World’s Strangest

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The Secrets Behind Your Flowers

In 1967, Colorado State University graduate student David Cheever wrote a term paper on the Colombian cut flower industry. In 1969, he went to Colombia and started a business. Things took off from there.

It’s not often that a global industry springs from a school assignment, but Cheever’s paper and business efforts started an economic revolution in Colombia. A few other growers had exported flowers to the United States, but Floramérica turned it into a big business. Within five years of Floramérica’s debut at least ten more flower-growing companies were operating on the savanna, exporting some $16 million in cut flowers to the United States. By 1991, the World Bank reported, the industry was “a textbook story of how a market economy works.” Today, the country is the world’s second-largest exporter of cut flowers, after the Netherlands, shipping more than $1 billion in blooms. Colombia now commands about 70 percent of the U.S. market; if you buy a bouquet in a supermarket, big-box store or airport kiosk, it probably came from the Bogotá savanna.

The Colombian flower industry has its problems, like hard work and low wages, pesticide dangers, and environmental impact -not to mention the effect it has on the US flower industry. On the other hand, there is a movement to certify fair labor practices, and working with flowers offers workers economic independence and possibly a better life than they would have otherwise. Smithsonian has the story of how your flowers are grown, picked, and shipped. Link

(Image credit: Ivan Kashinsky)

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