Juan Barreto/AFP by way of Getty Images
If you ship a bouquet of roses for Valentine’s Day, chances are high they have been grown in Colombia. It stays the No. 1 provider of flowers to the U.S. though the coronavirus pandemic at one level threatened to wilt the business.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” mentioned José Restrepo, co-owner and normal supervisor of the Ayurá flower farm, situated simply north of Bogotá within the Andean mountain city of Tocancipá.
As Restrepo spoke, staff carrying face masks and rubber gloves rushed to clip, kind and field roses forward of Sunday’s romantic vacation that accounts for one-third of Ayurá’s annual gross sales.
The farm’s industrial supervisor, Claudia Fuentes, mentioned clients can select from a rainbow of hues — 35 in the case of roses and greater than 60 for carnations.
“For Valentine’s Day the favorite color is red, but hot pink is second,” she mentioned whereas strolling by way of one of many greenhouses. “We have light pink, hot pink, medium pink … red, yellow, white, lavender.”
Ayurá is one among tons of of Colombian flower farms that, in a standard yr, promote about $1.5 billion value of roses, carnations, orchids and different species to the U.S., Europe and Asia, in line with Augusto Solano, director of the Colombian Flower Exporters’ Association.
But when the pandemic hit final March, the Colombian authorities imposed one of many strictest and longest financial lockdowns in Latin America. International flights have been drastically lowered making it tougher to export. Meanwhile, abroad demand diminished as weddings, graduations and different ceremonies have been canceled.
As COVID-19 unfold — so way over 56,000 Colombians have died from the illness — Restrepo and different farm homeowners feared they must rip up most of their flower beds and lay off 1000’s of staff.
“We started hearing about the first lockdowns, the cancellation of flights, big customers, big wholesalers in the U.S. shutting their operations,” Restrepo mentioned. “And at that moment we didn’t know what to do.”
But the flower business was among the many first in Colombia to undertake security measures to guard staff. Farms put in plexiglass partitions in processing services, added extra work shifts and introduced in smaller numbers of staff per shift to offer them more room. All of this helped persuade the Colombian authorities to permit flower farms to proceed working.
“We moved very fast to put all of these plans in place,” mentioned Restrepo, who famous that solely a couple of dozen of his 500 staff examined constructive for the coronavirus.
In addition, the demand for flowers rapidly rebounded. With folks caught indoors for months on finish, Solano mentioned that contemporary flowers proved to be one of many simpler and cheaper methods to enliven the decor and alter the surroundings.
“People have been isolated so you cannot hug someone, or you cannot show your smile. And maybe a bouquet of flowers is a way to express that feeling,” he mentioned. “Flowers are food for the soul, food for the spirit. And that’s why people kept buying flowers.”
As a end result, Solano mentioned flower exports final yr dropped by simply 5% and are anticipated to rebound this yr. And whilst Colombia’s unemployment rate practically doubled final yr to twenty.2%, virtually the entire nation’s 140,000 flower staff saved their jobs.
Among them is Flor Rodríguez, a single mom who has labored on the Ayurá farm for 14 years. When her eldest daughter misplaced her accounting job through the lockdown, Rodríguez mentioned her regular wage clipping carnations helped her prolonged household, that features three grandchildren, get by.
“We feel blessed,” Rodríguez mentioned of the farm’s workforce. “We have been working the whole time and we didn’t get sick with COVID.”
Claudia Fuentes, the farm’s industrial supervisor, can also be grateful that the business survived the pandemic. The rush forward of Valentine’s Day, she mentioned, symbolizes “hope, the start of a new time.”
But Fuentes and the opposite flower staff within the nation will not have a lot time to rejoice. Pretty quickly, they will be gearing up for a crush of orders forward of Mother’s Day.