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Where Costco and Trader Joe’s buy flowers: Colombia’s powerhouse greenhouses (photos and video)

By Janet Eastman | The Oregonian/OregonLive
Walk by the bouquets in buckets at Costco, Trader Joe’s or Walmart, and you may wonder how these mega stores can sell flowers for less than a buck.

The answer: Colombia.

About 20,000 acres — drenched in sun and rain — are devoted to growing roses, carnations and mums that will be cut, boxed and flown overnight to Miami and end up in a vase on your dining room table.

One farm alone, Flores El Trigal, in the Rionegro region outside of Medellin, sends 120 million stems a year to U.S. retailers, from Sam’s Club to Whole Foods Market. About 175 acres of mountainous land is populated with plant or propagations for El Trigal, the largest flower grower in the region based on sales volume.

Workers’ wages are about $450 a month and they pay $10 a month per child to attend a preschool next to the farm. The cost for childcare is subsidized by the farm and the government.

On Jan. 20, some of the 52 preschoolers were sitting on the floor and learning their numbers in one classroom while toddlers were clapping to teachers’ songs in another room.

Principal Cristina Hogar was keeping kids on track, while next door, their parents were pumping out production for the upcoming, flower-centric Valentine’s Day. Boxes of mums — some colorized with bright food color to be called “Crazy Daisies” — were being packaged, cooled and prepared for overnight flights to Miami.

In the weeks ramping up to Valentine’s and Mother’s days, the number of dedicated cargo jets triples. Every night, around 30 to 35 jumbo jets blast out of Bogota and Medellin — once called “the most dangerous city in the world” — to Miami. The cargo: fresh cut flowers.

The $1 billion in petal products that Colombia sends the U.S. folds into the $8 billion a year that Americans spend on cut flowers. That number sounds high, but when compared to other countries, it’s low. Even the U.K. spends more to decorate their table tops. One report says Americans spend about $29 a year on fresh cut flowers.

Flower growers want to boost American’s need (or desire) for flowers. Expect to start hearing about a new spring, flower-expected holiday: The Women’s Day campaign is coming your way.

Where Costco and Whole Foods find flowers
Flores El Trigal flower farms in Antioquia, Colombia, send 120 million stems a year to Costco, Trader Joe’s, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Whole Foods and other large retailers.
In the meantime, kids are learning their numbers and clapping and singing as their parents work the flower fields of Colombia. Cargo jets filled with cut flowers fly into Miami every morning. And frugal American Romeos can nab a bundle of flowers for less than the cost of two tickets to see “Fifty Shades of Grey” in theaters starting Valentine’s Day.

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