For a flower grower, the outlook for the California flower industry depends on whether you are a pessimist or an optimist. A few weekends ago I attended bookend events that explained a lot about the current situation.
On June 2, the San Francisco Flower Mart celebrated its 100th anniversary. It was a great evening to reminisce about the “good old days.” The California Flower Market was incorporated in 1912 by 54 Japanese-American growers as one of the first grower-owned flower markets in the United States. Later they joined the San Francisco Flower Growers Association, made up of Italian-American flower growers, to form the San Francisco Flower Mart.
There were more than 350 shareholders at the market dinner, but the truth is many have never been to the San Francisco Flower Mart. They were doctors, lawyers, executives, teachers, or other career professionals who became shareholders through their parents or grandparents. I understand why they did not join the flower market. The 1990s and 2000s were difficult times for California flower growers and most growers quit or retired and did not encourage their children to follow in their footsteps.
Over the last 100 years, the number of growers in the San Francisco Mart has gone from more than 100 to about 10. As the market manager, Bob Otsuka, stated, “It is now a broker market.” There is nothing wrong with that; it is a still the best flower market in the United States. However, it reflects what has happened to flower growers in Northern California.
The other event I attended was Sunset Magazine’s annual celebration at its headquarters in Menlo Park, CA, the Silicon Valley home of Facebook and most venture capitalists. I watched as the well-heeled hordes went gaga over Guy Fiere’s Dr. Pepper pork and the gourmet food trucks lined up and down the street. What recession?
I was here to observe Debi Lilly, the entertainment and design expert for Safeway. She showed a standing-room-only crowd how to use flowers and found accessories to have fun, beautiful and inexpensive summer events. Even though California is $19 billion in debt and rumored to soon fall into the ocean, Californians are usually more preoccupied with their next food and wine event.
A little later I watched Debra Prinzing, who wrote The 50 Mile Bouquet, talk about her book. The concept is to take advantage of the flowers and greens in your own region. She asked, “Why can’t we have flowers from our local fields?” We support this idea and we are big promoters of the California Grown campaign.
The California flower industry is a mixed bag. As the San Francisco market dinner highlighted, there are a lot fewer growers now, but the Sunset event showed the public has a huge appetite for a lifestyle that includes flowers. How do you see the glass?
Recession, regulation, high business costs, water, fuel and labor issues can drive a California grower to drink. However, a perfect growing climate, a huge flower-loving population and a movement that values beautiful, local and sustainable flowers give us some hope for the future.
Whether you see the glass half-full or half-empty, if it is a nice California Chardonnay, just drink it and enjoy.
Robert Kitayama is president and chief executive officer of Kitayama Bros. Inc., a family-owned flower farm established in 1948 in Union City, CA, and now located in Watsonville, CA. He can be reached at 831/722-2912 or email@example.com.