Jess Blume is co-founder of SSAW Collective, a community of chefs, florists and growers advocating for ecological change.
Our awareness of, connection to and feelings of responsibility towards the planet have been rising over recent years. Without doubt, there's been a movement towards a more conscious and considerate kind of consumption. But, can we make it last?
Thanks to the brilliance and resilience of the food and farming community, we've become much more accustomed to thinking about the provenance of our food, who grew or raised it and how they did so. Attention has been drawn to the effects of mass farming on our environment and our soils, and the threat of extinction of so many species due to the destruction of their natural habitats.
But there's an elephant in the room that's received little attention, despite its major contribution to the climate crisis: the cut-flower industry, which, in the UK alone, is worth more than £1 billion.
In the case of flowers, people's understanding has been skewed by damaging practices that artificially extend stem life and the misconceptions that arise from greenwashing in the industry.
‘Seasonal’ is an often used and hugely problematic word. There's also the common assumption that dried flowers are always the greener alternative. But the majority of dried flowers are imported, bleached and dyed. They may last, but they're toxic to both people and the planet.
With high water usage, the energy consumption from the heating of greenhouses and pesticide runoff, the flower industry directly contributes to global warming. Like fresh produce, flowers are particularly perishable, so they need to be flown and trucked (not to mention refrigerated), as opposed to shipped, in order to arrive fit for use.
These are just a few of the uncomfortable truths of the cut-flower industry. But boycotting imported blooms could cause socio-economic collapse in some countries – whole communities are reliant on employment on farms in nations where pay is low and workers are particularly vulnerable to a sudden loss of income – and the UK's supply, as it stands, couldn't meet demand.
Growing flowers in the UK comes with responsibility, not only for the land that we steward but also to educate our consumers so they can make more informed choices about the flowers they're buying. There needs to be a dialog between the growers, florists and buyers. This is partly why I co-founded SSAW Collective – to enable cross-disciplinary discussions around our connection to and expectations of seasonal produce.
It's possible to mimic the farm-to-table practice in food with a farm-to-vase equivalent. What's more, unlike industries with complicated production processes, flowers grown regeneratively can have a genuinely positive impact on our environment and help reverse the damage caused by intensive farming techniques: increasing biodiversity and pollinator populations, keeping our soil healthy and helping to sequester carbon, all at the same time as bringing the joy that beautiful flowers always do.
The product that the majority of flower fans have come to love is now more affordable than ever, often sold at a loss, which doesn't reflect its true economic, environmental or ethical cost.
So, if you're spending money on flowers, buy local and support flower farmers and the small businesses that work with them. Have a conversation with your florist about where their stock comes from, and understand that, like sourcing ingredients carefully and considerately, finding the right flowers may take a little time. Flowers are a luxury, but they don't need to come at the expense of our planet and those who work hard to grow them.
This article was first published in Courier issue 46, April/May 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.