For six days in January, a group of Whole Foods Market team members traveled to South America, visiting farms, meeting growers and seeing firsthand the benefits of our Whole Trade® flower program.
Read part one, Flowers UnCut.
Our journey began in Bogota, Colombia, home of one of our largest Whole Trade® growers, Elite Flowers.
Despite working for Whole Foods Market, a mission-driven company with a commitment to supporting all of our stakeholders, it can be easy to discount the powerful positive impact a company can have on its workers, their families and the greater community in which they live.
Yet we were lucky enough to see that impact in action with a brief glimpse into the community of Elite Flowers, their Foundation and their Worker's Fund. Through it all I was inspired, impressed and dutifully full on delicious food (if you are ever in Bogota, you absolutely must try Ajiaco soup!).
Elite is a large company with over 4,000 employees and the work they do is changing lives on a daily basis, both inside and out of the greenhouse walls.
The Elite Foundation was initially created to improve the lives of the employees' children, who were largely left at home to be raised by the older children.
The goal was to provide quality education, nutrition and expression through art and community. When we established our Whole Trade relationship with the farm, the foundation became the natural recipient for the 10% premium we pay over the cost of the flowers (pre-shipping) that goes directly into important community programs.
As those dollars rolled in, Elite was able to expand their overall services and directly fund 150 new children in the program. But to truly understand the importance and impact of these dollars, we needed to see it in person.
Our first stop was the Chappala School, a nursery and pre-school, supporting children under the age of five who would otherwise be left at home. The school offers a full service program of transportation, healthy meals, art and education, as well as nursery services for their youngest members. The site itself was beautiful and engaging, an expansive property located along a river that was the childhood home of the owner of Elite.
The Foundation is coordinated by Mario and Maria Eugenia, people filled with warmth and compassion, who actively convey their dedication in supporting the workers’ families.
Our next stop is Chicala, offering education for students age 5-10. Again, I was impressed to see the beauty of the facility and vegetable gardens as well as the quality and scope of the academic and artistic education.
We were lucky enough to catch part of one of their performances, and the children were fantastic!
The Foundation also supports community programs for youth, both those with disabilities, such as the hearing impaired, and prominent at-risk groups like teenage girls.
These programs empower the youth with a sense of community and the opportunity to create their own future, whether it is in college, trade or art. Working in tandem with the Foundation is the Worker’s Fund, a collective supporting the workers in numerous financial ways, including assistance with purchasing a home.
This is a program where Whole Trade has also had significant involvement. To date, our customers are directly responsible for helping 77 families buy their first home, many of them with challenging circumstances, such as being single parents or dealing with medical conditions. The sense of pride and accomplishment in these families was overwhelmingly heartfelt, and they eagerly invited us into their homes to share their achievement.
We left Colombia tired yet inspired by what we had seen. Next stop is Quito, Ecuador, where we’ll journey into the high altitude terrain of the Andes mountains to see some of the biggest and boldest roses ever.
In the meantime, leave a comment below by Valentine’s Day telling us how flowers made a day better for you or someone you care about and we’ll donate a dollar for every comment to the Elite Flower Foundation as our way of sharing the love.