[Alexandra Serfass, Robertson's Flowers greenhouse employee]
In the 2004 movie, “Maria Full of Grace,” a pregnant young woman trades the harsh conditions of a flower packing operation in Colombia to come to the United States with a friend as a “drug mule.” It doesn't turn out well.
The flower export business is big business. Large, drab greenhouses, like those in Ecuador where “Maria” was filmed, can stretch for miles. From my bus window, I knew the eerily transformed landscape would not be on any picture postcard I would be sending home to the U.S.
Beauty has its cost to both the environment and people, however, according to “The Secrets Behind Your Flowers,” a February 2011 Smithsonian Magazine report. Because it may take three gallons of water to grow just one rose bloom, groundwater supplies become depleted. The low-paying work is tedious and straining. In traditional growing operations, workers are exposed to the dangerous pesticides and fungicides that keep insects from taking the slightest nibble from an otherwise picture-perfect flower.
Public outcry in recent years has led to the introduction of fair trade practices. Nicole Serfass, flower buyer at Robertson’s Flowers greenhouses in Wyndmoor, showed off the Veriflora label on the roses they import from South America. Veriflora is one of a handful of certifying organizations that try to ensure that their growers are using sustainable agricultural methods and providing equitable, healthy conditions for their workers.
At Robertson’s showcase Chestnut Hill store, Sandy Robertson says they source their flowers locally from New Jersey, domestically from Florida when they can and even sees growing customer interest in organically or sustainably grown flowers. Serfass has been asking their growers about organic but believes it’s not yet economically worth it for them to invest the years required for organic certification.
“Aren’t they gorgeous?” Donna Beardell of Chestnut Hill asks, exiting Robertson’s with a brilliant bunch of pink tinged roses, destined for her nieces competing in a gymnastics meet. On Valentines Day, she’s hoping she’ll be the recipient.
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[Donna Beardell of Chestnut Hill]
[Nicole Serfass Robertson's Flowers greenhouse, Buyer]