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.
Our first day in Quito was an amazing introduction to a place, a culture, and a people unlike any other.
The sheer geography at over ten thousand feet in the tumultuous Andes mountain range atop the equator gave the city a powerful and immense character. The region stretches across enormous valleys with drop-off cliffs, rivers and active volcanoes throughout.
The land is green and dotted with concrete and cinderblock houses. We were hosted by the Ecuadorian Fair Trade Association, a group of seven farms, all primarily focused on roses. We buy from six of the seven as a company and we are the only major grocery retailer in the states who purchases flowers directly from these farms.
Roses are the heart and soul of Ecuador floral production, yet we learned that only nine of the 700 farms there are fair trade certified, highlighting the importance of broadening the marketplace for these roses, to increase production and ultimately put more dollars into the local community.
We traveled to two different farms, Agrocoex and Hoja Verde, both precariously located at the base of active volcanoes in a dense, green farmland with streams and waterways interlaced throughout. We spent our time inside their greenhouses and production facilities, as well as traveling to see the benefits of their community programs firsthand.
Through their efforts they have initiated numerous projects, including education scholarships, home loans, school improvements, dental services, community computer centers, music education, laundry services and more.
Fair Trade Certification can be demanding on a business, both financially and operationally.
The requirements are extremely detailed and the audits can take a large amount of time away from a normal work day, even if the farm only sells 25% of its flowers as certified.
However, it became clear that in the world of Fair Trade flowers, social responsibility and worker empowerment are intimately intertwined with corporate philosophy across all layers of the business. The managers of these farms do not elect to be certified for the ambition of building new business, they do it because it is a core tenant of their belief system, it defines their vision for the company and it is the right thing to do. On both farms the workers are organized as cooperative corporations, complete with president and secretary.
There is no compensation for these roles, but they lead the group in shaping their community support while learning invaluable business skills in leadership, accounting and public speaking. The entire workforce meets as a general assembly multiple times per year to vote on proposed projects, with a simple majority needed to put a proposal in motion.
I would be deeply remiss if I did not also spend some time describing the beauty of these roses and the efficient, dynamic agricultural practices in use at all stages of growing, harvesting and production. In place on these farms were impressive irrigation systems, natural pest control methods, like spiders, and innovative rack systems for sorting and arranging the flowers.
The blooms themselves were enormous, strong and breathtaking, expressing the care exerted at every step along their way into the shipping boxes that will eventually arrive at our stores.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to meet our growers firsthand and to witness the benefits of our Whole Trade program. Responsibility in global purchasing is a complicated subject, yet seeing the benefit of an affordable home loan to a struggling family or a quality education to a disadvantaged youth is a simple truth.
Since 2008, our Whole Trade floral program has put more than $2.3 million into community projects through the 10% premium. We have the ability to transform trade by voting with our dollars, and the impact can be substantial.
My hope is that we can raise awareness for the importance of Whole Trade flowers and that we can all be a little more connected to the impact our purchases have on those at the other end of the supply chain. I encourage you to add some color to your home on your next shopping trip and feel good about not only the beautiful blooms on your kitchen counter, but the families and communities of the growers who benefit from your choices.
And don’t forget this Valentine’s Day to share your love with flowers that make a difference, and tell us what supporting ethical trade means to you. Thanks for joining me.