Rising From The Ashes

Just outside the town of Villa Canales, Guatemala, lies Vita Farms, a 37-acre nursery with a long history of supplying young plants to our industry. In the course of a few days last May, however, a storm of fire, wind and water leveled the entire facility. Employees watched as their livelihoods were flattened.

Pacaya is one of the many volcanoes in Guatemala, lying just southwest of Villa Canales. Normally a popular tourist destination, Pacaya woke with a fury May 27, erupting suddenly and unexpectedly. It spewed fire and ash for miles in every direction.

At the farm outside Villa Canales, ash rained down and covered everything in sight. Mounds of the fluffy gray ash quickly gathered atop the greenhouses. Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom declared a state of calamity in the region adjacent to the volcano, and people were urged to stay in their homes to avoid the rain of ash and dust.

Four days later, Tropical Storm Agatha surged into Guatemala from the Pacific Ocean. More than 100 people were killed by the storm. A sinkhole 180 feet deep formed in the middle of Guatemala City. For the farm outside Villa Canales, this was the death knell. The ash that had accumulated on top of the greenhouses soaked up the rain from Agatha like a sponge. The light, fluffy material became waterlogged, growing heavier as the rains continued to pour in from the storm.

Soon, the greenhouses gave way from the pressure of all the accumulated weight. In some cases the poly broke first; in others, the support beams. The damage was devastating.

The Rebuilding Begins

By the end of May, Pacaya went back to sleep. The rain stopped. The people could finally leave their homes safely.
But all that was left of the Villa Canales farm was a flattened nursery. The crop – all of it – was buried under a mix of poly, ash and other debris. The stock plants – the financial blood of the nursery – were dying underneath the rubble. The owners saw the damage was too great and decided not to rebuild.

Plant broker ForemostCo had a longstanding relationship with this farm and its people. The farm was more than a supplier. It was made up of friends and family. Something had to be done.

Within days, ForemostCo forged a partnership with the farm’s former manager and team so the rebuilding could begin. First, debris had to be removed from the mother stock. The plants needed to be recovered, and the greenhouses had to be repaired as quickly as possible. The task was immense.

To avoid exposing the stock to the elements, greenhouses had to be quickly constructed. Throughout all of the repair efforts, Vita Farms was able to supply some quality products to help its customers and maintain some cash flow.

A year later, the task is not finished. But take one step back and look at what’s been accomplished. Through no small effort, the hardworking team at Vita Farms was able to quickly make the repairs needed to turn the farm into a productive, fully-functioning facility. You’d never think a catastrophe had struck the farm a year ago.

Vita Farms is now shipping every week to customers around the world. There are currently 20 greenhouses in full operation and ongoing construction keeps adding to the number. The farm employs more than 80 office and field personnel.

In January alone, the farm shipped more than 2.5 million cuttings to the United States, Canada and Europe. From groundcovers and perennials to succulents and other crops, Vita Farms has risen from the ashes of Pacaya and Agatha to once again provide the industry with quality cuttings and exceptional service.

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