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Ecuador Home flowers

Rough Cut
Ecuador: Flower Power
Fair trade roses for Valentine's Day


Cortney Hamilton (right) and Deb Tullmann (left)

Cortney Hamilton (right) and Deb Tullmann (left) are filmmakers and founders of Candlefoot Productions in San Francisco. Hamilton holds an MFA in screenwriting from Emerson College and is currently in production for his documentary, "Epileptic." Tullmann's background is in theater and public health -- work that has taken her to Thailand, Mexico, Scotland and Mongolia. She is currently in production for a character documentary exploring identity in the South.

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Length: 10:39

Just miles from the equator, rose farms have become a colorful focal point of Ecuador's Andean countryside. With an elevation nearing 10,000 feet, the country's proximity to the sun and cool nights provide perfect growing conditions for long, straight roses. Ecuador's cut-flower industry supplies roughly one-third of America's roses, but the industry is notorious for dangerous pesticides, poor labor practices and corrupt management.

Over the past 10 years, the fair trade model has transformed the coffee industry across much of Latin America. And while fair-trade-certified flowers have been available in Europe for more than a decade, consumer demand in the United States has not pushed flower growers to comply with fair labor practices or to produce a sustainable rose. But Michael Conroy, board chairman of TransFair USA, a fair-trade-certifying agency for the U.S., believes this is about to change.

"Most people in the U.S. don't understand the conditions under which the flowers they buy are produced," explains Conroy. "It was difficult to campaign against that production until we had an alternative."

The alternative is fair-trade-certified flowers, grown in countries like Ecuador, and available to consumers across the United States. This is only the second Valentine's Day that U.S. companies have opted to sell these "green" roses.


John Nevado, a progressive grower in Latacunga, 56 miles south of Quito, is one of the leaders of the fair trade movement.

We traveled to Ecuador to learn more about how the flower industry has changed in the region and to see what sort of practices meet the fair trade stamp of approval.

John Nevado, a progressive grower in Latacunga, 56 miles south of Quito, is one of the leaders of the fair trade movement. As he took us on a tour of his two rose farms, Nevado explained some of the practices he's adopted that are not only improving worker's rights in the industry but also appealing to a more green-conscious consumer abroad.

"One of the effects of the fair trade system is that you're empowering people by not only giving them extra money. They also take classes in rudimentary finance, accounting, project management, to manage the extra money they make."

Recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Nevado uses sustainable techniques such as growing chamomile to ward off certain pests, introducing spiders to eat other pests and using chili and garlic spray in lieu of chemical pesticides. These practices have made his fair trade roses hugely successful in Europe. He now believes that the American consumer is ready to pay a slightly higher price for a more "ethical" rose.

"I think we're part of a global trend, from Al Gore to the yoga mom going to Whole Foods to buy organic vegetables," says Nevado. "We're all part of something bigger, [and] we're finally realizing there are finite resources. We need to take care of those and the planet."

Big companies are also getting behind the notion of free trade. During our visit to Agrocoex, another fair-trade-certified farm in Ecuador, the owner received word that Sam's Club had agreed to sell his fair-trade-certified flowers. The U.S. wholesale giant has also signed up Nevado Roses to meet the increasing consumer interest. The real test, however, will be if there are enough American consumers who are willing to spend money on Nevado's vision.

-- Deb Tullmann and Cortney Hamilton

Ecuador: Flower Power is made possible by the Skoll Foundation through a grant to the PBS Foundation.

Skoll FoundationPBS Foundation


Frontline Viewer - Falmouth, MA
On the Ecuador Flowers Rough Cut, two observations: 1) at approx 09:14, with a voiceover speaking of "lettuce", the visual looked like cabbage to me.
2) The piece would be stronger, I believe, if the"fair trade" premium could be more specifically quantified than a causal "few cents more." For instance [hypothetically]. "Fair Trade practices add about 20% to the US price and test marketing finds that most American buyers will accept that."

Mananka Obama - williamsburg, va
I'm not willing to pay 1 more dime for these eco flowers. The flower market has become very affordable and I have no desire to return to the high pices and lack of selections. By allowing SA countries to expand their business we keep illegals out of this country a true win win

kampala, eastafrica
great this is what we needed for the fair trade in east Africa,if u have a dream initiate it & the lord shall see to that which u have initiated. hope to see more of your work.

Jennifer Chaput - Plymouth, MN
Thank you for making this documentary! I am doing my best to market fair trade flowers in the Twin Cities. I only wish more people were concerned about where their flowers come from.

