You’ve probably waited too long if you haven’t already placed your Valentine’s Day flower order. More than the Christmas season or even Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day accounts for around 30% of yearly cut-flower sales, so it is highly possible that all local florists are already booked. You’ll have more success at your neighbourhood supermarket or big-box retailer, but if you think your gesture won’t be noticed for what it is, you’re deluding yourself. A flower from a bucket beside the checkout at Target that is plastic-wrapped is the perfect example of how to say, “I forgot Valentine’s Day,” as reported by The New York Times.
Good enough. Even though the $34 billion cut-flower industry is one of the largest and least environmentally harmful of all commercial endeavours, it is by no means a benign sector.
Insecticides and herbicides must be used liberally to produce flawless flowers, as the Sustainable Floristry Network notes, and many of these toxins end up in the water supply (not to mention the skin and lungs of agricultural workers).
Fungicides must also be applied to imported flowers to stop alien microorganisms from wreaking havoc on domestic crops. Another hazard, the floral foam frequently used in cut-flower arrangements, releases toxic compounds into the water system and contributes significantly to microplastic pollution in waterways.
Transportation is the next factor. The majority of commodity flowers, including 80% of the cut flowers sold in the US, are produced in the Global South and sent to consumers in Europe and North America. nevertheless, not by container ship, as is the case with the great majority of imported goods. Flowers must be transported via refrigerated planes and subsequently by refrigerated trucks since they are delicate and highly perishable. They must be maintained in actual refrigerators once they are at the florist or big-box retailer.
When calculating the annual carbon cost of shipping Valentine’s Day flowers from just Colombia, Brandon Graver, a senior aviation researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, came to the conclusion that “flying that much sweet-smelling cargo burns 114 million litres of fuel and emits approximately 360,000 metric tonnes of CO2.” He pointed out that in order to absorb that much carbon, “a forest larger than the area of Houston (1,624 square kilometres) would be required.” You would require an even larger forest if you included the carbon cost of protecting the flowers and delivering them to clients’ doors.
If all of this is news to you, it might be making you feel a little hopeless. Is there anything remaining that we are permitted to observe with pure joy? What else is there in the dead of February besides a bunch of cheerful flowers?
Thankfully, there are numerous methods to express your affection for someone without also conveying your lack of concern for the environment. Love letters and moonlight strolls are two things that I personally enjoy a lot.
Consider paper flowers if you really must give flowers or presents that have to do with flowers. Online, I’ve seen some exquisite handmade peonies that I couldn’t distinguish from the genuine thing. Or, for those who prefer plants, a lovely houseplant might do.
During Covid, indoor plants gained enormous popularity; sales grew in 2020 at 71% of North American greenhouses.
Even though the domestic houseplant business has some of the same issues with pesticides, water usage, and shipping as the cut flower market, its environmental impact can be difficult to assess. However, there is still a significant difference between domestically cultivated houseplants and imported flowers, and this difference is not solely related to the respective transit carbon costs. Two days following Valentine’s Day, houseplants are not thrown away.
For my first college apartment, I got a ficus tree. It has travelled with me to Philadelphia, Columbia, S.C., and four residences in Nashville over the 40 years since I brought it home. The tree moved to a neighbour’s house after we built a screen porch that made the only area it could fit in dark. It returned to our home twenty years later because one of our neighbours had adopted a new puppy and required a place to store his kennel. That was well with us because, by that time, we had converted the screen porch into a sunroom and had room for the ficus once more. With his head completely hidden by the greenery, one of our sons rolled it down the street on a dolly. Birnam Wood to Nashville via Dunsinane.
However, a potted plant or even paper flowers are not likely to be the most environmentally friendly substitute for a bouquet of imported flowers. The best option, in my opinion, is a nearby flower farm, particularly one that follows regenerative farming methods. You may support sustainable flower production by purchasing gift cards, shopping at farmers’ markets, or subscribing to a community-supported agriculture programme.
A blossom C.S.A. functions similarly to a produce C.S.A.: Customers are a consistent source of cash for the farmer, and the farmer is a consistent source of fresh, in-season flowers (or, in winter, foliage and berry-laden boughs). The flowers are frequently delicate heirloom types that could never make it from South America.
“Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets From the Garden, Meadow, and Farm” taught me about flower producers. Debra Prinzing’s book from 2013 served as the catalyst for the slow flower movement. She now runs a website and a podcast devoted to assisting individuals in locating ethical substitutes for imported flowers for both significant and insignificant occasions, as well as for the simple pleasure of having fresh flowers around the house.
This idea is “an artisanal, anti-mass-market approach to celebrations, festivities, and flower gifts of affection,” according to what she writes. Her website offers a searchable listing of florists and flower farms dedicated to using only locally grown flowers.
It’s certainly simpler to pick up a plastic-wrapped flower at the grocery store and cross Valentine’s Day off your list. To send flowers — or plants and paper flowers — in another method, a bit more thought and preparation is required. It can also cost a little bit more.
But if you really need to save money or time, it’s much quicker and much less expensive to pen a passionate love letter and take a moonlit stroll. However, why not also donate something to the environment if you want to give your loved one a botanical gift?
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Source: The New York Times