Bouquet of flowers in hand, a field worker culls the top stems from among hundreds of rows of flowers outside of San Diego, California in early February.
It all begins, at least for this comparitively small batch of flora, in a greenhouse 30 miles north of San Diego; home of Dramm & Echter.
Founded in 1972, the grower specializes in gerberas, lillies, and roses on the 1.3 million square foot grounds. Most are grown inside expansive greenhouses, where rows upon rows of flowers stretch for hundreds of feet in dense, humid air.
During the weeks running up to Valentines Day, the facility expects to produce and sell one million gerberas, and over 350,000 lillies to meet excess demand – nearly five times its normal production rate.
Despite the heavily digitized and mechanized world in which most Americans live, each flower is hand cut from among the rows.
One of those hands is Valentine, an eight-year veteran at the company, who gathers a bundle of pink gerberas from inside one of several large greenhouses.
Each picker will harvest and prepare an average of 4,000 stems per day. Once sorted and inspected, they’re hydrated and moved into large coolers.
The flowers then rest inside the cooler until they’re need for an order. Dramm & Echter fill an average of 100-120 orders per day, and double that for the holiday.
A batch of lillies destined for San Antonio is boxed up for shipment.
Ramon closes up a box truck, ready to move several pallets of flowers from the field to an intermediary shipper ten miles further north.
Having arrived at K’s Transport in nearby Vista, Calif, the flowers are transfered to a refrigerated truck to make the hour-long trip down the coast to San Diego.
Awaiting their trip to the airport, flower buds poke out of a shipping box on the floor of K’s Transportation. Many are shipped in advance of their bloom window, to maximize their appearance once they arrive at the store.
Pulled into Southwest’s San Diego cargo terminal, the flowers will sit in a refrigeration box overnight before flying out in the morning.
Early the next morning, the flowers are dropped off at San Diego Airport’s gate 1A, where flight 2571 is schedule to fly its colorful cargo to San Antonio.
While Dallas-based Southwest is not known for its cargo business, it estimates it will haul close to one million pounds of fresh flowers in support of Valentines Day alone.
Bathed in early morning sunlight, Southwest 2571 climbs out over San Diego Airport with 50-some odd passengers and a cargo-hold full of flowers, bound for San Antonio.
Two hours and twenty-one minutes later, the aircraft touches down in San Antonio, where the floral cargo is offloaded.
Don Thompson, a 31-year veteran of Southwest, moves the boxes of flowers from a cart in the cargo facility to a nearby loading dock for the customer, Spring Garden, to pick up.
Donning flower-themed shoes, David T Espinoza Jr, vice president of Spring Garden flower shop in San Antonio, checks emails while waiting for the company van to arrive.
Nearly 1,300 miles away from the field in which they were grown, the flowers arrive at their penultimate destination: Spring Garden Flower Shop in San Antonio, Texas.
Much like at the field, the flowers undergo a similar process at the shop. Mauro, a designer with the shop, hauls a box into a preparation room in the back of the store.
After being inventoried and inspected, each bunch is cut and hydrated before being placed into a refrigerator to help them recover from their long journey.
Oralia Espinoza, founder of the shop, president, and head designer, carefully arranges a bunch of freshly arrived gerberas. Ms. Espinoza estimates that her staff of four designers will create as many as 40 to 50 arrangements per day in the week leading up Valentine’s Day, almost double a normal day.
Linda Munoz, from San Antonio, selects a vase of gerberas to take home, just over 30 hours after the same flowers were first cut in San Diego. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will purchase $2.1 billion worth of flowers for the holiday of love. And the odds are high they’ve been through the same sort of trip.