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Editorial: American flower growers nurture new Capitol Hill ties

By   /   Friday, May 9th, 2014  /   Comments Off

Cut flowers from the Golden State are beginning to show up again at swank events — including the recent White House dinner for the president of France.

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Chalk up another victory for California’s resurgent agribusiness community.

Cut flowers from the Golden State are beginning to show up again at swank events — including the recent White House dinner for the president of France.

Reporting in the New York Times underscores the efforts it took to get the Obama Administration to make the big switch and buy home-grown flowers.

There were personal notes from Sen. Dianne Feinstein to First Lady Michelle Obama, a key decision maker. There was lobbying by Kasey Cronquist and others at the Carpinteria-based California Cut Flower Commission.

There was even the formation of a flower growers’ caucus within the House of Representatives led by Rep. Lois Capps of Santa Barbara and Rep. Duncan Hunter of San Diego County. Democratic Rep. Sam Farr of Monterey County a member of the caucus, personally lobbied President Obama and White House Chef Sam Kass on the issue, according to the New York Times.

“It took work to make this happen,” Kathleen Merrigan, a former deputy secretary of agriculture who took on American-grown cut flowers as a cause, told the New York Times.

Apparently the effort is paying off, and cut flowers from California, including some varieties from the Tri-Counties, are finding their way to the White House.

The arrival of California cut flowers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue reverses a trend that dates back to the days of the Reagan Administration, when Nancy Reagan turned to flowers to reverse an air of austerity that permeated the Carter Administration.

With the gates opened and global trade deals on the rise, a tide of foreign grown flowers flooded in.

But this is the era of the buy-local movement, and domestic flower growers, once among the world’s most expensive, have found ways to cut costs and become more competitive.

For its part, the White House told the New York Times that the American flowers at the French dinner were not a “one-off event.”

It may be a sad commentary on our times that flower growers have go to Washington and lobby like big pharma companies for special treatment. But so far the effort seems to be paying off.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated at 12:02 p.m. on May 9 to clarify Capps' role in the formation of the flower growers' caucus. She and Hunter were co-founders. Farr is a member of the caucus but not a co-founder. ]

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