The hidden costs to Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and those gorgeous bouquets

I listen religiously to How Stuff Works “Stuff Mom Never Told You” podcast, and there was one recently that was extremely interesting, on both a social and environmental side. The “Are there hidden costs to that Valentine’s bouquet” podcast raised some really interesting points about the flower growing practices used, as well as the working conditions of the women who harvest them. I highly recommend listening to the podcast to get the full idea.

This site also goes into detail, and there’s a pdf with the full article for you to download and read.

If you don’t have time to read or listen, here’s a basic summary:

* The chemicals used to keep the flowers fresh run off and cause eutrophication in the lakes nearby
* These same chemicals cause health issues for the women who harvest the flowers
* Because of the massive demand for the flowers before major holidays, these women have to work some 60 hours or more a week in the month leading up to them
* Since many of the flowers are grown in Africa or Brazil, the transportation to the US and the EU gives off massive amounts of pollution (airplanes, trucks, etc)
* There is deforestation to gain more land for the flower farming

Because we are such a consumer society, we aren’t very likely to change our habits any time soon. Unfortunately, this means that these flower farms will continue to be used, using power, water, and chemicals to grow as many as possible to meet the demand for bouquets over holidays. The chemicals aren’t only harmful to the environment, but also to the people, and as the article mention, the use of that much water, especially in a place like Africa where water is scarce, is a great misuse of that natural resource.


9 Responses to “The hidden costs to Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and those gorgeous bouquets”

  1. dbeckhamm says:

    I think the growing of flowers related directly to the concept of growing certain crops during different seasons. The U.S. experiences variable seasons, and clearly the most ideal time for flower growth is in the spring. Whereas in other countries like Brazil, you can grow the flowers year around (which is why manufacturers pay outrageous amounts of money to have the “freshest” flowers shipped and sold here, increasing pollution and environmental degradation @endignredshirt great point). Something tells me that since we have no boundaries when it comes to growing whatever crops we want whenever we want, it’s only a matter of time before we get into the production of flowers and try to grow them in the dead of winter….smart move, but obviously not really.

  2. ensignredshirt says:

    I never thought about this either, so I was really interested to hear about it on the podcast. It’s interesting how social customs such as this are tied to the environment, it’s really something you don’t think about at all. I highly recommend the podcast as well as Stuff You Should Know, another podcast that is entertaining and informative. The hosts, Josh and Chuck, are really funny, and cover a whole range of topics. There’s How Floods Work to How Autopsies Work, to podcasts about cryonics, the moon, how curiosity and hate work, all sorts of fun stuff.

  3. Dr. Szulczewski says:

    Think about it- Americans want tons of roses in February- the middle of winter! There’s no way that can be sustainable in any way. This was a very interesting post to open our eyes to yet another issue most people don’t think twice about.

  4. Upma says:

    This is SO SAD! I feel horrible for being absolutely clueless about this entire situation–nay, industry–and how labor and land are both exploited in the process of growing and creating these bouquets! I cannot think of any solutions right now except that it seems like everything would be economically and environmentally beneficial if we did actually grow things ourselves…when seasons allow. The only place I can think of right now that probably grows and sells its own bouquets are in Seattle, but I may be wrong about that. Regardless, I’m so glad you brought this to our attention. I definitely would have remained in the dark about the issue otherwise.

  5. maggie says:

    This is so disheartening! I love getting flowers, i’m sure lots of people do and it’s so sad that a good intention like giving flowers have negative consequences. It makes sense that deforestation would occur for flower farms just like cattle farms or agricultural farms but it’s so hard to believe that something so innocent as flowers can be the cause of something so nasty. Maybe flowers could be used as field cover. When fields have to lie fallow they could be planted to prevent erosion? I guess a problem with that could be that in the winter it might be too cold for most flowers, but at least in the spring and summer it could be a small fix. Hopefully a fix can be found but for now I guess just trying to go flowers locally and organically is the best and simplest solution. Thanks for sharing this tidbit!

  6. dechard says:

    This is something I have never even though of. Flowers are plants just like fruits or vegetables. They need to be grown, kept fresh, and transported. Your point about the consumer society is good also. Things won’t change quickly. Especially this being a more quiet issue

  7. ensignredshirt says:

    Sarah– it’s cheaper to grow them in Brazil or in Africa, as well as these being less danger of frosts and colder weather. I think that the farming and cattle industry is what prevents flower farms from taking hold here, as well, because so much of our incentives and subsidies go towards them.

    kylie– that’s interesting, I didn’t know about that, it sounds really cool. Field trip, anyone, come April?

  8. Sarah Bergstresser says:

    Is there a reason that we in the US don’t grow our own flowers? I have never seen a flower farm. I also don’t know that much about different flowers and where they grow best, so maybe they grow best in Africa and Brazil, but I do know that my family grows tulips in our front yard. Is it just that the US would rather use our land for crop agriculture or cattle grazing? It just seems to me that we could cut back on energy and water use if we had our own flower farms in the US. That would also take care of the labor rights problems, however corporations probably want cheap labor, and that’s why they go to Africa and Brazil in the first place. It’s also hard to know where the flowers have come from when you buy them at a grocery store because they don’t have labels on them like food does.

  9. kylie says:

    It’s really great that you brought this up. Flowers are one of those things you never think much about when you’re buying them at the grocery store. I had heard the topic mentioned recently but hadn’t looked into the issue, so this is valuable information, thank you. I do remember, though, that I saw this post on Facebook:
    Rodale Institute, the wonderful organization that promotes organic farming (with the best books/encyclopedias on the subject) and recently published their side-by-side study that found conventional farming had equal or less yield than organic, also has an organic tulip festival! And they’re not too far from us, in Pennsylvania. 🙂