Whole Foods Employee Traces Whole Trade Flowers Back to the Source

Stephanie Vasquez is a floral specialist at Whole Foods Market in Chicago. She has entered and won two in-store merchandising contests, sending her on all-expense paid trips to visit producers on flower farms in Colombia and Ecuador. As you’ll read below, she joined the Fair Trade USA team on the trip to Ecuador, and she reflects on the importance of the people behind our flower purchases. Because of the Fair Trade USA and Whole Foods Market partnership, rose producers behind the Whole Trade Guarantee sticker are certified against and protected by Fair Trade USA standards.

I joined the floral team at Whole Foods Market in 2009. I became a floral assistant and started to merchandise beautiful displays with Whole Trade products, but there were always questions as I worked. Every time I opened a box, I saw hang tags with people’s names. Who grew these? How were they grown? Where do they come from? Who gets up every morning and works in the field? One day, an email was sent to the entire floral merchandising team announcing a competition: come up with the most creative in-store display to educate customers and team members about Whole Trade to win a visit to Whole Trade flower farms.

Who Made Your Bouquet

That's when I came up with the “Who Made Your Bouquet” theme. I hosted classes and made posters displaying the question above the flowers. I made t-shirts. I displayed handprints around the flowers with the farm workers’ names on them. I won the contest, and finally all my questions would be answered. I traveled to Colombia and Ecuador, an experience that I will never forget. I witnessed how all these people miles away bring my job to life. I talked to the workers and learned how Whole Trade changes their lives and shared how they change my life with all the work that they do. Whole Trade helps them live above poverty. With the additional funds they earn through the Fair Trade Community Development Fund, they have been able to buy new homes, spend time with their families, wash clothes in washing machine facilities, and gain access to dental and health care. Washing machines may not sound like a big deal, but these amazing workers used to work six days a week and spend their day off in the freezing river hand washing their clothes: a risk not only for their own health, but also to the environment. When clothes are washed in the river, the cleaning products are added into the otherwise clean rural river, which not only contaminates the water but impacts the pH and river ecosystem. Once I came back to the United States, I continued to educate customers and team members about Whole Trade and how it improves lives.

Five years later, in 2018, there was another nation-wide contest announcement. This time, I wanted to share the experience and stories from the people I met in Ecuador and Colombia.


Blooming Lives

With all the pictures I took from Ecuador and Columbia, I made poster boards so customers and team members could see the families right when they walked into Whole Foods Market. I hung vines to bring the jungle and farm theme inside of building. I also brought a washing machine into the store to show how by purchasing just one bouquet, you can provide clean laundry for a family.

Two months later, it was announced that I had won first place—again! This time, I got to visit five farms which was such a mind-blowing experience. As I talked to all the workers at the farm, I felt lucky that I speak Spanish and could interact with them by saying hello and having small conversations about the farm. I asked if they love their jobs like I do, which they all answered with yes. They love Whole Trade and all the benefits they’ve received to improve their lives. A Fair Trade Committee on one of the farms, Agrocoex, voted to spend their Community Development Funds to build a new, safe housing development, enabling some of the farmers to become first-time homeowners.

This second trip was an even more awesome experience than the first. I still can’t believe that the Whole Trade partnership with Fair Trade USA is able to improve people’s lives across the world. It brings me such joy that this program has so many great benefits and that they care about people. I want to help improve their lives with one bouquet, rose dozen, bananas, or any other product with the Fair Trade Certified or Whole Trade seal.

Friends, family, colleagues, customers: Let’s support fair trade and look for the Whole Trade logo or Fair Trade Certified seal when we shop. It helps improve and change lives.

Stephanie stands beside her "Blooming Lives" floral display in Whole Foods. A real washing machine similar to the machines purchased with Community Development Funds at a fair trade farm in Ecuador shows Whole Foods shoppers the impact of their purchase.