Friendly Blooms

Denver resident Jenny Ward buys organic when she’s shopping for
vegetables, body products, and cotton clothing. But what about
flowers? ‘When I think about organic, I mostly think about the
things that I am putting into my body,’ she says. ‘I haven’t been
educated to think about flowers.’ That’s where Gerald Prolman comes
in. The green entrepreneur is taking organics a step further with
Organic Bouquet, the world’s first online organic flower company,
based in Novato, California. ‘Buying an organic flower means
thinking about not only your own health but also that of workers
and ecosystems around the globe,’ Prolman says. ‘It’s

Studies show that flowers, one of the most pesticide-intensive
crops in the world, cause health and environmental problems in
Ecuador and Colombia, which produce more than two-thirds of all
flowers sold in the United States. Evidence of pesticide poisoning
among flower workers in Ecuador and Colombia surfaced in 2002 in
Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal
of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In
Ecuador, nearly 60 percent of flower workers surveyed reported
nervous system problems, including headaches, dizziness, hand
trembling, and blurred vision.

Sales of organic flowers are growing with consumer awareness but
still represent a fraction of the $19.5 billion U.S. floral
industry. Americans bought $8 million worth of organic flowers in
2003, and the market is expected to grow 13 percent each year
through 2008. Growth may be faster thanks to Veriflora, a
sustainable-flower label that began popping up in select Whole
Foods supermarkets this summer. ‘Green label’ programs for flowers
already exist in Europe, where consumers are more aware of flower
problems, and in South America and Africa. But Veriflora is the
first that leads flower growers toward organic practices as the
know-how and earth-friendly products become available. Veriflora
also ensures immediate compliance with a range of sustainable
principles, including fair treatment of workers, ecological
responsibility, water conservation, and waste management. Workers
in Veriflora-certified farms must receive overtime pay and health
benefits and have the right to organize. Auditors arrive
unannounced to test everything from compost to the streams running
off the farms.

Veriflora was masterminded by Prolman and is being supported by
Whole Foods and some of the largest names in the floral business:
Ball Horticultural, a global seed supplier; Sun Valley, one of the
largest U.S. flower growers; Delaware Valley, the largest U.S.
flower wholesaler; and Esmeralda, one of the top four flower
growers in Latin America. Scientific Certification Systems, an
organic certifier based in Emeryville, California, designed the
program and is enforcing it. SCS chief executive Stan Rhodes sees
Veriflora as the next step beyond the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s national organic standards, which took effect in
October 2002. ‘Organic never promised you fair labor standards, nor
did they address the issue of ecological protection,’ he says.
‘Veriflora combines organic with sustainable farming.’

Rhodes hopes to spread Veriflora to other pesticide-intensive
crops such as bananas, coffee, pineapples, and avocados. But the
flower label is still struggling to win over the large supermarket
chains, flower sellers like FTD, and the Society of American
Florists, which represents 12,000 flower growers, importers, and
retailers. ‘You are not eating flowers. It’s not the same as food,’
argues SAF director Peter Moran. That’s right, responds Prolman.
‘Organic flowers are not about us,’ he says. ‘They are about the
health of workers and the planet itself.’

Tell Me More

Organic Bouquet

Society of American Florists

Veriflora program at Scientific Certification Systems

Ross Wehner is a reporter for the Denver Post.

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