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But at what price? (written by Maitridevi)
For every retreat here at Taraloka we buy between 2 & 4 bunches of flowers, usually cellophane wrapped from our local supermarket - an annual spend of about £250. We live busy lives in a rural setting, without easy access to farmers markets selling local flowers on the days we need them.
In the UK about 85% of cut flowers in this £ 2.2bn industry are imported from abroad. Of the top ten best-selling cut flowers, few can be home-grown all year round. The world’s largest flower-growing nations are currently the Netherlands, Colombia, Kenya and Israel, all of which are large exporters to the UK. Others such as India, South Africa, Ecuador and Malaysia are fast catching up. (1)
For flowers to reach the customer within a few days once cut, means that the industry has a growing reliance on air freighting. The UK’s largest flower importer (World Flowers) flies 600 tonnes of cut flowers – 250 tonnes from Kenya alone – each week. Throughout their journey the flowers must be kept in a climate-controlled atmosphere of just a few degrees above freezing, so the pollution footprint of a bunch of flowers can be enormous. Even if the country of origin is closer e.g. from Holland, the label may only indicate the location of the wholesalers. In addition more heating (and so more carbon) is required to actually grow the flowers in Holland than in Kenya or Columbia.
But it’s not just carbon emissions that are at stake. Whilst the international flower industry provides income for millions of people (80,000 in Columbia alone) (2), there have long been concerns about poor worker conditions: long hours, low pay, pesticide exposure, and water-source pollution.
It seems – from reading articles - that the only real solution is to buy locally grown flowers, or to grow our own.
Suchitta and I have therefore been exploring creating a ‘picking patch’ which would be able to supply home-grown flowers. At the moment we are awash with roses and sweet-peas, but it’s hard to maintain a constant supply throughout the seasons. However I believe in incremental targets. Even if we managed to reduce our consumption of cut-flowers by 30-50% that would be a start, & we could build from there. It is more work for Suchitta and our volunteer gardeners, but it also contributes more beauty and ‘soul’ to our shrines. It’s a better way to reverence what we love.
(1), Is it OK …to buy cut flowers?, Hickman, L, The Guardian, 02/06
(2), Tread lightly: Stop buying farmed flowers (guardian article)