Mother's Day bouquets: Roses, carnations from Colombia
May 2, 2016 at 1:09 pm #14527
Colombia, the largest supplier of fresh cut flowers to the U.S., will grow, cut, pack and fly 700 million perishable, fragile flowers this year. Mother’s Day is the biggest sale day for cut flowers.
Janet Eastman | The Oregonian/OregonLive
Most of the corsages and boutonnieres seen at high school proms were made with roses flown here from South America. Many of the flowers you see at weddings this year will be imports, too.
And with Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday, May 8, stores are stocking up on the most popular cut flowers – roses, carnations and mums – for what has traditionally been the biggest single day in the U.S. to give a floral arrangement.
A handful of what mom will see and smell will be locally grown. Oregon florists and specialty retailers buy Pacific Northwest flowers in season. The Oregon Flower Growers Association, a collection of farmers who sell at the Portland Flower Market, is celebrating its 75th year. Doors to the flower market in North Portland open to floral professionals searching for fresh cut flowers starting at daybreak.
“There are a lot of flowers grown in Portland,” says Sandra Laubenthal of Peterkort Roses near Hillsboro, who is also the president of the Oregon Flower Growers Association.
Her family has been growing and selling roses, lilies and orchids for almost a century. Today, they have 100,000 plants.
Colombia Roses and Carnations
Jose Antonio Restrepo of Ayura Farms has 87 acres of flowers producing 9 million roses and 25 million carnations a year.
Still, it’s estimated that for every two stems grown in the U.S., eight are imported from countries like Colombia, where inexpensive labor and water, 18,000 acres of greenhouses and year-long flower-friendly climates will send 700 million stems to the U.S. market this year.
Perishable, fragile flowers are grown, cut and packed each morning in Bogota and Medellin, once called “the most dangerous city in the world.” The flowers are flown in dedicated jumbo jets 1,500 miles away to Miami each night, where refrigerated trucks deliver them to wholesalers and giant outlets like Costco, Trader Joe’s and Fred Meyer.
The Colombian growers have been perfecting their production since the 1960s, when President John F. Kennedy asked for a way to combat communism in Latin America. With that, the federal government embraced the idea proposed by Colorado State University grad student David Cheever in his 1967 research paper that Colombia could become a global flower powerhouse.
Since then, Colombia’s cut-flower business has bloomed into a $1 billion a year industry, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA report.
Now the second generation of flower farm owners, many equipped with MBAs from U.S. colleges, are introducing cutting-edge technologies to grow and ship stems more efficiently. Workers’ benefits are improving as well at farms that are members of trade associations and programs that certify sustainable practices.
Jose Antonio Restrepo of Ayura farms has 87 acres of flowers on three properties in the Bogota savanna. His medium-size operation will send 9 million roses and 25 million carnations of all colors, shapes and petal edges to wholesalers this year.
From the start, Restrepo’s family business model has been to cater to a U.S. audience. In addition to daily flights to Miami, he sends flowers to Atlanta, where FedEx delivers to wholesalers like giant Mayesh, which has a warehouse in the Portland Flower Market.
Restrepo ships 50 varieties of carnations and 30 kinds of roses under two brands, Eclipse and Pride. His crew works every day to fill standing orders and special requests, like antique green or lavender carnations with purple edges or terra cotta-colored roses with yellow accents.
One of the most requested flowers on Valentine’s Day this year were white and hot pink roses, in addition to traditional red. For Mother’s Day, wholesalers are asking for deep purple roses, according to Ayura sales manager Claudia Fuentes.
Orange, green and yellow were once colors reserved for fall, but now they’re bought year round, she says.
About 80 percent of Restrepo’s flowers end up in North America, with the rest sent to Japan and Europe.
Unlike shipping bags of hard, green coffee beans, flower farmers have to move their long-stemmed product from the greenhouse to consumers’ hands in the fewest amount of days.
An elaborate system of greenhouse-adjacent coolers, refrigerated trucks, planes and customs inspection areas keep the “cold chain” unbroken, explains Restrepo, who earned a master’s degree in business at Boston University.
When flowers open, stems are cut from the plant by hand and immediately hydrated with purified water to improve flower development and leaf quality. Water also prolongs the vase life and prevents bent-neck.
There are few desk jobs in this labor-intensive industry and scant machinery. Flowers are transported from greenhouses to warehouses in buckets or canvas slings attached to a pulley cable system.
It’s hard work but slots are easy to fill.
As a member of the Association of Colombian Flower Exporters (Asocolflores) trade association and the Florverde Farms Program that certifies sustainable practices, Restrepo agrees to hire only adults and pay a minimum wage – 689,455 Colombian pesos a month or about $240 in today’s exchange rate – as well as benefits such as funds to help cover medical, housing and education.
Some flower farms that employ Colombians displaced by drug violence are supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The majority of flower farmers in Colombia are members of strict, independent programs, according to Asocolflores. If you want to know where the flowers you see come from, just ask, says Laubenthal of Portland’s Peterkort Roses.
U.S. wholesalers and retailers rely on surprise farm visits and audits by Florverde, Whole Trade, Rainforest Alliance, GLOBALG.A.P. and other organizations to ensure growers meet higher levels of farming and employee compensation.
Florverde growers are also prohibited from using banned chemicals as listed by the World Health Organization, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, European Union authorities, the Dirty Dozen and national laws.
The program also encourages the reduction of chemical products that pose dangers to people and the environment. Workers use such pest management approaches as vacuuming bugs from leafs, as seen in Ayura greenhouses.
Weeks before Mother’s Day, Restrepo was walking through one of his post-production facilities filled with just-cut flowers destined to arrive in grocery stores.
Workers, stationed at specially designed tables, were inspecting and evaluating each flower and classifying them by type, weight and stem length. Music was pumped through speakers as bundles were slipped into see-through sleeves with the brand name printed on the outside along with the Florverde logo.
Most of Restrepo’s workers are women. He sends buses to pick them up on workday mornings – some live two hours away – and they pay 20 cents for a subsidized meal served at the farm. “Otherwise, they don’t eat,” he says.May 2, 2016 at 1:10 pm #14528
I like this article because it promotes local growers withou bashing South American growers.May 2, 2016 at 4:29 pm #14529
Finally an accurate article that promotes both local and foreign growers. There is no way that local production can satisfy the demand and off shore production provides thousands of jobs abroad and here in the USA. There is room for both local and foreign grown flowers. Cheers!
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