Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fairtrade flowers for Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day everybody.
Here's my Valentine's bouquet of roses:

This post is about where they came from.

Germans love to buy cut flowers, and Germany is one of the top ten countries in terms of per capita consumption of both cut flowers and plants. Here an interesting link from the Flower Council of Holland showing the consumption of many countries. At the same time, the local production of flowers here has gone way down, as it has in all industrialized countries. These days, cut flowers are mainly imported to Europe from Africa, and to North America from South America. This interesting article shows that over 90% of cut flowers in the U.S. are imported, whereas back in 1970 it was only 3%. In Germany the situation is not quite so drastic. As described in this very interesting brochure published by the German Federal Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (in German), 20% of the cut flowers sold here are still grown here. According to this source, Germans spend an average of 40 Euros per year on cut flowers, with roses and tulips leading the list.

So globalization has hit the flower market hard everywhere. Roses and everything else are available the entire year. And as in many other sectors, sometimes you don't want to look too closely at the conditions under which the roses you buy are grown in places like Columbia or Kenya. After watching a few documentaries on the subject, including descriptions of child labor, low wages, overuse of pesticides with no protection for workers, genetic engineering and monocultures, I had almost decided to stop buying off-season cut flowers. There are several documentaries on the subject on Youtube, including here.

But then I came across an article about a network called Fairtrade whose mission is to inspect flower growing (and other) sites and award them a Fairtrade label if they meet certain requirements, including minimum prices, prohibited use of certain substances, adherence to ILO standards on occupational health and safety, minimum amount of paid vacation for workers, and many other things. Fairtrade certification is only awarded to producers who comply with an entire catalogue of requirements. If they do, they can label their products with this logo:

On the Fairtrade website, you can go to your own country and find businesses that sell Fairtrade products. I discovered that a grocery store chain in Mannheim sells them, and bought some of their roses a few months ago. I was very pleased with them - they were moderately priced, quite lovely, and kept in the vase for over a week. In fact, they came with a guarantee of keeping fresh for at least five days after purchase. I've had worse luck with expensive roses from florists.

So for Valentine's Day I purchased Fairtrade roses for the family. The label attached to the bouquet includes a Fairtrade code number, and on the German Fairtrade website I entered the code and was able to see that my roses came from the Finlay Flower Farm in Kenya, certified by Fairtrade in 2004 and employing 2250 people! If you're interested, Finlay has its own website.

I hope that it's all as good as it sounds, and that I can feel good about my roses, even though it remains somewhat absurd to be buying roses in February, when Valentine's Day happens to be. Here's another shot of my roses in the snow on the patio. If you look closely (click to enlarge) you can see that it is actually snowing in the picture.


  1. Babara, your Fairtrade roses are lovely and what an informative post about caring for Mother's Nature. I will put a link to my post. Meanwhile, Happy Valentine's Day to you and your family!

  2. Love the shot of the roses on the patio. All that white in the background really makes the rose colors "pop"! Thanks for the info on Fair Trade as well.

    Christine in Alaska

  3. Very interesting post, Barbara. When I worked in England, the majority of our flowers came from Holland, now in Canada, South America. I do worry about what goes on in the growing of our product, however I do not know any flower shops that are Fairtrade. I hope that like organic food, that it will become more popular, customers will demand it, and the industry will change.
    P.S. I am having problems with Blotanical as well, the last two days.

  4. Barbara, after I posted the above comment, I went to Eephants Eye blog. She has a message about Blotanical being down, changing the server. Not sure how long it will take!

  5. Barbara, Thank you for sharing this information. I have just about given up buying cut flowers, except in season from local farmers, but I'm going to see if there are sources of fairtrade flowers in my area. -Jean

  6. I had no idea that 90% of flowers in the U.S. come from out of the country or that there are child labor and pesticide issues. I will say that two old rose plants in my garden often bloom in February!