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Floral adventure project proving it’s a small world after all

MINNEAPOLIS — In July 2015, Spanish florist Antonio Vicent decided to follow his lifelong dream of traveling the world and to also film a global documentary on the blending of cultures and floral customs. So — much to the surprise of his friends and family — after 25 years in the flower business, he closed his flower shop in Alicante, Spain, sold his car, collected his life savings, packed his four cameras, audiovisual equipment, and his backpack and set out on a journey he thought would last about a year. Now 18 months, five continents, 32 countries and “more cities than can be counted” later, his globe-trotting floral adventure continues.

“Everyone thought I was crazy,” said Vicent in a news release. “And taking off on such a long trip seems to me a decision comparable to having children or when you open a business. It is one of those vital projects that if you think about it a couple of times, you end up postponing it. The decision comes after sleepless nights, doubt and uncertainty; where fear is a carnivorous plant and doubts are its food.”

Yet, with a budget of about $40 a day, he felt compelled to pursue his self-financed project in order to eventually enlighten the general public about the role of florists and the emotions that flowers evoke worldwide. “Since ancient times, human beings have felt attracted by the beauty of flowers,” said Vicent on his website. “However, flowers act as a vehicle for conveying feelings and it is here where the profession of florists plays an important role in society — as marketers and as professionals ready to turn flowers into art.”

Another goal is to show how little it takes to brighten someone’s day just by giving him or her a flower. “My first steps into the floral world were at age 17,” Vicent told The Produce News. “I was attracted to the power that a flower had to draw a smile from a person who entered my parents’ flower shop.”

Throughout his travels, he has been handing out flowers to people and filming their reactions. Much as with the SAF Petal It Forward campaign, he finds that at first some are wary of a stranger handing them flowers, but when they are reassured that there are no strings attached, they smile, laugh, cry and are always deeply touched emotionally by the flowers themselves.

Also, in each country he has visited he has found the use and value of flowers is unique. “In some European countries, flowers are so important that they are often purchased on a daily basis, as if it were bread,” Vicent said. “In Russia, families with greater purchasing power use exclusive, exotic flowers for decorations; in Mongolia, flowers are traditionally given to request marriage; in southwest Asia, flowers are present at most social events and gatherings; in India, they only offer flowers to the gods; and in Argentina, similar to Spain, flowers are considered a luxury item. The similarity in most countries is that the consumption of flowers is associated with the expression of feelings before or during a celebration.”

In addition to the emotional impact, Antonio hopes to highlight and affirm the other beneficial effects of flowers and plants on human beings. “I want to show that a plant has the capacity to renew oxygen in our workplaces. It improves our concentration, our humor, plus a long list of other things,” said Vicent. “Nature is so important for the planet and its inhabitants and I especially want to publicize this wonderful world.”

There have been a few bumps in the road along the way, including being robbed at knifepoint in India. “I had asked the hotel if it was safe for me to record the sunrise at 5 a.m.,” Vicent said. “They told me yes so I found the best location, placed my camera on the tripod, searched for the perfect frame and pressed to record button. When I stood up, a knife pressed into my neck and a voice whispered in my ear, ‘Give me all your money.’ I told him I had none on me and a second pair of hands searched me and found only my hotel key. Then he said, ‘Since you have nothing more of value, say good-bye to your life.’ I could feel the knife pressing tighter into my neck, then I noticed my camera and exclaimed, ‘The camera, take the camera.’ He checked the camera and took it away, but before leaving he said, ‘You are a lucky man.’ ”

Despite that harrowing experience, Vicent believes that “it’s necessary to set fears aside since they only limit growth.” Here are his top 10 takeaways from his journey.

  • Life is short.
  • Embrace the unknown.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Follow your heart.
  • Dream big and ask for help from others.
  • People are good everywhere.
  • You are the architect of your life.
  • Always smile.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.
  • Do not make agreements with your limitations.

The biggest message he wants everyone to hear is one of unity and cooperation. “United and paddling in the same direction, we will be able to achieve everything we want. Otherwise, it will be impossible,” said Vicent.

This traveling floral ambassador expects to visit at least two more countries, one more continent, several additional cities, before returning to Spain in the spring to give shape to his documentary and write a book about his adventure. “There is a maxim that I always follow: I live in the present, the here-and-now, it does little good to spend my energy on the future,” Vicent told The Produce News. “I want to thank all those who trust in me and in my project — especially Frank Biddle and Paul Harris from Tradewinds International, who I met in Ecuador and who have helped me visit many companies in the U.S. — without that help this trip would be very difficult. Traveling across the United States is a unique experience and everything is very different from other parts of the world, but the common denominator is expressing the emotions of customers through flowers and that is the soul of my floral adventure project.”

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