Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

posted in: Commentary | 15

Today, to be patriotic, for the 4th of July I bought my wife some red, white and blue carnations.  I got them at Franco’s Flowers on Leucadia Boulevard just off the I5.  If you live in North County, this is definitely the place to get flowers.  I’m no professional flower arranger, but I think they came out nicely.

I asked the clerk who was trimming and wrapping the flowers where they came from, and he said, “Columbia.”  At least that felt more patriotic than purchasing them from Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela.

The Irony of This Purchase

These greenhouses lie between a golf course and my home. It was all once flowers

It is ironic, because I live in Northern San Diego County, in the city of Encinitas, which was once the capital of cut flower production for the US.  One of the few remaining greenhouses, Dramm and Echter, borders my neighborhood.

The Ecke Ranch with a small mother-block of Poinsettias

Much of the hill-top land with views to the Pacific was once owned by the Ecke family.  They once controlled 90+% of the wholesale Poinsettia business selling to the greenhouses around the country to local greenhouses that prepared them to be America’s traditional Christmas decoration.  Over the years they have sold off land for housing, for shopping centers and for a beautiful golf course where I frequently run.  When my family moved to Encinitas in 1990, we bought in a neighborhood that was once in flowers, but which was converted in 1974.

Why The Flower Growers Left

There are several inexorable trends that have since driven the flower business largely out of my town.  Some has gone to California’s Central Valley.  Some has gone to Mexico.  Most has gone to Venezuela (roses), and Columbia (carnations).  The drivers were:

  • The very high cost of land
  • The very high taxes that were indexed on land price, and
  • Diminishing labor pools

Basically, it was “Urbanization,” or really “Suburbanization.”  It has also greatly diminished our strawberry and avocado industries.  This really isn’t such a big issue outside of California, but it certainly is in a place like San Diego.

Can I Be Patriotic and Green While Buying Flowers?

These trends are not limited to flowers.  It is true of any labor intensive crop, with asparagus being the poster child.  Americans are rapidly increasing their consumption of this tasty, cancer-fighting vegetable, but our own production is declining rapidly.  The logic is simple – asparagus is a 12-15 year crop with a short, labor intensive harvest season for 2-4 weeks in the spring.  We once had thriving asparagus industries all over the US.  It was a common, local vegetable.  As doubts developed about the future labor supply ,and as land prices soared, farmers abandoned the crop.  Now we buy asparagus from Peru and transport it by air.  The roses, carnations and asparagus were all US-sponsored projects to give small farmers an alternative to growing cocaine.  In every case they have become industries dominated by large companies.  (The small farmers still grow the cocaine, by the way.)

Some Hope for Ocean Transport in the Future

Fortunately, there are several technologies in place and in development that may make it possible to deliver these commodities by ocean transport – an extremely efficient system.  Soon we may be able to enjoy flowers, asparagus, and off-season fruits while being both patriotic and green.

So can I feel patriotic buying those flowers for my wife?  Yes.

You can email me at [email protected]  My website is Applied Mythology

Follow Steve Savage:
Steve Savage is an agricultural scientist (plant pathology) with >30 years of experience in agricultural technology. He has worked for Colorado State University, DuPont (fungicide development), Mycogen (biocontrol development), and for the past 13 years as an independent. He also has a little vineyard in his back yard near San Diego. His speaking website is DrSteveSavage. His blogging website is Applied Mythology. You can follow him on Twitter @grapedoc