Some readers may believe their only contact with Colombian products to be that aromatic cup of coffee in the morning. Well, if you have ever given or received roses for Valentine’s Day there is a good chance they came from Colombia. Depending upon what reporting agency you subscribe to, anywhere from 60 percent to 75 percent of the flowers that stand for love in America come from the Bogotá area.
Leaving the city in almost any direction you can see plastic covered greenhouses. Sometimes there are under ten of them together. At other times they stretch for a couple miles.
It was in the 1980's when these flower exports first began with very attractive prices to florists in the USA. The contention from American growers was that the prices were so low because narco-traffickers were using the sales as a way to smuggle cocaine into the USA, and indeed the white powder was found in crates of flowers that arrived in Miami. So you can understand why I chuckled a little inside when I read Megan Swoyer’s article “How to Choose Flowers that Last for Your Valentine,” and it said “…we sniff out which last the longest, “
Another point of contention for Colombia's over 100 million dollar industry comes from American labor unions. The AFL-CIO claims Colombian flower workers are greatly exploited, made to work in hazardous conditions without sufficient protective gear and for low pay.
I have seen many flower operations. Employees who work with the over 450 million roses sent to the U.S.A. have been my neighbors. These workers get paid about $328 USD a month for working 48 hour weeks.
There are about 400 flower growing establishments in the area. Some are terrible employers exuding all the bad things the AFL-CIO states, while others supply the necessary safety equipment and even offer a free day care center for their workers, who are mostly young women. Regardless, I know that it is difficult work and that this old gringo would not last long on the job.
When my wife and I starting dating I lived in the States. I naturally sent her roses on Valentines Day having no idea the roses even came from her country. Then I learned that while February 14 is celebrated in many countries around the world, it is not in Colombia. Instead on September 17 they celebrate Diá Del Amor Y Amistad (day of love and friendship). But with my initial Valentines Day roses I started a tradition and so now my wife gets something special twice a year. But she is worth it.
The good part is that when the time of year is not around either of the lover dates, the roses are very well priced. I have purchased a dozen from street vendors for as little as $2.50 USD.
So, on Valentine’s Day while drinking your coffee and admiring the lovely roses from that someone special, you now know that you have been nicely touched by Colombia twice.