by Melissa Menard
It’s a beautiful time of year with a seemingly endless abundance of flowers. We’ve been hiding in our gardens during our spare time, painstakingly tending the blooms that have greeted us, enjoying clippings for the vases that adorn our dining and bedside tables. All of this beauty and splendour has us thinking about fresh cut flowers and the flower industry. What happens as the seasons change and the blooms fade? Where exactly do our store-bought fresh cut flowers come from and what impact do these flowers have on the environment? Is there an alternative option that skips artificial flowers, allowing us to keep our fresh cut flowers? After doing some digging, it turns out that the flower industry isn’t very pretty and can be a dirty operation in terms of the environment and the health concerns of the growers. But don’t worry, it isn’t all doom and gloom when it comes to our blooms.
The vast majority of fresh cut flowers that we have come to know and love travel great distances before they reach our homes. It is our demand for fresh flowers (such as roses) year round that has driven the market to set up shop where the climate is hot and the labour is cheap. These flower farms are primarily located in South American and African nations, with China becoming a growing player in the industry. Often these operations are run without heavy oversight from governing bodies, which means unmeasured levels of chemicals, ranging from pesticides to fungicides, are used on these crops, contaminating both land and waterways. Workers are frequently exposed to these chemicals and are not generally compensated with fair wages or work hours. Once the flowers are harvested, they then make their long climate-controlled journey to their retail destinations around the globe; a journey that has a massive environmental footprint. This article from Scientific American details the process and helps to add context to the issue.
Here’s where things get a little brighter. In 2013, two very interesting things happened to steer the fresh cut flower industry toward a new market. As outlined in this article on restaurants in the U.S. embracing a new movement called “slow flowers,” in 2013 the U.S. Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) expired. ATPA was a move to help slow the flow of narcotics from South America by removing the tariffs from certain crops, including cut flowers. Around the same time, Debra Prinzing authored a book called Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow, and Farm. Prinzing’s book helped to revolutionize the way we look at fresh cut flowers by seeking retailers that offer local, seasonal cuts. The slow flower movement is rapidly growing with consumers from florists, to restaurants, to brides-to-be looking for sustainable alternatives for their fresh cut floral needs. Debra Prinzing’s Slow Flower website is a fabulous resource with a directory for both Canadians and Americans seeking slow flower retailers.
Slow Flowers & You
For those occasions when only fresh cut flowers will do, there are still plenty of options to keep things sustainable. First, if you absolutely must have a particular bloom that is not in season, look for a verified third-party marker, such as VeriFlora, USDA organic certification, or Rainforest Alliance Certified. Although flowers with these certifications are likely coming from distant nations, you are at least supporting floral farms that are working to reduce environmentally destructive practices, while also upholding ethical guidelines that protect the workers that tend their crops. (Tip: Costco happens to carry Rainforest Alliance Certified flowers in their warehouses). Ultimately, the ideal fresh cut flower is your local slow flower cultivator. Although it requires yielding to mother nature’s timeline and botanical schedule, you’ll find yourself falling in love with flowers that fall outside what has become the same old, same old. Windsor-Essex is lucky to have two local farmer florists: Christie Mauricio of House of Flowers in Leamington, and Shelley Chappus of Flower Queen in LaSalle.
Flower Queen’s social media is a visual therapy of sorts. There is something about her flowers that simply elevates the mood. A virtual sea of ranunculus in rainbow hews got us through so many grey days this past spring. Because we love all things local at ShopEco, we thought we’d introduce you to Shelley Chappus, Flower Queen, and learn a little more about our local slow flower scene.
MM: Hello Shelley! Tell us, which came first: Chappus Farm or Flower Queen?
SC: Chappus Farm is a flower farm and garden centre in LaSalle, started by my parents in 1991, so it definitely came first and sparked my love for flowers and growing.
MM: When did you begin your journey into the flower and florist industries and become the Flower Queen?
SC: I have been growing and working with flowers and plants my whole life. I began growing and designing with local blooms last year .
MM: What influenced your decision to be a part of the “slow flower” movement?
SC: The “slow flower” movement made absolute sense to me. The idea that beautiful, florist-grade flowers could be grown locally instead of imported inspired me to start growing those kinds of blooms myself.
MM: For those new to the idea of “slow flowers,” how do your plants and flowers differ from those that are typically found in, say, grocery stores?
SC: The “slow flower” movement is all about appreciating and using the blooms that are in season when they are available. This means flowers are grown locally and are cut fresh for customers as opposed to grocery store blooms which spend most of their short lives tucked in boxes, travelling great distances. Local flowers last longer than grocery store blooms and are better for the environment. Grocery store flowers are also usually limited to just a few standard varieties of blooms but local growers are able to offer customers a more interesting and unique selection of flowers.
MM: You supply flowers to florists, but also take orders from the general public. What is the best way to order a bouquet from you and do you provide delivery?
MM: What are the current top three flowers you’ve been incorporating into floral arrangements?
SC: Dahlias, Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella), and Pincushion Scabiosa are a few popular slow flowers that are in season.
Our gratitude to Shelley Chappus for taking a moment away from her farm to answer our questions. Now that you’re in the know, a fresh bouquet of options has, quite literally, blossomed for you. How exciting it will be to discover a new slow flower with the passage of each season.
Melissa Menard is a certified aesthetician and published writer. She views the greening of cosmetics and skincare products as part of the ongoing evolution of the beauty industry. Melissa also believes that safe and sustainable health and beauty products should be accessible to all consumers. Melissa resides in Windsor, Ontario with her husband, daughter, and 2 dogs.