When you visit our stores this holiday season, chances are you are going to notice some of the beautiful flowers available to dress up your home for the holidays. I’ve been partial to the Asiatic Knockout lilies, which are deep red in color with an open bloom — perfect for the holidays! These and other Whole Trade™ lilies are grown at Plantas y Flores, a floral farm in Costa Rica that I was honored to visit along with other Whole Foods Market team members in early December. Plantas y Flores is located high in the mountains above San Jose near the Irazu volcano. The terrain is lush and steep, and the roads wind around the sides of the mountains. The elevation on the farm is around 2,100 meters, which is 6,600 feet above sea level, and on a clear day you can see the Irazu volcano. The weather was cold and rainy and we were all wearing jackets to keep warm in Costa Rica! We started our tour in the packing house where the flowers are received, hydrated and packed. We watched our Whole Trade lilies being packed with their Whole Trade sleeves and stem tags. In addition to meeting our Whole Trade guidelines, Plantas y Flores is also Rainforest Alliance certified. We then moved out to the green houses to witness the harvesting of our lilies. The tour was led by Juan Pablo who is the farm’s Production Manager — he oversees all the planting, harvesting, quality review, soil health and more at the farm. Juan Pablo graduated from EARTH University and he uses his education and training as he focuses on environmental and sustainability at the farm in every area. For example, in the greenhouses they are using nutrient-rich compost and coconut husks on the topsoil — the compost is made on the farm from the packing house and greenhouse scraps. Juan Pablo also created a system of four water collection tanks to reuse as much water as possible from rainfall and green house run-off; these four reservoirs are used for water re-use in the greenhouses. For every Whole Trade lily purchased, Whole Foods Market makes a scholarship donation to EARTH University to support students like Juan Pablo and others who want to work in agriculture. While in the greenhouses we saw the attention to detail — all lilies are measured to ensure the head size of the lily hits our minimum specification and foliage is inspected for quality. Once the lily stalk is cut for packing, the plant’s bulbs are taken out of the ground and used in the farm’s compost. It takes an average of 13-18 weeks to grow a lily plant from bulb to a stalk that is ready to be harvested for retail sale. In addition to environmental and sustainable practices, Plantas y Flores is also committed to the social well being of its workers. Cecil, the owner, showed me the plot of land next to the packing house where he's planning to build a daycare and educational center onsite for the workers’ children. Cecil told me how he wants the workers’ children to be in a safe, healthy environment where they will be cared after, fed and taught by professionals. He stressed to me the importance of the workers’ happiness and how knowing their children are safe and so close while they are at work will only lead to worker happiness at the farm. Cecil envisions the daycare with a kitchen to feed the children breakfast, lunch and snacks, outdoor playgrounds, beds for napping, and educational resources. He feels very passionately that this new project will propel the children and surrounding community forward. Stay tuned for more development updates on the Plantas y Flores daycare center. So, the next time you're in one of our stores, make sure to stop by the floral department to see our Whole Trade floral selections that give back to the communities where these products are grown! And if you, like me, enjoy lilies this time of year, here are a few basic care tips. Care Tips for Lilies
- Trim at least 1 inch off the bottom of the stem, and clear away any foliage that will sit below the water line.
- Immediately place into cool, clean water.
- Change the water in your vase at least every 3 days (and give the stems a fresh cut) to help ensure that your flowers are able to continually “drink.”
- Keep lilies out of direct sunlight as this can cause discoloration.
- Pollen can be a pest! To keep stains from appearing on clothing, table linens, carpeting, and even the bright white petals of Oriental varieties, remove pollen when still “smooth” by plucking it off.
- Should you find yourself plagued by a bright orange pollen mess, gently brush the pollen away using a craft pipe-cleaner (do not rub it in) and wash with soap and warm water. Pipe-cleaners can also be used to brush pollen gently off the petals of your lilies.