Thursday, 3 April 2008

Flowers in Winter: Should One Feel Eco-guilty or Just Enjoy Them?

A friend brought me flowers at my book launch the other day—a lovely gesture, but she said as she offered them to me that she hadn’t thought how politically incorrect it was to buy flowers this time of year in this climate. All that air freight and exploitation of workers in Third World countries and everything.

Flowers are among my favourite things, and I was extremely pleased with her thought. But as I changed the water and cut back the wilted ones this morning, I wondered just how concerned anyone who believes in living as locally as possible should be when it comes to buying flowers from afar.

Certainly in summer when the market gardens around Montreal bring in their flowers, buying them at the Jean Talon Market for example, seems to me to be a great way to encourage local producers. Like the delicious Savoura tomatoes grown in Quebec greenhouses—including a new complex heated in part by biogas from a solid waste dump—this is the kind of living locally that I support completely.

And as for flowers this time of year? Well, what I’ve turned up is a little sketchy, but it seems to depend on where you live and where the flowers come from. A study in the UK last year showed that wintertime roses from Kenya had a smaller carbon footprint than those grown in greenhouses in Holland. Extrapolating that to Canada and the northern US is next to impossible at this point, but it’s a topic I’ll keep my eye on. The February 25 New Yorker has an interesting story by Michael Spector about the subject, but it has no easy answers either.

More later, perhaps.

In the meantime, the flowers are lovely.


Anne C. said...

Hey, I struggle with this flower issue on an almost weekly basis! Another concern is the high rate of cancers in florists, presumably from the pesticides, etc.

Muzition said...

Are there any places in Montreal where flowers are grown in hothouses, or something, in the winter?

Muzition said...

About "living locally" -- it sounds like a good idea. But what about fair-trade goods? Those are supposed to be good, too, because they benefit workers in other countries when they're sold, yet they're from far away. It confuses me. Should I buy fair-trade things, or try to buy more locally?
(I don't know if this applies to flowers. It's just something that came to my mind.)

Anonymous said...

yeah, i've heard about that, though i remember vaguely what the article said, it just sort of concluded that flowers flown overseas has some negative impact on our environment?

Federal Way florist

Mary Soderstrom said...

The basic idea is that airfreighting flowers causes a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, but the British study says that the heat and electricity required to grow hothouse flowers in Holland causes more of that than does production in Kenya (no heat, lots of sun) and flying to Britain. To my knowledge nobody has done a similar study of the North American market. Presumably, air freight from South America to locations about 45 degrees North in North America would work out the same.

As for local production, flowers from bulb plants in the Pacific Northwest and BC probably are the closest thing this time of year (Arlene, where do your flowers come from? I see that you're near Tacoma: my first memories are of daffodils growing in Tacoma BTW.)

Don't know that anyone grows flowers in greenhouses in Quebec or Ontario, but like the Savoura tomatoes story, perhaps they do, only few realize it. Subject of another blog entry maybe (or heck, maybe I'll even do a story for a publication that PAYS.)



Jeremy Jones said...

Great point you started here..I don't thing that they have any negative impact...

Muzi..There are many places where flowers are grown but unfortunately i haven't remembered their name..

Green gifts