Marti Johnson - San Miguel, CA
I would love to hear more about how global trade affects local agriculture, and what the sustainability issues are. Why is it that June of Carpinteria, California is one of the few remaining rose growers in the state? How do North American conservation-minded consumers weigh organics issues against the large carbon footprint of South American imported flowers?

That's exactly what we need to "feed" our Fair trade in France. Thanks a lot!

KS Kennedy Distinctive Floral - Pittsburgh, PA
As florists, it is our responsibility not only to bring magic into the lives of our customers but to understand that without these workers, we could not exisit. My customers are thrilled that we are taking steps to join groups that are concerned about the well being of flower production workers. We have recently joined the FLP group in Europe and will continue to be aware of those farms working to make a difference for those who dedicate their lives as their living. Please consider joining as well to show the United States show of suppport..Its a mere $93.00 for a year! Kerry S Kennedy

Kara Diorio - Lowell, MA
As co-owner of a small flower shop we are proud to sell Organic Nevado Roses. This documentary reinforced my commitment to support the women and families who work in the industry. Nevado roses are the most beautiful, longest lasting, fragrant roses I have ever seen! The beauty of every rose they grow reflects the respect for their employees and environment. As women in business, my sister and I are grateful to be given the opportunity to support an amazing Fair Trade product. Kara and Leah, Finally Flowers, Lowell MA

Becky - Phoenix, Arizona
Informative and well presented. This short piece made me want to seek out more information and inspired me to research where my vendors get their flowers from. Would be very interested to see the rest of the footage from this documentary. I and my company are willing to pay more for products that are environmentally conscious. It is so easy in today's internet world, to simply order - it's time we all stop making quick & easy choices and start making the right ones. Well done. Would like more information!

Carol Herndon - Oracle, AZ
As a florist I have been concerned about pesticides for some time. About 6 months ago I noticed that many of the flowers were now certified organic. They were all from Expoflores member farms.
--Carol, Winding Roses

T. Vu - Boston, MA
With the exception of tulips in Holland, I've never really stopped to think about where ANY flower comes from much less consider the environment it was grown in. I know that this film will always cross my mind when I pass by a flower stand.

Nicky - Alameda, ca
This piece really opened my eyes to an industry I knew very little about. It was well presented and informative. I would really like to see it reach a broader audience (perhaps tv?), so that people can make an informed decision the next time they purchase roses. Personally, I don't mind spending a little extra to support a more earth & worker friendly environment! Hopefully other industries will follow the Nevados lead!

June - Carpinteria, California
As one of the few remaining rose growers in California, we California growers have never gotten credit for always producing a beautiful rose under strict California labor and environmental standards. And our roses don't have to be flown from Ecuador.

Dustin Jones - Litchfield Park, AZ
Wow! Who would have known? Thanks for keeping our conscience in the right global perspective. Excellent documentary!

Alina - Bucharest, Romania
Congratulations! I can tell you both are professional. You are helping the world to think differently!

Dave Burkhardt - Yuma, Arizona
You like your Starbucks America - Now Wake up! We as a country are starting to realize the impact our choices make - this valuable piece enlightens our collective. Well received!

Charlottesville, Va.
Excellent and informative! I agree with Camii Lenox's statement! I hope it goes on PBS where we can see it "Big Screen"!

Ron Hughes - Tucson, Arizona
I found this very interesting. It gave me a new insight on "Fair Trade" items. I used to think of dust catching junk from curio stores that no one really wanted to buy. Since viewing this, I've become more aware of Fair Trade items in my community. I now drive 7 miles to buy Fair Trade coffee. (Still have to find the Fair Trade roses in Tucson, though).Thanks for this.

Mike - Chicago, Illinois
Per usual, Frontline folks produced a good piece. I really love the Frontline World component of the series due to its ability to give us a glimpse of our dynamic planet and cultures.Now, my commentary about Fair Trade and all those posting here from California and the East Coast who think we should mandate Fair Trade imports or criticize us Americans for being shallow consumers. I certainly hope you enjoy listening to your Fair Trade iPods, or typing your commentary out on your Fair Trade laptops and of course driving your Fair Trade cars.Fair Trade is a feel good idea, but I'll always choose Free Trade over Fair Trade. Free Trade has a greater impact on the lives and livelyhood of real people, consumer and producer alike.Thanks again Frontline for the thought provoking piece.

A really good beginning to consciousness raising on a global scale. We ALL need to wake up and smell the fair trade 'roses'.

Excellent story. I spent two months in Ecuador, and noticed the abundance of roses in Quito, but I had no idea people are taking rose farming to the next level. Good job of TransFair for covering the issue. When can I share this docu. with friends on PBS?

