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This Mother’s Day, buy your flowers from closer to home

Photo Courtesy of the Toronto Flower Market

Canadians are prepared to spend an average of $76 on gifts this Mother's Day and flowers are among the most popular gifts purchased.

Most flowers that make it into Canadian homes are imported from countries across Central and South America – Statistics Canada reported $483-million of flowers were imported into the country in 2016 – but flower production in these countries can involve child labour, hazardous working conditions, low pay and repression of trade unions and strikes.

And while it's true that Canada's climate makes local flower production a seasonal phenomenon, a growing movement is still encouraging consumers to choose petals from closer to home.

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"I think that people are starting to consider local for flowers as they have been for food because they are thinking more sustainably," said Natasa Kajganic, founder of the Toronto Flower Market. The seasonal market provides a space for local farmers and florists from across Ontario to sell their field- or greenhouse-grown blooms.

"Deciding to buy local is like saying 'I care about a good carbon footprint, I care about people being treated and paid fairly and I support local business,'" Kajganic said. Part of her goal over the past five years has been to educate consumers on seasonality, and the market gives buyers the opportunity to interact with the farmers who grow their flowers.

Of course, not all flowers can be grown on a large scale by local flower farmers: Popular blooms, such as roses, mostly come from Colombia and Ecuador because imports are necessary to fulfill the high demands for roses on Mother's Day and other holidays.

Fairtrade Canada works toward promoting and facilitating a fair-trading market for agricultural products between Canada and producing countries. The national branch of the global organization works in alliance with small farmers and with large-scale producers to ensure that imported flowers are grown under good working conditions and to eliminate some of the flaws in the traditional flower-import industry.

"A lot of mainstream grocery retailers in Ontario such as Loblaws and Sobeys sell Fairtrade flowers," says Mélissa Dubé, outreach and marketing manager at Fairtrade Canada. "There is an increased interest from more retailers in stocking this type of product."

She says that while conditions have improved for agricultural workers in other countries over the past few years, there are still challenges. "One of the most serious issues in the production of flowers is the exposure of workers, and their environment, to highly toxic chemical pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers."

And while imported cut flowers also have a large carbon footprint, because of the high CO2 emissions of cargo planes, Kajganic says local flower farming can contribute positively to the environment.

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Local field-grown flowers are also important to the survival of pollinators, including bees and butterflies. "There's not enough flowers being planted for these pollinators to use as food," she said. "I think issues with pollinators and pollinator-habitat survival has really gotten people to pay attention to flowers and I definitely see that at the market."

Mother's Day flower buyers might also be happy to know that local flowers are more likely to be freshly cut. Imported flowers often spend weeks in transit, which can damage them. "When I bring flowers to the Toronto Flower Market, I usually cut them the day before, they are almost as fresh as they can be,' says Jessica Gale, florist and owner of Toronto's Sweet Gale Gardens.

The Toronto Flower Market opens for its fifth season on May 13 at Shaw Park, 1001 Queen St W., Toronto, and continues once a month until Oct. 7.

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