In January, Ximena Agudelo, a Colombian flower worker at the ‘Flores la Esmeralda’ farm near Medellin, sent a hand-written letter to Kevin Whitaker, the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, thanking the United States for supporting her country’s flower industry. She wrote, “I invite you to visit our beautiful flower farm, fall in love and see the beauty of Flores la Esmeralda, not only because of its flowers, but also for the human quality its employees have, and from where we get the financial support for our families.‘Ximena, a third generation flower farm worker with over 12 members in her family currently employed or retired from the flower industry continued. ‘Thanks to this job they have taught us to value things, to love flowers, to appreciate that a lot of people in the United States buy flowers, which has allowed us to have an education, comfort, health, and own a home.’
Ambassador Whitaker read this heart-felt letter and decided to personally visit Ximena and her family at Flores la Esmeralda, and to experience first-hand the dynamics of this industry gearing up for Valentine’s Day, an important floral holiday celebrated in the U.S. and other world markets.
On February 3rd, Ambassador Whitaker was greeted by Ximena Agudelo, who led the tour around the ‘Flores la Esmeralda’ flower farm. During the visit, Ximena recounted the colorful history of her 3rd-generation flower farmhand family, whose pioneering grandfather, Marco Aurelio Agudelo, began working at ‘Flores la Esmeralda’ at the very beginning of the flower industry in Colombia in the early 1970s
Augusto Solano, the President of Asocolflores, the Association of Colombian Flower Exporters, who accompanied Ambassador Whitaker, spoke about the Agudelo family, “Chronicles like those nurtured within the extensive Agudelo clan echo throughout the nation’s landscape on countless other flower farms, as they embrace entire multi-generational families to help them raise their blooms – a simple reflection of one family helping to transform another. And so, from the old adage “a family that works together, stays together” we can also say “a flower family that works together, stays together, makes their dreams come true“.
Ambassador Whitaker was impressed with this dynamic industry, a major contributor to the Colombian economy and one of the largest employers in the country, an industry that exported USD$1,334 million in 2013, and generated 130,000 direct and indirect jobs for Colombians in 60 communities. Colombia ships 76% of its total production to the U.S. market, and in the U.S., 80% of the cut flower stems and 65% of the retail dollars sold are grown in Colombia.
Valentine’s Day makes up 12% of annual sales for Colombian flower exporters. At least 500 million stems are slated to be shipped overseas to support Valentine’s Day, primarily to the United States, as well as to some European countries. To support this important floral holiday, nearly 1,500,000 boxes of flowers will be shipped to the U.S. on up to 30 daily air freighter flights, primarily to the main flower distribution hub in Miami, Florida.