Lance Manderville - San Francisco, CA
Very compelling piece - the humanity of the workers truly shined, and as I watched I was reminded once more of how interconnected our economic and moral lives are. And of course my conscience was pricked, as it is so easy to forget, or be unaware of such issues. The comparison of American and Eurpean consumers was illustrative of our often times shallower awareness here in the U.S. I hope this video sees a wider audience, as I am sure it will persuade not a few viewers - and flower sellers perhaps! - to make the extra effort to support fair trade.

It felt like I was watching an advertisement.

Cami Lenox - Mill Valley, CA
Thank you! Fair Trade and Roses had never crossed my mind as an issue, which is unfortunate since I am diligent about my coffee and chocolate purchases. Very informative, great job!

Frazier Park, Ca.
Well done.

David Nelson - Quito, Ecuador
Nevado has been a major promoter of FlorEcuador, the social-environmental standard adopted by the Ecuadorian Flower Growers' Association, EXPOFLORES. The standard is being adopted by all the members of EXPOFLORES so that much of the progress reported by FRONTLINE will extend to many flower farms.

Asya Mu'Min - Burlington, VT
As I--and my family--become more Earth-conscious and economically/politically savvy, we have altered the way we live, purchase and advocate. I must say this documentary is an amazing display of how interrelated many nations, many people and many economies are. It's important for people to be informed consumers. Unfortunately, not enough people are seeking the knowledge for themselves. Hopefully, if this gets on a broadcast network, more people will take pause and consider where their dollars go and how they can impact the lives of others.

franco delivery - la, california
Is everyone paid by these organisation to give good comments?

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
Definitely not.

Great video, but it raises more questions. Who are the retailers of Nevado FT flowers? What proportion of Nevado overall rose production is FT? Who are the other FT growers in Ecuador or Colombia? What evidence is there of consumer demand in US for FT roses?

Michael A - Oakland, Ca
Social and economic justice, sustainability--some of the central issues of our time. Time to elevate the awareness of the planet. This piece does that and with clarity and conviction. This type of work deserves the greatest possible audience. Bravo!

Tamara Jones - Tucson, Arizona
This is amazing work and addresses an extremely important agricultural/cultural issue. Congratulations and thanks for your time and hard work!

Elise Hawk - Seattle, WA
I work for a company that focuses on buying from fair trade companies and I love supporting them, I wish we sold flowers! I'd love to hear more about this project.

Mike Jacobs - San Francisco, CA
Excellent work here. Extremely informative and well produced.

Compelling. it's great to see that the company's ethics are encouraging workers to grow their own food. Keep spreading the education!

ross - charlottesville, va
Informative and very well done. If only video communicated through the sense of smell as well!

- Menlo Park, California
Highly informative and timely. An effective presentation of an important topic and how positve change can be beneficial to all involved.

Joni Bales - Boston, MA
I enjoyed the program very much. It is a subject that I think many Americans would find interesting, and that I have not seen reported on before. The filming was very professional, and I would like to see an even longer segment that explores the industry as a whole.

Steven Neff - Brooklyn, NY
Amazing work! I can't wait to see more!

David Kha - Wellington, NZ
Nice piece. I liked the writing and delivery. I want to see more!

- Asheville, NC
It was awesome. I hope to see more of your work in the future. Most excellent EVERYTHING from story line to photography to graphics.

Robbie Gerds - Manhattan Beach, CA
Great video! I hope it does get shown more widely. I intend to share it with friends, especially the one who promotes fair trade coffee.

Ouray, CO
In addition to the information contained here, I really enjoyed the cinematography. We so rarely see the story behind products that appear in the USA, so this is a topic I found interesting.

Calais, Maine
Very accurate, very informative, very important, very relevant to Valentine's Day and our culture.

Doyle Coffey - Payson, Az.
It is refreshing to see a blossoming agronomist in a place such as Ecuador. It is very heart warming.The expertise used in the treatment of this story was so very effective. I hope to see more, soon.I speak with some authority as I was a graduate Ok St. U in '47 and have been in the business since.

White Hall, VA
This was wonderful! Very motivating to purchase only fair trade roses and very hopeful that this sort of development can continue globally.

Rachel Mindell - Durango, CO
Thank you for this informative, well-organized and visually captivating piece. I never really thought before about where roses come from or how they are produced. Or that as a consumer, I could make better choices in favor of environmentally-sustainable, worker-friendly flowers. I hope this excellent documentary makes Frontline television. Thanks again and great work!

