As you pay an inflated prices for long-stemmed roses for your sweetheart this weekend, it may make you feel a little better knowing how far those fragile flowers have come. There’s a good chance they were on a truck, then a plane, then another truck or two, all the way from the Equator. Or as they say in Spanish, Ecuador.
Roses aren’t the leading export from Ecuador since they don’t pull in as much money as other crops like bananas, coffee, or cocoa. The country actually makes more from petroleum and shrimp too. But if you tour through the High Valley near Otavalo, you’ll see greenhouse after greenhouse that is filled with roses of every color. Some estimates peg Ecuador as the largest rose producer in the world (with Colombia vying for the top spot) and it certainly has some of the world’s largest plantations. They export some varieties that are six feet high.
I got to tour through one of them when I was there a few months ago, while taking the obligatory trip out to the Otavalo weekend market. I wasn’ t really expecting much, but then I got there and was flabbergasted. Rows and rows of roses of white, then go one building over and it’s rows and rows of pink. Then black, red, striped combinations. A whole army of workers buzzed around spraying, cutting, cleaning, transporting, and packaging. Carts are pushed around an elaborate system of overhead tracks to move the flowers from building to building.
All of this needs to happen fast. The whole journey from cutting the flower to it appearing on some lucky girl’s desk needs to happen in just a few days. The packing and storage happen in refrigerated rooms and the flowers move to the Quito airport on refrigerated trucks. They are whisked off in a plane to the U.S. or Europe, then loaded into more refrigerated trucks on the other end to get to distribution points. Finally, the florist’s shop.
The whole process requires plenty of coordination and project management and naturally there’s plenty of inherent risk. What if a landslide keeps the trucks from getting to Quito? What happens if a snowstorm hits in February and flights can’t land in the cities? In a sense, when you buy those roses you are paying for much more than flowers. You are paying for lots of risk and lots of fuel. Oh, and pesticides of course. (There are some organic rose growers like this one, but not many.)
So no, this is nothing close to being a “green gift” for Valentine’s Day. Since cocoa has to be shipped from far away, the green party poopers will probably rule chocolates out too. Maybe a nice dinner instead, at a restaurant that serves locally sourced food? To follow, there’s that other Valentine’s Day tradition that’s free, but it requires a very warm bedroom, so maybe let’s just forget being eco-friendly for a day and enjoy the moment.