Organic flowers movement catching on

February 13, 2008 8:57:31 AM PST
Roses are red -- but they're also a bit greener nowadays, thanks to a local group that promotes flowers grown in a more environmentally friendly way.

The people behind the VeriFlora certification say this year is the tipping point for the green flower movement -- that it's really going to catch on from here on out. You can find VeriFlora certified flowers at the flower market at Sixth and Brannan. VeriFlora certification means the flower growers are environmentally friendly, and want to get even friendlier.

"A rose, is a rose, is a rose" said Gertrude Stein -- not exactly says Alan Mitchell.

"When they get a product from us, our roses don't have any hazardous material on them, it's one of the better quality flowers available," said Alan Mitchell, California Pajarosa co-owner.

Mitchell grows roses at the VeriFlora certified California Pajarosa greenhouses in Watsonville. Now, VeriFlora roses account for less than one percent of the 214 million roses sold for Valentine's Day, but Mitchell sees demand growing like a flower. And he sees beauty in Pajarosa's reduction in pesticide use where possible, and its environmentally sound hydroponic flower feeding system.

"We're able to cut the amount of water use and also the amount of fertilizer we use -- we have been able to drop that by probably 50 percent over the last eight years," said Alan Mitchell.

"A lot of people don't realize that to grow flowers, typically, many toxic chemicals are used to produce flowers," said Gerald Prolman, CEO

Gerald Prolman created the first marketplace for organic flower growers back in 2001. That led to VeriFlora, a certification that means a flower grower is striving to be greener, just not totally there yet. As for why we need green roses, since not many people eat them?

"Whether your farming potatoes or strawberries or cotton or flowers -- it's about the environment -- the crop is the by product. It's all about the farming method and how it that affects the earth," said Prolman.

It's also about the work environment. VeriFlora certification requires a higher standard of treatment for employees.

"How are farm workers being treated? How's the ecology of the farm being addressed?" said Prolman.

The guidelines and the enforcement of VeriFlora certification are up to Scientific Certification Systems, or SCS. Executive VP Linda Brown says VeriFlora is a journey for the growers.

"They set up a plan; a sustainable, management plan -- and they follow that planning every year there after. We are monitoring to see that they are reaching that plan, reaching the milestones that they have set up," said Linda Brown, said SCS Executive Vice-President.

Not far from Pajarosa in Watsonville, VeriFlora certified B&H Flowers has achieved so many milestones marketing director Scott Fulton feels it's close to becoming USDA certified organic.

"There is a real groundswell of support coming from growers who want to find out how they can become sustainably certified and it's not just onesy twosy -- it's a whole industry," said Scott Fulton, B&H Flowers.

As far as the price you pay for VeriFlora certified roses or flowers in general, VeriFlora certified flowers cost about the same as standard flowers.