When I lived in Guadalajara, it was my great pleasure to wander the city's wholesale flower market, talking with the long-time vendors and taking more pictures of glorious blooms than will fit on these pages.
I confess that on the day I went on my investigative trip to the wholesale flower stalls, I was in a funk and would have preferred to stay at home. I scowled my way through traffic to the Mercado Mezquitán in downtown Guadalajara and barely managed a brief smile when I found a handy parking place near the flower stalls. And then I was on the street, the flower-filled street, and my bad mood vanished in a heartbeat. How could my funk hang on when the sight and fragrances of literally millions of blossoms were all around me?
It was hard to know where to look first. The narrow old market street, clogged with belching pickup trucks, beat-up flower-crammed cars, overloaded handcarts and people carrying enormous bundles of flowers, runs parallel to super-busy, super-modern Calzada Federalismo. I smiled as the blatant contrasts of Mexico once again showed me that I was definitely not north of the border.
A scruffy yellow dog sniffed the greenery in his path as he hunted for something more promising than flower trimmings for his almuerzo (late breakfast). What looked like a moving tower of bright red roses jostled me as I stood in the street. It was a workman, hurrying along with dozens and dozens of paper-wrapped bundles of beautiful blooms on his shoulder.
For two city blocks, tiny Calle Mezquitán is a sea of blooms. I've often driven along Federalismo and noticed the market building; it's just across from a municipal cemetery. But the actual flower market, a small enclosed building of perhaps 30 stalls, is insignificant compared to what happens in the street.
I walked along asking permission to take pictures and marveling at the variety of flowers. My eye was caught first by girasoles (sunflowers), then by leticia (statice), then pompones (pompom chrysanthemums).
The vendors greeted me as I strolled past. "Qué va a llevar, señora? Hay de todo." (What are you buying, lady? Everything's here.) Over and over again I asked permission to take photographs. The quantity of flowers was completely overwhelming, their fragrances perfuming the air.
I stopped to ask one of the vendors about the cultivation of flowers in Mexico. Flowers, he told me, are grown commercially primarily in one area of the small State of Mexico, both for export and for use here in the República. Flower business is big business in that fertile valley not far from Mexico City. Flower-growing land sprawls over more than five thousand hectares. That's well over 12,000 acres. In addition, the cultivation of flowers provides either direct or indirect employment to more than 225,000 people in that state.
In the State of Mexico, flower growing generates a yearly economic bounty of $2,700,000,000 pesos: two billion seven hundred million, folks. It's not a typo. The brief selling season just prior to the Day of the Dead in November generates $617,000,000 pesos—in only a few days. The profits from just those late-October flower sales represent nearly one-fourth of the economy produced in the State of Mexico's fields.
Here's just one small example of Mexico's Day of the Dead flower power. In 2003, growers planted ninety hectares of roses which were to be harvested in the last week of October. Those roses produced 11.3 million stems, which were bundled 25 to a package. Each package of 25 roses sold at wholesale for 37 pesos. Total earnings for the brief October rose harvest were 17 million pesos.
In addition to roses, the flower growers of the State of Mexico also cultivate huge numbers of chrysanthemums, vast quantities of gladiolas, millions upon millions of carnations, and most of the rest of the flowers that are available in wholesale markets all over this country and the world. Many, many of the flowers that you who live North of the Border will purchase or be given on Valentine's Day and Mother's Day come from the sunny lands South of the Border.
Everywhere I looked, I was tempted to buy. Huge bundles of pink, red, candy-striped or white carnations, each bundle containing 60 or more flowers, sell for 40 pesos--less than $3.00 US dollars. Gorgeous, enormous ready-to-sell flower arrangements, perfect for a banquet table centerpiece, sell for 250 pesos--less than $20.00 US dollars. Bundles of 25 roses sell for 70 pesos.
After walking along the market street for an hour and then investigating the market itself, I stopped to ask a young vendor how long the market had been operating on Calle Mezquitán. She admitted that she wasn't sure and encouraged me to ask Dr. Roberto Avila, the owner of the business where she worked. He was busy taking a large wholesale order on the telephone. "Dr. Avila knows everything about the market, from the time it began until today," she assured me. I waited and watched the action on the street as hundreds of thousands of flowers glowed in the morning sun.
Dr. Avila graciously took the time to answer my questions. "This flower market has been here for more than 50 years," he began. "I'm 57 years old and I was born two blocks from here. My grandmother and my father brought me here to work with them when I was seven. I've had this business for 25 or 26 years now.
"Look across the street, right over there." He pointed to a small house on the corner. "That house is made of adobe--sun-dried bricks made of mud and straw. All the houses along here were made of adobe, that's how old this section of Guadalajara is. Over the years, they've fallen down because of the rains, but people build them right back up again.
"Some years ago, Calzada Federalismo was widened to accommodate all the traffic that comes this way. Before the street was widened, the market building was more than twice the size it is now. The market building back then wasn't just for flowers. There were meat markets, tortillerías, and plenty of stands where you could eat. The government took most of the market to build the street. Now there's no tortillería there at all, the meat markets have mostly moved out, and there are only a couple of food stands left." He shook his head. "There used to be a kindergarten here. And there were frontón (a ball game played with a kind of basket-shaped racquet) courts." He smiled. "There are many other frontón courts in the city, but the ones right here are gone."
Fronton paddles. Photo courtesy Google Images.
"There are more flower markets in Guadalajara, you know. One is right in front of Parque Agua Azul, on Calzada Independencia near González Gallo. Another is at the corner of Manuel Acuña and Contreras Medellín, just about ten blocks from here. But none of those markets sells the amount of wholesale flowers that we sell here."
I thanked Dr. Avila and walked up and down the street once more. The flower market had lightened my mood and I knew I'd come back on other days just for the lift. Although I was determined to buy a bundle of carnations, my eye suddenly lit on a huge bucket of tight yellow Siberian iris buds. "Cuánto cuestan?" I asked the vendor. "How much do they cost?" Thirty-five pesos for ten long stems! I bought two bunches and strolled happily to my car.
Back home, after I arranged the flowers in a tall vase, I checked my favorite online florist for the price of Siberian iris in the United States. Suffice it to say that I would never have been able to afford them. If you go to Guadalajara, be sure to make a field trip to the wholesale flower market, where you can afford to buy all the flowers you could possibly want.
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