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There’s A Good Chance Your Valentine’s Flowers Come From Colombia – NPR Illinois

There’s A Good Chance Your Valentine’s Flowers Come From Colombia – NPR Illinois

If you send a bouquet of roses for Valentine’s Day, chances are they were grown in Colombia. It remains the No. 1 supplier of flowers to the U.S. even though the coronavirus pandemic at one point threatened to wilt the industry. “It’s been a roller coaster,” said José Restrepo, co-owner and general manager of the

If you send a bouquet of roses for Valentine’s Day, chances are they were grown in Colombia. It remains the No. 1 supplier of flowers to the U.S. even though the coronavirus pandemic at one point threatened to wilt the industry.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” said José Restrepo, co-owner and general manager of the Ayurá flower farm, located just north of Bogotá in the Andean mountain town of Tocancipá.

As Restrepo spoke, workers wearing face masks and rubber gloves rushed to clip, sort and box roses ahead of Sunday’s romantic holiday that accounts for one-third of Ayurá’s annual sales.

The farm’s commercial manager, Claudia Fuentes, said customers can choose from a rainbow of hues — 35 when it comes to roses and more than 60 for carnations.

“For Valentine’s Day the favorite color is red, but hot pink is second,” she said while strolling through one of the greenhouses. “We have light pink, hot pink, medium pink … red, yellow, white, lavender.”

Ayurá is one of hundreds of Colombian flower farms that, in a normal year, sell about $1.5 billion worth of roses, carnations, orchids and other species to the U.S., Europe and Asia, according to Augusto Solano, director of the Colombian Flower Exporters’ Association.

But when the pandemic hit last March, the Colombian government imposed one of the strictest and longest economic lockdowns in Latin America. International flights were drastically reduced making it harder to export. Meanwhile, overseas demand diminished as weddings, graduations and other ceremonies were canceled.

As COVID-19 spread — so far more than 56,000 Colombians have died from the disease — Restrepo and other farm owners feared they would have to rip up most of their flower beds and lay off thousands of employees.

“We started hearing about the first lockdowns, the cancellation of flights, big customers, big wholesalers in the U.S. shutting their operations,” Restrepo said. “And at that moment we didn’t know what to do.”

But the flower industry was among the first in Colombia to adopt safety measures to protect workers. Farms installed plexiglass partitions in processing facilities, added more work shifts and brought in smaller numbers of employees per shift to give them more space. All of this helped convince the Colombian government to allow flower farms to continue operating.

“We moved very fast to put all of these plans in place,” said Restrepo, who noted that only about a dozen of his 500 workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

In addition, the demand for flowers quickly rebounded. With people stuck indoors for months on end, Solano said that fresh flowers proved to be one of the easier and cheaper ways to liven up the decor and change the scenery.

“People have been isolated so you cannot hug someone, or you cannot show your smile. And maybe a bouquet of flowers is a way to express that feeling,” he said. “Flowers are food for the soul, food for the spirit. And that’s why people kept buying flowers.”

As a result, Solano said flower exports last year dropped by just 5% and are expected to rebound this year. And even as Colombia’s unemployment rate nearly doubled last year to 20.2%, almost all of the country’s 140,000 flower workers kept their jobs.

Among them is Flor Rodríguez, a single mother who has worked on the Ayurá farm for 14 years. When her eldest daughter lost her accounting job during the lockdown, Rodríguez said her steady salary clipping carnations helped her extended family, that includes three grandchildren, get by.

“We feel blessed,” Rodríguez said of the farm’s workforce. “We have been working the whole time and we didn’t get sick with COVID.”

Claudia Fuentes, the farm’s commercial manager, is also thankful that the industry survived the pandemic. The rush ahead of Valentine’s Day, she said, symbolizes “hope, the start of a new time.”

But Fuentes and the other flower workers in the country won’t have much time to celebrate. Pretty soon, they’ll be gearing up for a crush of orders ahead of Mother’s Day.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


A congresswoman from southwest Washington State was unexpectedly at the center of the Senate impeachment trial. Friday, Jaime Herrera Beutler, one of the House Republicans who voted in favor of impeaching Donald Trump, corroborated a heated phone call between the president and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Her statement was submitted as evidence in the trial. Herrera Beutler has been a prominent voice within the GOP against the former president. Joining us now to talk about how people in Washington state’s 3rd District are reacting to their congresswoman’s actions is Troy Brynelson from Oregon Public Broadcasting.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first, tell us a little bit about Herrera Beutler. Who is she, and what was her stance on Trump before all of this?

BRYNELSON: Yeah so Jaime Herrera Beutler is a Republican from the rural community of Battle Ground, Wash. She was first elected in 2010 and has been a consistent force in this district. She regularly wins her races by double digits. But it was only recently that she ever embraced Trump. In 2016, she famously said she would write in Paul Ryan, saying she couldn’t vote for Trump in good conscience. In 2020, however, she was more vocal about voting for Trump. Even after the January 6 insurrection, she was referring to Trump as her guy. But then it came time to vote for impeachment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. And she became one of 10 Republican House members who voted for impeachment. And I’m wondering, were there any ramifications locally for that?

BRYNELSON: Yes, she faced some pretty swift rebuke here from the more conservative corners of the district. Here, Trump won six counties last fall, but those are largely rural, less populated counties. And he did very well there. But its most populous county, Clark County, is far more purple. It’s the population center of the district. And Republican organizations here weren’t pulling punches. The Clark County Republican women said they’d never vote for Herrera Beutler again. The head of the Clark County GOP said his phone was ringing nonstop with people feeling betrayed. If you talk to these groups, they say Trump continues to enjoy a ton of support here, and his supporters aren’t going to forget.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess, you know, that brings us to right now because she, again, pit herself against her district’s Trump supporters by tweeting a statement with details about Trump’s behavior during the Capitol riot. She did this Friday night after both sides in the impeachment trials ended their presentations. I mean, how are her constituents responding to that?

BRYNELSON: Yeah, it’s true that Trump supporters here are reacting quickly, but remember this is a swing district. In the months since, we’ve been hearing from more moderate Republicans who are coming to her defense. I talked with a prolific Republican donor here who regularly communicates with Herrera Beutler, and he said he’s hearing from other donors across the country who want to make sure they contribute to her next campaign. The donor said that if Herrera Beutler’s actions have so angered the base, they’ll make sure she has a war chest.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, it’s an interesting point, right? The division between the donor class and the base. But does that mean that she’ll likely face a Republican in her primary? I mean, there are forces that might want that.

BRYNELSON: Yeah, it’s possible. What’s interesting here is in Washington state’s primary system, it advances the top two candidates regardless of party. So it’s possible two Republicans make it to the general election. Herrera Beutler could really be facing challenges from all sides, your usual Democrats and the Trump supporters who want to see her out of office. I talked with political science professor Mark Stephan here in Vancouver, Wash. And he thinks it’s more likely Herrera Beutler picks up more Democrats and centrists than the Trump supporters she loses.

MARK STEPHAN: I expect there’ll be at least one or two candidates who are very, very much supporters of kind of the Trump line of thought and really are fighting to get her just pushed out of office. But she’ll get support from places that we wouldn’t have expected of otherwise.

BRYNELSON: Still, Herrera Beutler doesn’t face reelection until 2022. So it’s going to be interesting to see if the Republican Party’s relationship with Trump changes and how that might affect her.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fascinating, indeed, to look at that one small corner of the country and the Republican Party. That’s Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Southwest Washington reporter, Troy Brynelson. Thank you so much.

BRYNELSON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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