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?
Of course they should. 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, two of the key concerns for flower farmers—in Colombia and around the world—include minimizing the use of pesticides and protecting precious water resources.
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 mesh, made with netting in a medical-grade weave, is fine enough to keep out even the tiny spores of botrytis mold.
The mitts are hand sewn on the premises, washed regularly and reused. They must also be carefully applied and removed by hand. They are part of the farm’s eco-friendly system of integrated pest management (IPM). This approach also includes introducing good bugs to the greenhouses so they can eat the bad bugs that might otherwise cause disease or damage to the flowers. Thanks to its implementation of IPM, the farm has been able to reduce pest spray by more than half.
Farm and Country
Another thing that visitors to the farms will notice is the natural beauty of the surrounding environment—beauty that reflects a commitment to its preservation and even restoration.
Conservation and recycling of water protect the groundwater resources of the beautiful Bogotá savannah. Rainwater is captured and conserved in large reservoirs on the farm grounds. 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 and such—is composted, while paper and plastic are recycled.
Sustainability also means that production should sustain the farmworkers who contribute their labor to it.
Where garden roses are concerned, having a skilled and reliable workforce is even more important than with other types of flowers. Growing roses, in general, requires a higher level of expertise. Garden roses, in particular, require variety-specific training and experience. Everything is done by hand: sowing, harvesting, bunching, grading and packing.
“We’re fortunate to have rose-loving people working here,” says Alexandra Farms owner Joey Azout. In the greenhouses, each rose bed is assigned to a specific worker, which creates a sense of pride and responsibility in that person. Over time, greenhouse workers learn to judge the precise moment when a rose is ready for cutting.
In the packing areas, employees are consulted about the design of their workstations—a strategy that has resulted in greater efficiency and a reduction in mechanical damage to the flowers, down to just two percent. Every bunch is “signed” by the employee who makes it, again expressing—and instilling—pride in the work.
Generous benefits help to 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.”
The Gold Standard
Since 2013 Alexandra Farms has been certified by Florverde Sustainable Flowers (FSF), Colombia’s voluntary program that establishes some of the highest standards in the world with regard to social and environmental policies.
“We’re very proud to be certified by Florverde,” says Azout. The program means that all the good things accomplished at Alexandra Farms are reviewed and verified by third-party auditors, who can also make suggestions for further improvements.
But in the end, sustainability is more than a label or a 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, in good supply, and produced in a way that honors the earth and all its inhabitants for a long, long time.