I can hardly believe that one year ago today, I (with my family) sat on the streets of Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena, CA and took in the spectacle that is the Rose Bowl Parade. As the guest of the California Cut Flower Commission I had spent the previous two days meeting cut flower growers and touring their remarkable facilities and gardens and attending the Rose Parade was the final act in an experience that I will never forget.
I have thought repeatedly about what was the most enduring impression that I took away from this experience and here it is in one word: Audacity.
Did you know that the Rose Parade began as a publicity stunt by the farmers who had settled in California more than 100 years ago? Seeking east coast recognition and attention for the agricultural bounty that was available on the west coast, they decided there was no better way to showcase the harvest, than to put on a parade where floats were made solely of locally grown materials. It was audacious.
The parade has lost sight of this history. It is still an astounding spectacle but most of the flowers and materials are imported – usually from other countries – and the direct connection to the agricultural community of the region is almost extinct. But in seeing the huge numbers of volunteers and feeling the palpable pride and passion of the participants when we visited last year, I realized something – we have something to build on. I have long lamented the dreary displays and disappointment of many of the garden shows in this country. As an industry professional, they aren’t something I am generally proud of and I can’t help noticing how poorly they stack up to the extraordinary garden events that are held in other countries. Events like The Chelsea Flower Show and The Hampton Court Flower show are part of British culture and it is because of a national pride that these wildly inspirational shows are such a treat to attend. There you will find passion, excitement, tradition and audacity everywhere you turn. I didn’t think we had anything like that here, but I was wrong. The magic that fills the air around Chelsea time, is the same that buoys Pasadena in the build up to the rose parade. Tradition and pride fuel countless volunteers who put on an astounding show that dazzles and enchants the whole country every New Years Day. It seems that if only the event can find its way back to its roots (even just a little) and once again acknowledge and celebrate the region’s remarkable fertile abundance, the pride that shines generally for the parade can spread again into a pride in the local artisans, growers, builders and the land in general. I wonder if that could turn a tide against cultural apathy about the treatment of our land. Not only would the cut flower industry benefit, but gardening and generally health and well-being. Taking pride in our land and cherishing its gifts is the very essence of prosperity – and celebrating them is important.
My biggest take-away from the trip was a renewed belief in the pluck of people who work the land. The growers I met made me proud to be part of this industry. They are men and women who work very hard; many were immigrants who have built businesses that not only grow beautiful plants and flowers, but they are investing in technology, making advances in breeding and cultivation techniques and modeling advancements in sustainability like few other industries I know. And they have survived and adapted in a market that sometimes seems to be ever shrinking. Touring their greenhouses and gardens and understanding their challenges and accomplishments left me undeniably impressed – and assured that change is not only possible – but imminent.
Like the materials for the parade, most of the flowers we buy in the market aren’t grown by these people – rather they are imported from other parts of the world where often the conditions under which cut flowers are grown aren’t quite so noble. Last year the California Cut Flower Commission was able to certify one float (the entry from California Polytechnic Institute) as more than 85% locally grown. This year they were able to certify two (Adding the entry sponsored by FTD to the list that again included Cal Poly). It is progress and it admirable. I’m hopeful to see more next year. I’m also hopeful that with large companies like FTD making the commitment to local, that organizers might take notice and begin to think of ways to encourage regionality. How hard would it be to offer an award specifically for floats grown locally? As a designer I was (of course) daydreaming about what kind of float I might design and it made me think how interesting it would be to see the styles of designers I admire translated into float form…not only a celebration of roses and flowers…but of design talent (wouldn’t that be a fun reality show!).
But to wrap up this sort of rambling post…I want to tell you how inspired I am by these colleagues and this memory. I am excited for the new year and all the potential that comes with ringing in 2015.
Happy New Year! – Rochelle
images by Kasey Cronquist at Rose Story Farm and Ever-Bloom.
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