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Just as organic food has become a billion-dollar industry, with consumers saying no to chemicals that contaminate their produce and the planet, interest in pesticide-free petals is growing.Jupiterimages

Purple calla lilies, green hydrangeas, lime lizard chrysanthemums, and golden sunflowers fill the space at Full Bloom Flowers on Vancouver's Commercial Drive. The small studio might look like any other neighbourhood floral shop, but in fact, it's greener than most.

Making up a sizable portion of the bouquets here are local, organic and fair trade flowers. Just as organic food has become a billion-dollar industry, with consumers saying no to chemicals that contaminate their produce and the planet, interest in pesticide-free petals is growing.

"So many industries have gone in a direction where it's antithetical to the health of the planet, and the floral industry is just another wave," Full Bloom Flowers co-owner Diane Levings says, sitting amid salal, snapdragons, and ornamental grasses during a break between deliveries. "But more and more smaller outfits are doing organic products.

"The interest in organic and fair trade flowers really mirrors the natural-food movement," she says. "There's the 100-mile diet; we have 100-mile floral arrangements."

According to the Trade Standards Practitioners Network, an international collective of NGOs, research institutes, and other agencies, the global floral market was valued at almost $7-billion (U.S.) in 2006, representing a 50 per cent increase since 2000. Major cut-flower exporters include the Netherlands, Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya and, increasingly, developing countries such as Thailand, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Zambia.

With so many flowers being shipped to Canada from abroad – and sold everywhere from corner stores to bulk warehouses – the global flower trade has a large carbon footprint.

Then there's its effect on environmental and human health.

In Colombia and Ecuador, for example, workers are routinely exposed to toxic pesticides and fungicides that have been linked to respiratory problems, skin rashes, miscarriages, premature births and congenital malformations, according to the Washington, D.C.-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), an advocacy organization aimed at establishing just and humane treatment of workers around the world.

Those same harsh chemicals leach into soil and can be carried to rivers and streams, damaging fragile ecosystems.

There are labour and human-rights issues, too, according to the ILRF: many workers are prevented from organizing independent unions, and women have experienced sexual harassment and are subjected to forced pregnancy testing as a condition for hiring (so companies can avoid paying for maternity leave).

Hence the shift toward ethically-grown flowers, including imports that are held up to the same kind of rigorous standards as those for fair trade coffee and chocolate.

Ms. Levings and her Full Bloom Flowers co-owner, Joan Dewling, look for flowers that carry the stamp of approval of the Flower Label Program (FLP), a Bonn, Germany-based association of human-rights groups, flower producers and retailers. The FLP promotes socially and environmentally-responsible flower and foliage cultivation by setting universal health, safety, social, labour and environmental-protection standards.

Full Bloom, like the other eco-friendly florists popping up across the country, uses recycled and recyclable materials and avoids dyes.

Ms. Levings encourages eco-conscious consumers to ask questions. "Educate yourself on what the labels mean. Some places you can check out for yourself."

In other words, go straight to the source.

In Pemberton, B.C., for instance, Samuel Casavant and Calida Grymaloski have just launched Bathtub Gardens, which grows certified organic flowers on the pair's two-acre farm.

Former tree-planters, the two wanted to start their own business, one that reflected their personal values of living in a sustainable manner.

"We believe in growing our own food, and the idea stemmed from there," Mr. Casavant says. On their farm, they grow purple dahlias, pastel-coloured sweet peas, blue-horizon amaranth and yellow zinnias. "We recognized there was a bit of gap when it came to farms growing to organic flowers.

"For some customers, it clicks right away; it makes sense," adds Mr. Casavant, who sells blossoms at the farm, at farmers' markets, and through some grocery stores in nearby Whistler, B.C. "Others are puzzled. They associate organic with something that's safe to eat. They say, 'If I don't eat it, why would I care [about pesticides]' They might not be aware of the impact on the environment."

However, for he and Ms. Grymaloski, knowing that the arrangements they display on their kitchen table are pure and natural does more than make for feel-good flower-growing. It also allows for a deeper connection to the world around them.

"We never used to buy flowers very often," Mr. Casavant says. "Now, we enjoy them so much. They embody the here and now. Looking at them almost stops time."