QUITO, ECUADOR — A busload of journalists on a junket touring flower farms in Ecuador sees exotic sights along the way: Holstein dairy cattle peacefully grazing on a schoolyard as children in school uniforms caper among them; majestic mountains with narrow, white-knuckle highways winding around them, bereft of guardrails; and, of course, a pet llama who demurely bussed a journalist on the cheek.
Our tour ranged from an hour north of Quito, into the mountainous Cayambe area one day, then on another day, two-and-a-half hours south to Latacunga, a small village in a high mountain valley. The town is famous for its ice cream, and dotted with some 30 ice cream parlors, each with an incongruous, malevolent plastic clown statue outside the door.
In Cayambe, about two miles above sea level, one of the farms we visited was GreenRose, part of ProducNorte Group, located about five minutes north of the equator on a plateau with mountains rising in the background. The farm is certified by BASC, a supply chain security organization, and FlorEcuador, an offshoot of Expoflores, the flower exporter group in Ecuador. FlorEcuador is a self-management program with social and environmental standards
GreenRose grows about 100 varieties of roses on about 40 acres, in soil and hydroponically in buckets. Its general manager, Carlos Espinosa, told the visiting journalists that although most of the roses are grown in soil, about a third now grow hydroponically. “We can grow more roses per square foot with hydroponics,” he noted.
“We learned a lot from watching our hydroponic flowers,” said the manager, noting that hydroponics require more attention. “They are less forgiving of mistakes,” he explained, since the nutrients are directly taken up, not dispersed through the soil.
The farm has 200 employees, and management is proud of its low turnover, only 6 percent compared with an average of 15 percent in Ecuador flower farms. High labor costs make it expensive to enter the floral industry here, the Mr. Espinosa said. Almost all employees are local, and GreenRose helps support the local school and community center as well as offering classes for its employees in family planning, human relations, health, recycling, and other topics.
GreenRose sells half of its output to the U.S. market, its main customer. Some 60 percent of its production is presold through standing orders.
At Latacunga, Nevado Roses, “Roses with a Conscience,” wears its corporate heart on its sleeve. Posters state the company’s policies against sexual harassment, discrimination, drugs, and for fair labor practices, environmental protection and other topics. Supporting those statements is a bevy of certification labels, about a dozen, which would look impressive emblazoned on a NASCAR driver.
John Nevado, president of the company and tour guide, said the farm converted to fully organic roses five years ago and is branching out into other product lines for its organic roses: rose tea, rose petals with cooking recipes, rose vinegar, rose marmalade, rose-flavored chocolate, rose syrup, rose salt, rose energy bars and rose candy.
Roberto Nevado, John’s father, bought the farmland in Ecuador in 1993, cannily choosing an altitude with 90 days of production, so that it can produce for both Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, John Nevado said. Now 550 employees work on the farm, and each rose after harvest is touched by 17 different workers before it leaves on a truck to the airport.