Wall Street of Flowers
Remember what red roses cost on Valentines Day?
The market price was likely set in three seconds by a bleary-eyed, coffee-swilling, stressed-out buyer bidding in the worlds largest flower auction at Aalsmeer, a small Dutch town near Amsterdam. The system originated 100 years ago with green auctions, where buyers would gather in a farmers field to bid on vegetables. Aalsmeers flower growers adopted the idea, formed a cooperative, and in 1911 held the first auction, in a coffeehouse.
Today, that cooperative has more than 3,000 members, and the coffeehouse has been replaced by a sprawling, 350-acre complex, where 2.1 million cut flowers and plants $21 billion worth per year come in every weekday, go on the block, and move on. No wonder the auction building itself is one million square meters thats 250 acres or 165 soccer fields making it the worlds largest commercial edifice, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Workers whiz around on bicycles because distances are too far to walk.
Open round-the-clock on weekdays, Aalsmeer Flower Auction is a self-contained world of color, fragrance, and frantic activity. The main building houses five auction rooms, a dispatch and loading center, forwarders, customs and plant protection services, banks, and restaurants. Flowers and plants arrive in the middle of the night, trucked in from Dutch greenhouses or ?own to nearby Schiphol Airport from nurseries in Kenya, Israel, Ecuador, Spain, and elsewhere. Exporters and wholesalers are in their offices by 5 a.m. to prepare for the days buying.
Officially known as the Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer (VBA), the auctions themselves start at 6:30 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., visitors are admitted for a self-guided tour that runs a half-mile through the main operations of the massive building and allows a peek at four of the five auction rooms.
From a catwalk suspended 20 feet above the climate-controlled distribution hall, visitors look down on thousands of three-tiered trolley carts packed with 12,000 varieties of cut flowers and potted plants. The carts, each the size of a Sub-Zero freezer, are stacked with buckets of roses, tulips, hyacinths, lilacs, orchids, hostas, hydrangeas, chrysanthemums ... Its an ocean of flowers. Red roses predominate, as they are top sellers worldwide. But even with those, tastes vary: Some countries prefer long stems, others want large-headed roses that make a statement with a few stems. Roses and tulips are the most popular flowers exported to the U.S., which along with Japan accounts for 10 percent of Aalsmeers
Blue-jacketed workers quickly hook the carts together and use small electric scooters to pull lines of carts as many as 10 or 20 to the auction rooms or, after theyre sold, to the shipping area. On the slowest day, we have more than 10,000 trolleys, says Dirk Hogervorst, manager of the cooperatives 13 auction clocks, quality control, and daily operations. On the busiest days before Valentines Day, Christmas, or Mothers Day more than 30,000.
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