Posts Tagged “colombia”

My Trip to Colombia: Alexandra Farms

Alexandra Farms

 

So you may be thinking, we’re still talking about her trip to Colombia? To which I would respond, hello… Thanksgiving! I assumed most of you would be gorging on turkey, stuffing and football last week, and not necessarily paying attention to my awe-inspiring blogging skills. But now that we’re all back to reality, I thought I’d hit you with one more, and it’s a good one. Garden roses are one of my favorite flowers, especially those of the David Austin variety. While in Colombia, I was lucky enough to be included on one of Alexandra Farm’s tours, followed by a delicious brunch, followed by a bumpy bus ride back to Bogotá. But I won’t go into that bus ride, we’ll focus on the garden flowers here, but I might stick in a picture or two of the food, just to remind you of all the delicious food you got to eat last week. Here goes…

Alexandra Farms is located about an hour and a half outside of Bogotá, though locals would probably tell you it’s a half hour. But don’t believe them. Always assume your “twenty minute drive” is going to take at least an hour, traffic in Bogotá is crazy! But I digress. Alexandra Farms is home to a wide variety of garden flowers, currently offering thirty varieties from a handful of breeders and twelve David Austin varieties (swoon). Sidenote: They are one of the select few farms chosen by David Austin to help test and grow the varieties he has selected for the cut flower industry, while keeping the integrity and fragrance of Old Garden roses. Pretty awesome. Anyway, so how did they come up with these forty-two varieties, you ask? By testing the breeds, that’s how.

 

The Process

 

The process of testing different varieties is a very slow process, taking up to three years to achieve the first commercial launch of a new variety. Once they have selected their favorites, they move into the production phase. Each flower is different, so the farm has to adapt to each variety, and create technological innovations to commercially cultivate them. Something I found interesting was how they split up the work. They specialize workers by variety, giving each worker responsibility over a particular set of beds. Each worker knows the ins and outs of their variety, and works hard to grow the highest quality flowers possible. The final step of production is postharvest. Once they have been cut, they are put in hydration buckets until it is their turn to go through classification. Their foliage is removed and they are then sorted into categories based on length and cut point. Garden roses are more delicate than all other roses, so they must be handled very carefully during this process, as well as packing, storing, and shipping.

Our tour was pretty spectacular, and smelled damn good too! We started with a tour of the variety testing areas, then saw production, and finished with the postharvest and classification processes. Here are some pictures of the tour:

 

 

Thanks again to Alexandra Farms for a great tour, and a special shout out to Maria for being a fabulous tour guide and dinner host the night we arrived in Bogotá! I hope you have enjoyed following my first big trip in the business, and hope to have more to share with you in the future!

Ciao!

Proflora 2015

Proflora 2015

 

Taking a little break from the farm tours, I thought I’d share a bit about Proflora, the main reason we even travelled to Colombia! The location of Proflora changes from time to time, this year’s choice being Bogotá, Colombia. Proflora is a flower trade show in which growers have a chance to show off their flowers, connect with current customers, and network with new ones. I haven’t attended too many flower shows yet (shocking I know, with a whole one year under my belt!) but I’m going to take a wild shot and guess that Proflora probably houses some of the fanciest booths I’ll see at a flower show. We’re talking tiny pop-up cafes, bars, lounges, and more within the convention space. Some were more extravagant than others, but they were all just so cool, and each grower found a unique way to display the flowers they produce. From suspended ceilings to Parisian cafes, here are a few of my favorites.

 

Colombia Farm Tours

Colombia Farm Tours

 

Oh good, you’re back! If you’re reading this, it must mean my attempt at recapping our visit to Liberty Blooms didn’t scare you off. But don’t worry too much, this summary is more pictures than anything so things should run smoothly. Pictures I can do.

Over the course of our trip, primarily in the Medellín area, we visited a number of other farms to learn how they operate, and see some of the flowers we get from them in their early stages, from the ground, to harvest, to the grading and then finally packing.

 

Stop One: Altagracía

Altagracía is one of the largest Calla growers in Colombia, covering almost 24 acres of production. They grow over fourteen varieties of callas in nine different colors, as well as some colored hydrangea and dusty miller. Not only did we have a great tour of their farm (other than what they swear was their first farm tour in the pouring rain – I must have brought it with me from Seattle, oops!) the girls we work with are so friendly, and we ended up having a fabulous dinner with them and the owner’s family when we made it to Bogotá, filled with delicious food, even better wine, and more than enough laughter. Check out some photos from their farm below!

 

 

Stop Two: Valley Springs

Valley Spring’s farm is nestled in hills of Antioquia, in a town called La Ceja. They grow beautiful white hydrangea, and I have to be honest, I had no clue they could position these fields on such a steep grade! It was, once again, raining, so we weren’t able to walk the entire farm due the mud and steepness, but it was such an unique and picturesque setting that I really enjoyed getting to see a farm set up like that. At Valley Springs we also spent time inside checking out the different processes they take the hydrangea through, like the grading system. Pat even took a shot at grading – how do you think he did?

 

 

Stop Three: Gutimilko

Before our flight out to Bogotà, Andres and Pablo picked us up for our final farm visit in Medellín. La Guadalupana Farm, the main supplier for Gutimilko, is located in La Unión, on a sprawling property. They grow hydrangea, callas and a small selection of other varieties, and also have a cattle business producing milk. Shockingly, we don’t get much milk from them, but we do buy lots of hydrangea! Andres and Pablo are brothers who have grown this farm into what it is today, and we had the privilege of visiting their country home at the start of the visit, which is located on the farm. I was promised a horse back ride next time I visit… Andres, if you’re reading this, I hope you know I was serious about that!

 

 

Stop Four: Aposentos

I unfortunately did not make it out to the Aposentos farm, but Pam braved the Bogotá traffic to visit one of our carnation farms. She had a great time and snapped some shots to share with you guys!

 

 

One of the coolest things about going to these farms before attending Proflora in Bogotá was that we were able to catch up with many of them at the show, as well as dance the night away at the big fiesta at the very end. Not only did I get to see the beautiful Colombian countryside and learn so much about the farm processes on these visits, but I also feel like we formed some great relationships that will continue to grow, and I’ll always have my Colombian family to visit when I inevitably return to their beautiful country.

Stay tuned for a couple more posts wrapping up the rest of our trip!

My Trip to Colombia: Liberty Blooms Farm

Liberty Blooms Farm Tour

 

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 Farm Tour

 

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!

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