Deep in the hills above Antigua, surrounded by towering volcanoes and coffee farms lies the small, rural town of Parramos. Population: 15,000.
Today, the town is modest. A fountain trickles in the main square, beautiful trees line cobbled streets and locals move at a quieter pace of life than in Parramos’ touristy neighbor, Antigua. But behind the town’s unassuming walls, lies a complex past spanning over forty years of natural disaster and violent political unrest.
In 1976, as much of the country slept, a massive earthquake shuddered through the region, turning homes into rubble and causing 23,000 fatalities across the country. While still picking up the pieces, Parramos was rocked by a wave of civil war that’s been cited as one of the most brutal in Latin American history and only officially ended with peace accords in 1996.
“This area was hit hard over a number of years during the civil war, as well as the 1976 earthquake,” says Juan Bronson, an agroforestry expert from nearby Antigua. “My parents did restoration work here and told me that not too long ago, Parramos was mostly rubble. All of the townspeople were affected in one way or another.”
Yet, amongst the adobe buildings, still bearing scars from the town’s turbulent past, stands a strong collective of women working to bring income and empowerment to their community through the business of flowers.
Empowering women from the ground up
Made up of 15 members, the Centro de Desarrollo Integral Guatemalteco (CEDIG) women's cooperative began as a small dairy farm before switching to growing tomatoes and, finally, flowers. Thanks to their careful land management, the co-op can see 36 blooms per plant in a year and sells hundreds of bouquets at market every week.
The earthquake devastation is still too raw for many to talk about—even after four decades—so co-op President Sicda Nineth Chacón focuses on the positive: how to bring women together to gain income from the land and promote optimized agriculture; that each rose grows up to five times larger than most thanks to the region’s volcanic soil; and how she can support her community’s physical and intellectual growth, strengthening their position both socially and economically in the region.
Thinking always about what the earth gives to them, Sicda performs a short blessing before each planting: burning copal (a local incense) and asking Madre Tierra for permission to grow the flowers that support them from the ground up.
This consciousness and dedication to the land and their community is what first drew our Ethical Buying team to the group. Alongside promoting responsible agriculture, the co-op seeks to provide its members with a healthy work environment; employment for an older generation who commonly struggle to secure work in the wider market; educate youth on issues related to sexual and reproductive education; and strengthen its members’ knowledge around human rights.
Small is beautiful
Our Ethical Buying team was first introduced to the co-op in September 2017 and has been purchasing dried rose petals for Ro's Argan, Dream Steam, Skin Drink and Birth Of Venus ever since. With its calming, toning qualities, rose is a favorite ingredient in our skincare creations, and appears in every category from bath bombs and massage bars to toners and fresh face masks.
The long-stemmed roses that Sicda and her team sell at local markets and community stores are prepared by removing the outer petals leaving only the fresh, inner blooms. The discarded petals are then air dried on a special rack, purchased through a Sustainable Lush Fund grant , before being shipped to Canada. By purchasing what would otherwise become waste, we’ve been able to support the women in gaining access to the beauty industry, strengthening their foothold in a market they’ve never been in before.
It’s part of our long-term goal to support grassroots communities, especially those that have undergone turmoil through conflict or natural disaster. “Small is beautiful,” says Gavin Hollett, Manager of the Sustainable Lush Fund. “We believe that every ingredient we buy should have a positive impact on the community from which it’s harvested, boost growing capacity, educate on more sustainable farming methods or strengthen access to other markets. Buying from small-scale producers affords us the opportunity to drive positive change, encourage sustainable agriculture and form long-lasting relationships with grassroots producers the world over.”
Blown away by the size and quality of the roses, we’ll continue to look for ways to invest in the project and help this partnership bloom for years to come.