The last time I was able to venture off my beautiful island, I was lucky enough to catch the Skagit Valley tulips at full bloom, only 15 miles from the ferry terminal.
Then this morning I felt equally lucky to catch this article by Kirk Johnson in the New York Times about those very fields, and a group of old high school friends who had teamed up to go into the flower business…just in time to get slammed by the Coronavirus.
As Johnson writes,
The annual tulip festival that draws hundreds of thousands of people north of Seattle to Skagit County, where three-quarters of the nation’s commercial tulip crop is grown, was canceled. And that put every other element of the tulip economy into free fall as well: No festival visitors paying to stroll through the blossoms and no money spent on restaurants, hotel stays, bouquets and bulbs for growing at home — a $65 million hit to the local economy that only compounded the economic blows of the state’s shelter-in-place orders.
Faced with the prospect of losing 90% of their revenue, Johnson writes, the five bulb-farmers, once cheerleaders and “yell squad” teammates from Mt. Vernon High, had to innovate, and their courage paid off.
Phone calls started coming in from people who were not going to be able to come in person to visit, said Rachael Ward Sparwasser, whose journey went from cheer squad to lawyer and investor to tulip partner. “Would you be willing to ship blossoms?” the callers asked. The old business model had mostly involved shipping bulbs to gardeners, not fresh bouquets.
Their company had 600 shipping boxes in storage, and Ms. Sparwasser figured they might get orders to send 100 or 200 boxes, 20 stems each.
“Within the first day, we sold through all of it,” she said. Within weeks, they boxed and sold 8,000 bouquets, a completely new business line started from scratch.
Then, as a wave of appreciation grew around the country for health care workers and others at the front lines of the virus, the idea struck that people might pay to have a bouquet of tulips sent as a donation and statement of support. So came their new Color for Courage business line — and more than 4,700 more orders at $15 a bouquet.
Could there be a better story for these times? No, it doesn’t have to do with Mother’s Day directly, but this kind of sharing and make-do innovation, this pivot from disaster to generosity, seems perfect for the day. These folks’ moms should be proud. It brought a smile to my face as bright as any colorful bouquet would have done.
Happy Mother’s Day to all, and to all a big bunch of colorful love!