This was a really interesting story. I knew about the efforts of fair trade and organic coffee and even chocolate, but not flowers. I have hope that we Americans will become more responsible as we learn more.

linda hobson - wichita, ks
This is encouraging, but the jury is out for a few more years. Let's see what happens.

Jami Brandli - Los Angeles, CA
It's great to learn that the Nevado business has figured out a way to make money, treat their employees with respect, and be environmentally conscious. I'm hoping this is the business model of the future. Everyone should watch this documentary and learn. Air it on TV!

Rebecca Frank - Cambridge, MA
As someone who pays attention to where all my food comes from, I was surprised to learn about an area I knew nothing about: where my flowers came from. This is a wonderful contribution to the ongoing conversation about the relationship between caring for the environment and maintaining lifestyles of abundance. This shows us how we can have beauty and connection across borders, so that all benefit. Beautiful! I watched it through twice, and want everyone I know to see this.

Jeanna-Mar Simmons - Pittsburgh, PA
Well done! I appreciate learning about ways to be a better steward of our earth. Purchasing fair trade products like coffee and now flowers is an easy way for us all to do just that.

Sean Oughton - Oakland, CA
This is a compelling story that needs a wider audience. It should be broadcast in order to help fully raise awareness.

Tony - Lansing, MI
Thank so so much for this piece. Great work! I would love to continue to see more video around this theme of the environment. Nevado looks like a great business model. It's very inspiring to see this happening. I also think this video will help raise awareness of buying organic and fair trade flowers in the States.

Christopher Michael - Chandler, AZ
What a pleasure to watch. I never realized the detail and the focus of conservation put into the roses. Thank you for sharing terrific information on a product we all use. Keep making great films!

Nancy Hamilton-hughes - Tucson, az
Thanks for such an informative piece, I had no idea how or where our roses came from or what was entailed in the lives of the workers. Opened my eyes, and gave me an appreciation for free trade flowers. Anytime men can make a living and bring a better life style to workers at the same time is worth a few more cents for our flowers. Thank you. Mrs. Hamilton-Hughes

Jeanne Hilbe - San Pedro Sula, Honduras
I am so thankful for reports like these that are sharing the story of "sustainable, transformational development" around the world. Consumers all over the world need to hear the difference that "fair trade" makes for individuals. It is life changing! We are working with a program of Community Health evangelism here in Honduras that addresses issues of the total person for total health that is totally theirs. Thank you again.

Jo - Waxhaw, NC
Excellent information; a picture of a positive step by Nevado that is encouraging. Looking forward to your next documentary!

Laine - San Francisco, CA
Thank for this piece. It's exciting to see innovative approaches to environmentally harmful industries. Your documentary was educational and inspiring. I'm interested to know local flower sellers who carry green flowers.

Pine Hill Farm - Bellville, TX
And when will the U S government pass legislation requiring us to import only from fair trade businesses?

Julie Clark - Vail, AZ
As a floral designer, I often worry about the chemicals that are used on the Ecuadorian roses I order. You can actually smell the pesticides. I would definately buy Nevado roses at a higher price. My customers would love to know that they are getting organically grown roses. Deb and Cortney, thanks for making this documentary. I hope it goes around the world one hundred times. I will be talking with my wholesalers about Nevado growers.Your friend,
Julie Clark
Reflection Desgins

Excellent story, and heartwarming. And it's gratifying that young people are picking up the ball and running with it. Fair Trade roses for me!

Robin Hughes - Tucson, Arizona
I found this wonderfully informative, and eye opening. It broadens the thinking, that what I take for granted in the supermarket may be causing health, environmental, and lifestyle hardships elsewhere. I am ready to spend more for a better way!

hannah miller - san diego, ca
Great story -- I get all excited when I think about the intersection of business, healthy people, creating a sustainable earth, excellent products. It just makes me happy! Thanks for making a great documentary. Can't wait to see your next one!

Houston, TX
Great story! I had some gist of the conditions suffered by some of the workers at rose factories in Latin America, but didn't realize fair-trade certified flowers were available. Thank you for posting this!

Daniel Simons - San Francisco, CA
Thanks for this good piece of work! It trains the spotlight on an area of fair trade and practice neglected by Americans for too long.

Michelle Tardy - Oakland, CA
Wow! I am impressed. What a great documentary. They should air it on television!

adam - san francisco, ca
Fair trade roses, what a great idea.
I remember seeing the bad conditions in Colombia's flower industry in the movie,
"Maria Full of Grace."Kudos to John Nevado and his "green" company in Ecuador, and bravo to TransFair for making this an issue.Thanks FRONTLINE/World. Now how about a fair trade chocolate story?