Flower industry in good shape as Senate designates July as American Grown Flowers month
The U.S. Senate designated July as American Grown Flowers month a couple of weeks ago, encouraging consumers to buy “Certified American Grown” flowers.
Following the news, no one was happier than Erin Caird, owner of Por La Mar Nursery in Santa Barbara and Glad-A-Way Gardens in Santa Maria.
Ms. Caird, who has been in the flower industry for multiple decades, has been pushing for the designation for almost 10 years.
“It means a lot. I’ve been on a panel for California flower growers for years and the next thing to do was support American grown,” Ms. Caird told the News-Press.
“Seventy percent of flower production came out of California but then we saw other states trying to break in, like Alaska with the peonies, or Philadelphia, or Delaware, and so we’re just trying to spread it out to American growers.”
The support for the flower industry could not have come at a better time.
Like most industries, the flower industry was facing a lot of obstacles at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has since weathered the storm quite well.
“We have really bounced back. For our industry right now, we have been doing okay just because the supermarket chains are open and they are primarily our business,” Ms. Caird said.
“I think it’s because people aren’t traveling, so we’re actually probably doing better than… some industries because we’re still open. I do feel that a lot of the nurseries, we’ve just been fortunate.”
While some flower growers have ceased operations, Ms. Caird said she believes that is more due to the rise of the cannabis industry than anything COVID-related.
Owning both a shop in the south and north part of the county, Ms. Caird says the entire county is currently really in a good place.
“I was just with a flower grower (Friday) and they said they are doing really well,” Ms. Caird said.
Toine Overgaag, owner of Westerlay Orchids in Carpinteria, has had a similar experience as Ms. Caird.
“When COVID first hit and all the supply chain disruptions that came, I think what the market overall was seeing is that with people staying home, not traveling now there is a little bit of money left for these small luxuries, like flowers,” Mr. Overgaag said.
“It’s been surprisingly resilient.”
He added that while the flower industry might have been hurt by the lack of weddings, others are seeing makeup on the gardening side with people again spending more time at home.
Westerlay Orchids’ sales are up double digits compared to last year, but he did say “we are not out of the woods economically speaking just yet.”
For Westerlay Orchids, Mr. Overgaag said the only goal the company has at the moment is keeping it’s employees healthy.
“The number one thing is no one catches COVID at Westerlay. We have a very extensive protocol on how we are handling things and making sure to keep safe and that’s been successful, but you know our biggest concern is how do we keep supporting our employees,” Mr. Overgaag said.
He added that while the local economy is good right now, ultimately no one will know what will happen with the broad economy.
“You can’t necessarily control a ton of it, but we can be prepared for it so we’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” Mr. Overgaag said.
During the pandemic, Mr. Overgaag is also less focused on how the general public could support the flower industry and instead how the flower industry could help locals.
“We provide a product that helps mental health, helps feelings and connections and that was something that kind of became really obvious to us when COVID hit,” Mr. Overgaag said.
“It’s about mental health, it’s about connection, it’s about feeling close to the people that you can’t see every day and that’s a role that we can fill.”
As a response to the pandemic, Westerlay has donated nearly 100,000 orchids to frontline workers and has launched boxoforchids.com, where community members could go and ship a box of orchids to anyone in California or the four adjoining states and ship the flowers overnight.
“Our organization has core values of wanting to be one with the community, so once you look at it that way, it’s not hard to figure out why we are doing what we are.”
Ms. Caird feels the same way about the role flowers could play in helping people’s mental health.
“We call that hort decor,” Ms. Caird said with a laugh.
“A lot of flowers and potted plants can reduce stress and a lot of them can increase productivity. They make people smile, they make people happy and it’s something that you can brighten up your home with at minimal cost.”
Being in the industry since 1972, Ms. Caird has grown a love for everyone she works with, both competitors and friends.
“The people in this industry are pretty rad. My parents started our company in 1972, so we’ll be 50 years old in a couple years and we just all have a really good time. I think everyone gets along, even if you’re competitors. We have a lot of respect for one another, it’s just not an easy industry,” Ms. Caird said.
Mr. Overgaag had a similar sentiment.
“There are a lot of nice people. It’s just a fun industry, we’re making a product that people enjoy and so I feel very fortunate to be part of it,” Mr. Overgaag said.
Overall, Ms. Caird said the state of the industry right now is in a good place as she has been able to rehire some workers she initially had to let go because of COVID. There is still work to be done and other ways people can support local growers.
“I think people are doing okay. It’s been tough but we just want people to support local grown flower farmers and just Ag in general,” Ms. Caird said.