Mums the Word

Florida's manufacturing environment is incredibly diverse. Located on a few hundred acres of land in Alva
(located between Fort Myers and Belle Glade, FL) is a manufacturing facility that annually produces 186 million copies (that's 1.86 x106 for those of you into scientific notation) of the essential component that supports an entire North American industry sector. If that number isn't impressive enough, this firm can increase productivity to as many as 225 million parts if called on to do so and this production schedule is handled with less than 600 employees.

Who's the manufacturer and what's the product? Presumably you have already guessed that product is
mums; but perhaps you didn’t know that the manufacturer is Syngenta Flowers, Inc. and their Florida operation is responsible for 100% of the potted Chrysanthemums in North America and 80% of the garden variety. Syngenta acquired this operation from the Yoder brothers, long time mums and aster growers from Fort Myers with name recognition powerful enough that Syngenta, an international corporation, retained the Yoder brand for its mums.

Despite all of the tools and technologies available in today's high-tech world of agriculture, how can one farm at one location be the source for all of the potted chrysanthemums (remember that's well over a million pots) in all of North America? OK, we have been a bit deceptive. The facility does not produce all of the potted chrysanthemums you can buy, it produces all of the "sticks," or plugs that the commercial growers use to produce pots of these colorful plants.

Why is a flower, gorgeous as they may be, getting this attention in the FLATE Focus? That’s an easy
question to answer! Starting with a “Made in Florida” industry tour, FLATE is helping the middle and high schools in Belle Glade, FL, develop a partnership with the Syngenta's Alva facility. The goal is to make these students aware of the STEM connections within this manufacturing facility. One of the most effective methods for accomplishing this is to bring students to Syngenta to see first-hand what goes on "down on the 21st century farm."

The first of these visits occurred two weeks ago, as Syngenta was gearing up for the summer/fall mums season. FLATE provided the logistics and transportation support for 25 students from Labelle Middle School and six students from Edison Collegiate High School in Fort Myers to have an extensive tour of the Syngenta operations. The visit could be characterized as a riding tour on the back of open air trucks. Tour guides made stops along the way that were chalk full of high-tech operations. In fact, the tour was framed by visits to controlled environments.

At the start, students were introduced to a clean room, a half-acre long, that could only be entered after
gowning procedures typical of a semiconductor facility with the addition of operating room style hand washing protocols to protect the premium seed stocks stored and germinated within the faculty. The tour ended within a cold room facility (35 degrees F) where the fully grown (less than 2 inches) product is packaged and warehoused pending distribution throughout North America.

So, the next time you buy a potted chrysanthemum from a grower near you, remember that the plant actually started its trip to your home near the everglades where the sun and soil help another "Made in Florida" product bring beauty and wonder into your life.

For more information on the FLATE-led Made in Florida outreach campaign, or to schedule a tour for students in your region contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit www.madeinflorida.org.