the power of Citizen Commerce, which is at the heart of everything we do at Daily Grommet, we can send a very clear message this Valentine’s Day by supporting rose plantations that are producing fair trade flowers. Nevado Farms in Ecuador is leading the way. A section of their farm even produces certified organic roses.

Who cares about whether or not roses are certified organic? I do! One of my
favorite things to do with my roses when their glory starts to fade is to put them in
my bathwater. And I certainly don’t want to bathe in pesticides of any kind. Also,
if your roses are certified organic, you can feel safe about sugaring the petals to
use as cake decorations.

Today when I buy flowers, I look for ones that reflect my values and beliefs. I
support those flower farms that are doing the right thing for the environment and
for their workers. I do my homework and look for flowers that have been certified
Fair Trade or by VeriFlora. There are other certifying bodies out there, but some of them have competing interests that raise questions in my mind and cause me to steer clear.

I expect to pay a bit of a premium for these “greener” roses, but I know that I’m
doing what feels right to me. I also know that prices will continue to go down as
more people start buying these kinds of roses! And you know what? It’s already
getting easier and easier to find Fair Trade and VeriFlora flowers these days.
Supermarket chains such as Giant, ShopRite, Whole Foods, and Stop & Shop
offer them to their customers. Even One World Flowers and Sam’s Club offer
them online! With just a small amount of research, I have no doubt that you’ll be
able to find some in your area. If you can’t find any (or if you just want to go more
local this Valentine’s Day), why not pay a visit to your local farmers market to see
what kind of alternative bouquet of fruits, vegetables, and other goodies you can

Happy Valentine’s Day!

P.S. Have you entered our Valentine’s Day giveaway yet? It ends today!


  • Jim Says:

    Julia, I have to disagree with you about the working conditions on the flower farms in Colombia and Ecuador. I have visited many over the past 10 years and found most take great care of their employees and the environment. Many men and women now have very good employment where before there was nothing.

    (one employee told me in 2008 that most workers don’t last more than two
    years on the job before they become sick or have a miscarriage as a result of
    their contact with the pesticides). This statement is just plain false.

    I would appreciate an honest report on the great farms in Colombia and Ecuador.

  • Tweets that mention Fair Trade Flowers | Roses are... green? -- Topsy.com Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by [email protected], Jules Pieri. Jules Pieri said: Roses are... green? http://t.co/SBOYfQP via @dailygrommet [...]

  • Tori Says:

    Hi Jim,
    Thank you for taking the time to comment. Open dialogue and multiple perspectives is always appreciated and valued here at Daily Grommet. I know Julia was speaking from her personal experience in regard to working conditions in these areas. Happy to hear your more positive report of the flower farms that you have visited.

  • Julia Says:

    @Jim - Thanks for your comment. My blog post was not a report but rather a story about why I believe what I believe and how it influences my buying decisions. I can only share my own experiences. I first lived in Ecuador in 1998, and the rose plantations I have visited in person are the ones in the areas surrounding Cotopaxi. (My last visit was in 2008.) I wish that the workers I have spoken with had access to forums like this in order to share their experiences firsthand. In lieu of that, PBS ran an interesting documentary about the rose trade in Ecuador three years ago which does allow some workers to share their experiences in their own words: http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/2008/02/ecuador_a_rosie.html .

    You're absolutely correct that the rose industry has added jobs to the Ecuadorean economy, and that's a very important contribution. Even so, employment doesn't solve all of one's problems if one's dignity, health, native soil, and human rights are not protected. There is clear demand in the market for "greener" flowers just as there is stronger and stronger demand for more ethical gemstones. Perhaps we can both agree that Ecuadorean rose plantations certified by VeriFlora and/or as Fair Trade only stand to benefit by going through such certification processes. It's good for the workers, it's good for the environment, and it's good for business! Triple bottom line accountability makes sense for any savvy business.

