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With steady sunshine and cheap labor, Colombian farms yield $1 billion in exports, dominating the United States market. (Ivan Kashinsky)

The Secrets Behind Your Flowers

Chances are the bouquet you're about to buy came from Colombia. What's behind the blooms?

The global marketplace will always demand cheaper flowers, and Colombian farms must compete with growers in other nations, including neighboring Ecuador and rising flower power Kenya. Increasingly, though, there’s another factor flower growers must consider: independent flower certification programs, including Fair Trade flowers, VeriFlora and the Rainforest Alliance, which are working to certify farms in Colombia.

Such programs have been key to Colombia’s business in Europe, where customers pay close attention to the source of their flowers. The U.S. trade in certified flowers is tiny by comparison—my Mother’s Day bouquet bore no certification notice—but growing. “Sustainability is an attribute that consumers are seeking,” says Linda Brown, creator of the certification standards for VeriFlora, which is based in Emeryville, California. “When you are looking 10 to 20 years out, sustainability will become the way that people do business.”

As for David Cheever, he had an eventful ride through the revolution he started with his grad school paper. He says he and his colleagues differed and he was forced out of Floramérica in July 1971, not long after it started. “I went home and cried all afternoon,” he says. But he went on to create his own success, starting carnation-propagation businesses. “I feel myself as more of a missionary than an entrepreneur,” he says.

John McQuaid has written extensively on environmental issues. Ivan Kashinsky is a contributor to the book Infinite Ecuador.

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