© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Hope Anderson, Bernadette's Flowers in Stratford, creates dozen rose bouquets in preparation for Valentines Day.
Roses destined for sweethearts first debugged and chilled in Miami
MIAMI — If Cupid were to have a home, it would be Miami International Airport.
It’s there that 85 per cent of imported flowers — including most Valentine’s Day roses — arrive in the United States, many in the bellies of passenger planes. The roses, carnations, hydrangeas, sunflowers and other varieties are rushed by forklift from planes to chilled warehouses and then onto refrigerated trucks or other planes and eventually delivered to florists, gas stations and grocery stores across the country.
Heat is the enemy. When a plane touches down in Miami, the flowers are rushed to a nearby warehouse where a parade of forklifts carry them into giant coolers — really rooms — set at 35 degrees. Every time the giant cooler doors open up, fog rolls out as the frigid air hits the Florida humidity.
Inside, big vacuums suck the hot air out of flower boxes and bring in the surrounding cold air. In one hour, the core temperature of flowers, vegetables or other perishables drops 46 degrees.
“It’s like it cryogenically extends the life,” says Nathaniel R. Miller, a supervisor with Perishable Handling Specialists, which operates American’s Miami coolers.
Before the flowers can be sent to stores across the country, U.S. Customs and Border Protection must sign off. Agents check tax documentation, ensure that drugs aren’t being smuggled and inspect petals and stems for pests like moths, leaf-miner flies and spider mites, which can ruin crops in North American fields.
The bugs — some as small as a period — can’t be detected by X-ray machines. So a team of agents travels from warehouse to warehouse, looking at a sample of flowers. Bouquets are turned upside down, hit on the side.
The job has hazards: roses come with plenty of thorns and some officers wear masks to protect against the pollen. Their uniforms include hats and gloves.
“It’s like working in a meat locker,” says Michael DiBlasi, a Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialist. “We love our job. You have to, to work in a cooler.”
The biggest problem this Valentine’s Day might be the final few miles of the journey. A massive snowstorm that blanketed the east coast has made some roads difficult for local delivery drivers.