Juan Escobar Interview
Early in his career, Juan developed an interest in the work of Rudolf Steiner, the pioneer of biodynamic farming, among many other things. Biodynamics, which is a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the earth to that of the entire cosmos, has grown to the point where it now has strict standards with organic certification granted by Demeter International.
In 2000 Juan set out to develop Ecuador's first fully biodynamic farm as an alternative to the conventional high–pesticide flower growing practiced throughout the country. He later joined forces with partner John Kenyon, and bought the operation in 2003. Their Organic Blooming company, with support from the Nature Conservancy's EcoEnterprises Fund, now farms the flower plantation area of their 840–acre site following bio–dynamic principles while taking advantage of the bountiful local conditions–such as excellent water quality and high humidity. Organic Blooming works with the nearby community of Yunguilla to coordinate volunteer visits and develop projects that help create additional income sources for the local population, while continuing to further organic growing principles.
We asked Juan about his amazing callas as well as the organic methods he follows to grow them so successfully:
Why did you choose your "cloud forest" location to grow callas?
We did not choose the location for growing callas. It actually "chose us." We had the opportunity to buy the land at a good price, thought it to be a good location, close to the city and with pure water sources, and we went ahead and bought the farm. It is located on the western slope of the Western Cordillera of the Andes, very close to the Equator, at an altitude of 2,500 meters above sea level. Cloudy and humid weather, strong changes in temperature in the same day, and long rainy periods from November to April are typical. The cloudiness and humidity tend to favor calla lilies, and we can grow them outdoors. Callas like about 30 percent shade. We can harvest year–round, every day of the week.
Why did you decide to grow callas organically and biodynamically?
It was important to develop a business which had the chance to be financially successful, and at the same time have a strong connection to the earth. We wanted to develop a caring operation and growing methods with which the workers could feel at ease, and which could contribute to their whole well–being.
What are the benefits of growing callas organically?
We think it is of paramount importance to the health of the earth. Organic growing furthers the fertility of the soils–instead of depleting it like most conventional farming methods geared exclusively to maximize profit with disregard for the consequences to the environment. Organic growing also allows workers to have a trusting relationship to their workplace, without the need to protect themselves from any damaging products. At the same time, we have been able to grow callas of particularly high quality with a longer vase life. Our clients comment how fresh the flowers look when unpacked. Typical comment:"They look as if just harvested from the fields."
And what about biodynamic methods?
The principles of biodynamics are quite wide–ranging. One of the main goals is to develop a proper relationship to both the earth and the cosmos. With a balanced approach to these two sets of forces––earthly and cosmic––one can develop optimum quality flowers and produce. We use several preparations that are exclusively applied in biodynamics. One of these preparations furthers the vitality of the soil. Another furthers the forces coming from outside the earth: light and the influences of the planets and the other celestial bodies. We also use preparations that are geared towards achieving compost of optimal characteristics for soil fertility. Equisetum, stinging nettle, and other plants are also regularly applied. We have sometimes used the biodynamic planting calendar, which is based on astronomic phenomena, and takes into account the best possible planting, harvesting, and working times for different crops. All in all, what we aim to achieve on our plantation is a balance in which plants can thrive in a fertile soil, which is kept alive and soil fertility maintained and increased in the long run.
Where did you learn your biodynamic and organic growing methods?
I learned them in England, Switzerland and Germany in short courses, seminars and through my own study; and in the process of implementing our project. I don't have the feeling "I have learned" already, but that this is a process of never–ending learning. Since biodynamic flower growing is a pioneering field, and still full of discoveries, we are in a constant learning process.
How did you get into the business?
After many years of living away from Ecuador, my country of origin, I returned with the intention of implementing a biodynamic farm. Looking into options of what could be done agriculturally, I was strongly attracted towards a field that furthers beauty and well–being, and aims to produce something that can thrive in optimum conditions in the Andes. Ecuador offers flower growers great geographic and climatic conditions.
What do your growing methods and your company's practices mean to the workers?
If you look at the farm during a typical working day, you will notice that the attitude of the workers is one of trust towards the environment they are working in. There is no need to protect oneself from any negative influence, be it poisonous products or other source. The most beneficial part of the process is working with the earth and the environment in order to achieve goals that benefit the whole––company, workers, and the earth––instead of working with any means just to achieve maximum profits.
How to Bring the Beauty of Callas into Your Home
- Callas from Organic Style are cut before fully open. Placed in water, they will open within a few days.
- Take advantage of the long stems and put callas in tall vases. Just a few will make an elegant display.
- For a full–size wedding bouquet, 30 callas will do. For a simpler look, use 15 to 20.
- Callas look beautiful alone or with other flowers such as roses.