American Elephants

The Story Behind Your Flowers by The Elephant's Child

March comes in, they say, like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  Could be.  Today started off with sunshine, and has devolved into brief cloudbursts, short windstorm–the kind that would shut down the turbines— another cloudburst and more sunshine.  It’s 45° and I can still see a patch of blue sky out the window, but clouds dominate.  Fortunately, the grocery stores are full of blooms to assuage the gloom.

There are various bursts — Valentine’s Day flowers were a reminder to every man who entered the store that he’d better not forget to take some home.  We’ll have some green-dyed carnations for St. Patrick’s Day, and then explosions of flowers for Easter and Mother’s Day.  But where do they all come from when the weather is so miserable here?

This fascinating article from the Smithsonian tells the story about how Col0mbia became our major supplier of flowers.  It is a remarkable story of   specialization and innovation.


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… and the power of NGOs and consumer preferences. In its early days, the industry was dangerous and chemical-laden, and managers took frequent liberties with its female employees. Thanks to the efforts of local activists and foreign NGOs, the industry finally began to clean up its act:

In the 1990s, the Colombia flower industry’s success in American and European markets drew attention to its practices; a stream of reports about harsh treatment of workers and depletion of natural resources followed. At the same time, consumers began to care more about how their goods were being produced, so Colombia’s flower farms began to respond. “It’s definitely improved over time, particularly as a result of the different organizations giving everybody adverse publicity,” says Catherine Ziegler, author of the book Favored Flowers, about the global industry.


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