Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Flower & Power

In 2000 I spent 3 months in Western Europe, mostly Holland, exploring my heritage and sitting quietly on canals and at church doors breating in my ancestors' air and trying to make sense of love:

The Garden of Love
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this chapel were shut,
And "Thou shalt not" writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briers my joys and desires.
-William Blake
On one day, in plus 42 degree heat and 95 percent humidity blowing in off the North Sea, I visited the Aalsmeer flower auction, the primary distributing warehouse supplier of flowers for the world (250 football fields large). Walking for miles, it seemed, along the catwalk above the trolleys and forklifsts, the armoma of every type of flower you can possibly imagine wafted up to me in the steel garden. I saw the commodity of flowers in the auction rooms while flowers on carts were rolled across a room on tracks with currencies flashing and distributors and bidders waving arms like Windmills. It was all quite extraordinary and surreal.

As I learn this morning, though, not all this flower business is sweetly aromatic and magical:
"Recent research," he points out, "shows that flowers flown from Africa can use less energy than those produced in Europe, because they are not grown in heated greenhouses… This is about social justice and making it easier for African people to make a decent living."

But making a decent living can be tough. Last year, a report from the charity War on Want highlighted the human cost of the flowers we import. Many workers in Colombia and Kenya earn less than half a living wage. Miscarriages, birth defects and other health problems associated with toxic chemicals are rising fast.

Then there is the ecological damage. Lake Naivasha, on whose banks many of Kenya's large plantations are sited, is now severely polluted, and water levels have dropped dramatically. Attempts are being made to rectify matters, but it seems that someone always ends up paying the price for our cheap flowers.
No more gushing over petals. The gardens don't only have tombstones and monks, but there are trolls lurking there. You can read the entire article here.

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