Have your clients asked you where your fresh flowers and greens come from? The floral industry can seem like a mysterious one for the average end-consumer, so we want to provide you with some answers on how we source fresh product from ethically-run farms.
After a four year pandemic-related pause, Tyler Paterson, Florists Supply Director of Cut Flowers Operations, recently journeyed to nearly half of the 50 flower farms we work with in Ecuador and Colombia. These regular visits allow us to forge stronger relationships with the individuals responsible for filling our orders. The farms are happy and excited to put a face to an account, and are appreciative of Tyler’s questions, thoughts, and recommendations. Creating such relationships can go a long way to ensuring we are able to source breathtaking blooms for shops across Canada.
We are also able to ensure our partnering farms are providing safe and comfortable working environments for their employees. Only after their processes meet our expectations do we seek out their innovations and any prospective unique flower offerings..
The Specific Type of Farms We’ll Work With
At Florists Supply, we are particular in the way we assess and select the growers we partner with. Many workers in Ecuador and Colombia do not enjoy the workers’ rights we have in North America. It is up to employers in these areas to treat their employees in a just and ethical manner. Unfortunately, this is not always the case as employers may choose to provide their employees with the bare minimum. Farms displaying unfair working conditions are ones we would avoid.
Similar to Fairtrade and other third-party organizations, we expect our partnering farms to fit within our set criteria. They need to have a commitment to quality when processing flowers, and actively invest in bettering the lives of their employees. The only way we can ensure this is happening is by personally visiting growers, talking to their workers, and seeing their processes firsthand.
Reputable farms invest in proper safety measures to protect workers and their communities. This can include having proper PPE when using dangerous machinery or chemicals, and having responsible water waste management systems.
How Farms Improve Their Workers’ Lives
During visits, Tyler wants to know that a farm treats its workers with personal respect and dignity. Many of our farms are family-run businesses and treat their workers as such. But at any farm, we look to see if the workers are genuinely happy at their jobs. A reputable farm’s workers should have no problem walking up to visitors, like Tyler, to say “hi” or spark up a conversation.
Updated infrastructure that improves the work environment for their employees is a common sight for Tyler at reputable farms. For example, one farm built brand new facilities including changing areas, nurses’ offices for sick or injured staff, showers, and laundry areas for employees. While not all farms go to these lengths, the farms we work with try to continually invest in their staff and community in some way.
You may be wondering why we don’t just work with farms that are Fairtrade Certified. While we do, there are many other reputable farms that run their business similarly to Fairtrade. Some even believe in the Fairtrade philosophy but can’t afford the fees for the certification. Instead of relying on a third-party label, we use our own eyes and ethics to select our partnering farms.
Making Sure Farms Handle Our Flower Orders With Care
Another reason Tyler makes the effort to visit these farms is to see how they process blooms for export. Particularly, we want to see the post-harvest process of each farm we work with. This is the stage where the flowers are taken to a warehouse to be prepared for export after they’ve been harvested. It is important that farms are preparing flowers properly. If they don’t, a flower shipment may get stopped at the border, arrive dead, or lose quality.
Tyler also looks for how farms inspect flowers for pests before they arrive on the processing floor. A whole shipment of that product can be delayed if even one pest is found. He will then look briefly to see how the farms grade the flowers.
Inspecting Flower Packing Standards
The packing area is Tyler’s next stop. Here, he may provide input to help farms notice how their packing methods can damage the flowers. This might happen when farms try to maximize the cubic volume of a box by packing too many flowers bundles together. They do this to try to provide extra value by squeezing that extra bundle in, genuinely not realizing the harm. Physically being there allows Tyler to offer suggestions on how they can correct their process in-person based on how past cut flower orders have arrived to us in Canada.
Once the blooms are packed, Tyler wants to see that the boxes are sent to a pre-cooler that cycles cool air through the boxes (this is the reason for those flaps at the ends). Some blooms, like hydrangea, may not need to be pre-cooled. However, most are due to their ambient temperature when taken from the field, which gets trapped during packaging. Boxes can heat transfer from one to another during shipment when stacked on a pallet.
When flowers are shipped at too high a temperature, they can arrive severely damaged or dead. To prevent this, most farms pre-cool their flower to about 2 Celsius, putting them in a dormant state. This process also removes moisture, allowing us to be confident the flower will arrive alive and free of damage or disease.
Testing and Investment
It is also beneficial to work with farms that test and monitor the varieties they grow. This helps them investigate quality complaints from buyers by seeing if the week’s test bunch had the same issue. For example, if we receive a bunch that is damaged and the farm practices testing, we can contact them. They can then refer to the test bunch to see if there is a pattern. From there, they are able to identify the key problem allowing for a joint solution to be found.
The farms we work with also invest in upgrading infrastructure to make their farms more sustainable. For instance, collecting and holding rainwater to be reused is a big initiative at most farms as it is an important resource in the growing process. It is also a sustainable process, as we are seeing increased water supply scarcity worldwide. Other farms have invested in new machines that can lay out flower bunches, grade, and bunch flowers, or in new massive coolers to increase capacity. Some farms are beginning to test alternative materials to plastic that can offer the same packing protection as flowers.
Seeing the Newest Flower Varieties
Probably the most interesting part of Tyler’s trips are the new flowers in development. Each time he visits, farms are eager to show him new varieties, colours, and types of flowers they can offer. If Tyler likes what he sees, he will order a sample and test it to see how it ships and handles the journey to Canada. If testing is successful, he will ask our Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) to put out some feelers. At the end of the day, we want to bring in varieties that you love.
We hope sharing Tyler’s visit helps provide clarity to you and your clients on where your flowers come from! Stay tuned on Instagram and Tik Tok as we hope to give you some more sneak peeks of some new varieties in the future.