  • Jim Says:

    Julia...In my opinion and the opinion of most experts who have visited many flower farms in Colombia and Ecuador, the majority of the farms are very conscious of their employees welfare and the environment. (even if they do not belong to some certification programs) As you say...Its good for business! Following in an interesting article..........
    Colombian Flower Farmers Have One Of The Most Rewarding Jobs Available Says Worker
    by Bloomex Canada
    Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 3:39PM EST

    OTTAWA— Flower farmer workers in Colombia say that they feel fortunate to be employed by an industry that offers job security and safety.

    To date approximately 85% of flowers grown in Colombia are sold in North America. It is one of the biggest industries in the country and offers employment opportunities that are stable and highly coveted.

    Though the media has dubbed flower farms as one of the most under-paid, overworked and abused industries in the world, workers say these claims are unwarranted and that flower farms offer not only secure employment but safety as well. Employees also say that these farms helped rebound the economy and caused improvements in the situation of living standards for Colombians.

    “It is very sad to see this happening,” said Claudia Liliana Mejia who is employed by one of the flower farms in Colombia. “I know that Colombia and especially flowers are always attacked with a bad reputation. Syndicates wish to give a bad image to one of the biggest production incomes of our people. I wish they would come to us and ask how we feel about our jobs, because it’s different than what they say.”

    The history of the flower industry in Colombia is an interesting one, dating back only a few decades. After a student named David Cheever wrote a paper titled Bogota, Colombia as a Cut-Flower Exporter for the World Markets, the South American country became a topic of interest.

    The paper said that the savanna near Colombia’s capital was an ideal place to grow flowers as it was 8,700 feet above sea level and 320 miles north of the Equator, and close to the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

    This idea propelled Cheever to build greenhouses in this area (which he eventually turned into a multimillion dollar company called Floramerica), and the success of his efforts (just as he predicted) spawned the beginning of the Colombian flower industry, as suddenly farmers had an opportunity to utilize their skills in the workforce. However it wasn’t until the United States stepped in that the industry became what it is today. In an effort to limit cocaine farming (which was creating a majority of problems in both Colombia and America) the U.S. government in 1991 suspended import duties on Colombian flowers. This helped to grow the industry because suddenly Colombian companies were able to export more, and thus create more jobs for the local workforce.

    According to Mejia, (who has worked in a flower farm for over seven years) the work environment in which she is employed is like a “second home” where she can talk to her friends and have lots of laughs.

    “It’s work,” said Mejia, “But I enjoy working for this company. I have been working for them since 2003 and they have been very special for me.”

    To date, there are hundreds of flower farms in Colombia, and almost all are either certified through Florverde, or in the process of being certified. The Colombian flower growers’ trade association and Asocolflores established Florverde in 1996 to ensure a set of social and environmental standards, as well as a code of conduct for flower farms. Florverde strives to improve the lives and living standards of floral farm workers and their families; to preserve and protect the environment for the industry’s farmers for generations to come; and to ensure high-quality, affordable flowers for consumers year-round.
    Meija says a typical day consists of cutting the stems, bunching, sieving, and defining all the cut stages of the stems in order to have a more even cut stage in bunches.

    “It’s a lot of responsibility because the final customers will determine my work,” said Meija. “We understand it’s a very demanding job, and never the less sometimes we make mistakes, so we always try to do our best to fulfill the quality of our products.”

    Meija says she always receives feedback and is in constant communication with her superiors.

    “They are all very professional, they always what to meet the highest standards of the industry. They are always trying to improve the labors and motivation of the employees. We have a weekly meeting where we review the ups and downs of the week, and we have constant feedback from our supervisor.”

    “They are very ethical,” continued Meija “they always respect the laws and all the employees and their needs. We have even founded a company that we called FONDO DE EMPLEADOS. It’s a small company that provides the employees with loans at a very low rate, also give special prices on some stores (Books, food, clothes etc).”
    Employees where Meija works get paid every 15 days and have medical and protection support paid by the company.

    “I work for C.I Flores Carmel S.A, and the company has 203 employees,” said Meija. “Forty-seven percent of the employees are women. Every single person is the right age to work according to the law. We are certified on Floraverde, it’s a governmental program that ensures quality conditions for workers.”

    Source: Bloomex Canada

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