A couple of weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to join my dad and Aunt Pam on a trip down south to Colombia. My dad has always wanted to take me on one of these trips, but that little thing called life always seemed to get in the way. However, now that I’m officially a part of the family biz, my schedule allowed for it and it was the perfect chance for me to finally tag along. And I had a purpose! I was put to work documenting, Instagramming, and blogging about our trip. Done and done.
The first half of our trip was spent in Medellín, or more specifically, a little town outside of the city called Rionegro. We were hosted by Juan Cock Londoño and his lovely wife Luz Elena at their 250-year-old country house on their farm, Liberty Blooms. We arrived on a Saturday in Rionegro, and spent the evening with their wonderful family eating a traditional Colombian meal on their patio. A little background: in Colombia it is very common for families to live in the city during the week, but spend weekends at their country homes outside of the city. Family gatherings are very important to them and the entire clan does their best to make it out every weekend to spend time together – it may sound crazy but it is actually a very lovely tradition that I wish was more common in the States! Juan and his family were so very welcoming, and we felt right at home. We spent the next day as tourists, visiting historic places like El Peñon in Guatapé, having lunch at a beautiful restaurant on the water in Penol, and taking a boat ride where we just happened to pass one of Pablo Escobar’s bombed out homes (any Narcos fans out there?) It was a nice and relaxing day, but that might be because we just looked at the rock rather than climbed the 600+ stairs… maybe next time?
(^^^ Pssst… that last photo is one of Escobar’s bombed houses!)
The next day was where the real “work” began, and I got a taste of what these trips are all about. Santiago, Juan’s son and the brains behind Liberty Blooms, took us on an elaborate and information packed tour of their two farms. Now, I’m pretty new to this business, and was later told that I learned more from Santiago in one day than I probably will in the next year. He truly is a flower guru, and his passion for growing shone through as he talked animatedly about everything from new pom pon varieties to his water treatment system. It would actually probably be a pretty amusing scene if you were watching from the outside: me hurriedly following behind him scribbling notes, snapping pictures and trying to soak in all his information, and at one point even being asked to do calculations in my head (note: math is not my strong suit). Now, I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but I thought I’d share a few interesting tidbits.
Liberty Blooms is split up into two farms, one on the property where we were staying, and one about ten minutes away. The first farm is four hectares (or about 9.8 acres), and in my opinion, is where the magic happens. All the trials take place at this farm, which is what I personally found most interesting. The trial process is complex and time consuming, and also where all those calculations came into play. Forgive me while I do my best to explain this process – things might get ugly. It all starts out with a seed (am I on the right track here, Santiago?) Once the plants have been germinated, two cuttings are taken from each plant. Cool fact: at that moment, only two individuals of that variety exist in the world, from those two cuttings. They are brand new and nobody has a clue exactly what they’ll look like. Pretty sweet. Those two cuttings are then planted, and once they have matured and begun to flower, the selection process begins. They select their favorites, and from there try to get stock from the selected variations. To give you a quick breakdown of the numbers and perspective on how crazy this process is, they start with 150,000 seeds, and after a few elimination rounds, only five to ten varieties make the cut. Let that sink in for a minute – that’s a LOT of work and a LOT of varieties to inspect just to get down to five or ten good ones! Once they’ve selected the chosen few, a whole new process begins to get these little babies into production. They are taken to the lab to be cloned, planted, and overtime they begin to grow. There is obviously more to the process, but I’m not going to lie, I was writing a mile a minute and I’ve had some trouble deciphering my own notes. Just trust me on this one: it’s intense, and involves math. A lot of math. Put simply, the goal of this farm is to produce cuttings that will then be transferred to the other farm where the mass growing and production begins. Oh, and another cool little tidbit: everything is picked by hand on the farm, and they average 16,000 cuttings per day PER WORKER. Mind blown.
We then visited farm number two, which is about eleven hectares of production (roughly 27 acres). Here we saw the next and final steps in their process, from growing those special selected varieties, to harvesting, to packaging them up nice and pretty to ship up to us! While it was a LOT of information to ingest at once, it was so cool for me to see everything firsthand and learn exactly how new plants come into production and make their way from South America into our hands. I mean, obviously I knew they don’t just appear out of thin air, but the whole process is not something you think about everyday, and learning from one of the best in the business was a pretty unique first experience.
The rest of our time in Rionegro was spent visiting other farms (which you can read about in another post, coming soon!) and while we didn’t get to spend much time in Medellín during the day, we did enjoy a lovely dinner in the city at a Peruvian restaurant, which also happened to be the home Juan grew up in before Medellín became a developed city. With the original Italian tiles on the floor and ceiling, it was a beautiful restaurant, and such a joy listening to Juan reminisce about his childhood and describe the restaurant in its original state. There is so much beauty and history in this city that I can’t wait to come back and experience it again, hopefully with more time to explore the city. And one last time, a HUGE thanks to our wonderful hosts for such a great kick off to our trip!