FROM A PERSON WHO MATTERS
South of Quito, near the equator at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet in the Andes, Nevado Ecuador sends some 40 varieties of fresh cut roses to discriminating buyers in two dozen countries around the world. Roberto Nevado, age 69, the company founder, has spent more than 40 years in the rose business. Originally from Spain, he began his career as a rose broker in Stockholm. He started the Ecuador farm 10 years ago, catering to buyers who seek new rose varieties with large heads, high petal counts, long stems, and long vase life. Roberto’s son John is company president and a member of the prestigious Young Global Leaders, part of the World Economic Forum in Davos. He sought to make Nevado Ecuador a model of sustainability. After four years of research, preparation, and investment, the Nevados have fully transitioned one section of their farm to organic production systems in partnership with Organic Bouquet. Those organic flowers have gained Organic Style widespread renown through its flagship brand Organic Bouquet.
Nevado is justifiably proud of how its “roses with a conscience” are grown. All the flowers have been independently certified as highly as possible - including VeriFlora® certification. Nevado Ecuador is also proud of how it treats employees, offering medical coverage, a free dental clinic, childcare, healthy meals, three weeks vacation, and sponsorship of a local internet café.
Amy Stewart’s award-winning book Flower Confidential, which was a New York Times best seller, takes us behind the scenes of the business of world-wide flower growing. Here is the book’s report on Nevado Ecuador.
I was at Roberto Nevado’s farm in Ecuador just as it was working toward its VeriFlora® certification. Nevado Ecuador is situated in the Cotopaxi province south of Quito, where the snowcapped volcano of the same name reaches over 19,000 feet and dominates the horizon. This region, with its sweeping plains, good soil, and a ready workforce from the countryside and from the province’s capital, Latacunga, has become a kind of secondary flower-growing region to Cayambe.
Nevado bills itself as “Roses with a Conscience,” and it’s got the plaques on the wall to back that claim up: it’s won certifications from the Swiss, German, Dutch, Ecuadorian, and the new American VeriFlora® programs, among others. Its goal is to remain the most certified grower in the world.
At first I was surprised by how much the world’s most certified flower farm looked like any other farm I’d seen. There were the same rows of hoop-houses, the same towering plants pushing rosebuds high above my head, the same radios blasting popular music (some growers believe that a particular type of music makes the plants grow faster, but most agree that the best strategy for the plants is to play whatever music the workers like best). A few greenhouses held hydroponic roses, the only ones I’d seen in Ecuador, but for the most part it was hard to distinguish this from its neighbors. In the production room I had to ask why the workers wore so little protective gear - just a rubber apron and gloves - and one of the managers smiled at me and said, “When you use less chemicals, you don’t need all that protection.” That’s when I realized that what I couldn’t see made all the difference. What they weren’t doing was every bit as important as what they were doing.
Less toxic pesticides mean shorter re-entry restrictions in greenhouses. Careful management of the plants means that fewer roses require a postharvest dip, and those that do require treatment are dipped in the least toxic fungicide available. Like other high-end growers, Nevado plants under 28,000 plants per acre, which allows for more air circulation and lets them pay more attention to each plant. They also limit their production to about 35 varieties, but within their selection I found many of my new-found favorites. The lime green ‘Limbo’ grows there, as does the tricolor pink, cream, and green ‘Esperance’ and ‘Red Intuition’, a red rose with a kind of variegated pattern on its petals, as if darker red paint had been splashed over them.
‘Red Intuition’ is a good example of the kind of premium rose that is almost impossible to find in the United States. Each flower has an enormous head that grows on perfectly straight, five-foot-tall stems. At the farm these roses were exhibited in sturdy glass floor vases. It would be hard to imagine a room, except perhaps a ballroom, that would be large enough to accommodate a bouquet of these sitting on a table.
By commercial rose-growing standards, Nevado is small—the farm occupies only about 75 acres and produces 20 million roses a year, two million of which go to the U.S. market - and it employs only 400 employees, all of whom enjoy the protections and benefits mandated by their many certifications. That means they have the right to organize and the right to present grievances, and they get additional protections against pesticide exposure, harassment, and forced overtime, among other hazards of the job. The company provides an on-site lunch, a community room, and medical and child-care programs.
Each bunch of Nevado roses is sold with a sticker inside the sleeve that reads “Nevado Ecuador, Roses with a Conscience.” Below that, it reads “Handmade by” and a blank where the worker writes her name. Those stickers are there so that each woman can leave her mark on the roses before they go out into the world. A person harvested these roses, the sticker implies - they’re from a person who matters.
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