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US (WA): Growers tout exotic local flowers

Debra Prinzing won't get red roses for Valentine's Day. She and her husband have been married long enough for him to know that Prinzing doesn't appreciate long-stem roses in winter. "I don't want to shame anybody," she says from her home near Seattle, "but I feel bad for the men who are targeted with TV ads before Valentine's Day and then think they need to get red roses to somehow show their love."

What's wrong with red roses? Quite a lot, as it turns out. "At this time of the year, you can hardly get any US-grown roses," Prinzing says. "They are flown in from Ecuador, Kenya, or the Netherlands, packed in cellophane, which is not recyclable, not to mention the pesticides that have been used to grow them. When they are imported, customs officials are only interested in ensuring they don't bring in any pests, but nobody controls with which chemicals the flowers have been treated. To ensure that the flowers clear US customs, they definitely have been fumigated."

Exotic flowers might look appealing, but their ecological footprint is devastating, and Prinzing has set out to raise awareness of the truth behind the pretty blooms. As the founder of the Slow Flowers Movement, Prinzing and her colleagues want the floral industry and its clients to embrace local, seasonal, and sustainable flowers grown without pesticides and under fair conditions for the workers. "We take our name from the slow food movement," she says. "Everybody knows that this means regionally grown, nutritious, and delicious food. But because people don't eat flowers, they pay less attention to where their flowers come from."

Buyers who do want to know the source of their bouquets can search the Slow Flowers directory, which lists hundreds of local flower farmers and florists that are part of the "farm to vase" effort. "We're growing by about 10 percent every year," Prinzing says of the Slow Flowers Society membership, which is 850 and counting. Or fresh flower fans can take a Slow Flowers workshop and learn to grow their own. This February, Prinzing is tending to hellebores, tulips, and daffodils in her yard. "You can make a nice arrangement with some flowering winter ornamental shrubs," she suggests.


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