Whether they compose a bridal bouquet, send a heartfelt message of love or simply fill a room with their fragrance, flowers celebrate the self-renewing beauty and vitality of nature. Shouldn’t they be grown in a way that honors that idea?
That is the very definition of sustainability: a way of doing things that shows appreciation for the bountiful earth by replenishing, rather than depleting it—along with respect and support for the earth’s human inhabitants.
Sustainability has always been a key part of the foundational philosophy at Alexandra Farms. It is valued for its own sake—but it turns out that over the long term, sustainable strategies also pay dividends in terms of consistent quality.
When it comes to preserving and even restoring the natural environment, one of the key concerns for flower farmers around the world is minimizing the use of pesticides.
Visitors to the Alexandra Farms greenhouses will see the tops of the tallest stems covered with mesh mitts, which protect the budding roses from pests without the use of chemical pesticides. The mitts are made with netting in a medical-grade weave, which is fine enough to keep out even the tiny spores of botrytis mold. They are hand-sewn at the farm, washed regularly and reused.
These mitts are part of the farm’s eco-friendly system of integrated pest management (IPM). This approach also includes introducing desirable bugs to the greenhouses so they can eat unwanted bugs that may cause disease or damage to the flowers. Thanks to its implementation of IPM, the farm has been able to reduce pest spray usage by more than half.
Farm and Country
Visit the farm, and it's difficult to miss the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. This beauty reflects an on-going commitment to the preservation and restoration of the land.
Water conservation and recycling efforts protect groundwater resources of the beautiful Bogotá savannah. Rainwater is captured and conserved in large reservoirs on the farm's grounds for later use. Likewise, runoff from the irrigation systems that keep the rose plants healthy is captured, purified and reused.
All around the greenhouses, unproductive areas have been replanted with native species, supplying natural habitat for wild birds and other creatures.
All biodegradable waste from farm operations—discarded leaves, stems, etc.—is composted, while paper and plastic are recycled.
At Alexandra Farms, sustainability also means that farm production should sustain the workers who contribute their labor to it.
Where garden roses are concerned, having a skilled and reliable workforce is incredibly important—even more so than with other types of flowers. Growing roses requires a high level of expertise. Garden roses, in particular, require variety-specific training and experience because everything is done by hand: sowing, harvesting, bunching, grading and packing.
“We’re fortunate to have rose-loving people working here,” says Jose R. Azout, Alexandra Farms owner. In the greenhouses, each rose bed is assigned to a specific worker, creating a sense of pride and responsibility in the person. The ownership that employees feel for their work is critical to the health and beauty of the garden roses.
In the packing areas, employees are routinely consulted about the design of their workstations—a strategy that has resulted in greater efficiency and a significant reduction in damage to the flowers. Every bunch is “signed” with a sticker bearing the name of the employee who packs it, again expressing and instilling pride in their work.
Generous benefits help attract and retain loyal, committed, hard-working employees. The benefits offered at Alexandra Farms range from healthy hot lunches to a program that helps workers buy their own homes.
As at other Colombian flower farms, about 60 percent of the workers at Alexandra Farms are women, many of them single mothers. “Giving women a paycheck has changed the social dynamic in rural Colombia,” says Azout. “We’ve seen the changes in our local communities as women have gained purchasing power. This is an incredible thing.”
The Gold Standard
Since 2013 Alexandra Farms has been certified by Florverde Sustainable Flowers, Colombia’s voluntary program that establishes some of the highest standards in the world with regard to social and environmental policies. All of the sustainability efforts implemented by the farm are reviewed and verified by third-party auditors, who also make suggestions for further improvements. “We’re very proud to be certified by Florverde,” says Azout.
In the end, sustainability is much more than a label or a trendy marketing scheme. It’s a way of life and a business strategy that means garden roses from Alexandra Farms can be counted on to remain reliably fresh, available in good supply and produced in a way that honors the earth and its inhabitants for many years to come.