Green Growing Practices For Red Roses

Amelda Hunter, 47, of Cleveland, mother of three, was found dead in Anthony Sowell's Cleveland apartment Nov 2009.
Amelda Hunter, 47, of Cleveland, mother of three, was found dead in Anthony Sowell's Cleveland apartment Nov 2009.
CBS/The Plain Dealer/Landov
It's one of those round-the-clock weekends for florists. There are 85 million roses are on their way to mothers' doorsteps.

At this Miami warehouse alone, workers rushed to move 180,000 roses out the door in a single day. But almost all of these blooms were born overseas. Nearly 90 percent of roses sold in America are now imported.

They come from places like the foothills of the Andes – the so-called 'champagne region' for roses. Legend has it the flowers grow so straight and tall here because they are reaching for the equatorial sun.

But, as CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason reports, there is a less romantic side to all this beauty.

"Whether it's chemicals and how they affect the environment, or how the farm workers are treated or the ecology of farms, there's just a whole lot of issues with flowers," says Gerald Prolman, the president of Organic Bouqet.

America's strict "no pest" import policy means many foreign farms spray flowers with large amounts of often unregulated pesticides.

One study revealed that 60 percent of plantation workers in South America suffer classic poisoning symptoms like headaches, dizziness and nausea.

John Nevado is one grower trying to change all that.

"We really believe in doing good for the planet and doing good for the people who work for us," he says.

Nevado's 100-acre plantation in Ecuador is a ground-breaking operation, with more organic and fair trade certifications than any grower on the continent.

Greenhouse pipes collect and recycle every drop of rain water. Organic matter is plowed under to create natural compost. Pesticide use is extremely limited, and his 550 employees are paid well above the average wage.

"These people used to be migrant laborers, picking potatoes when in season. Now they have a solid job, a solid paycheck," Nevado says. "You can really make a stand by buying these flowers and really show your commitment to helping the Third World."

Long popular in Europe, the market for organic flowers is still sprouting in America.

"There are 63 million affluent and educated consumers who are spending $230 billion annually on socially and environmentally responsible products," Prolman says.

Who knew tree hugging could be so profitable?