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Skagit Valley tulip growers are enduring, meeting expectations

MOUNTAIN VERNON. – When the COVID-19 epidemic was on the rise a year ago, the RoozenGaarde և Washington Bulb family appeared with millions of flowers, without buyers, at the height of the tulip season.

Many flowers were donated, but many turned into fertilizer. And the family had a serious discussion about the future of their 70-year-old business.

Meanwhile, the new owners of Tulip Town suddenly faced such challenges, but from a different perspective. How to make their $ 1.5 million investment survive the poppy season without people, when visitors have traditionally been the farm’s biggest source of income.

Now, a year later, both farms have endured and adjusted their expectations as long as the epidemic continues. This year there will be visitors during the one-month Skagit Valley Tulip Festival starting on Thursday. But it does not seem to be last year. The popular festival attracts about 400,000 people a year.

Last Friday, the rows of tulips were mostly green in RoozenGaarde և Tulip Town, with a few brightly colored tulips daring to bloom before the festival.

In the coming weeks, as the rows show more color, both farms will attract visitors, but with booking tickets, to limit their ability to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Tulips in Skagit region

20 million bulbs are collected every summer

– Skagit County grows about 1,000 acres of tulips, which are sold both with cut flowers and bulbs and shipped to the United States and Canada. About 20 million bulbs are collected every summer.

– Skagit County grows about 500 acres of tulips, accounting for 75% of US commercial production.

– 75 million flowers grown in fields million million’s fields make up more than half of total sales.

– The lamp industry generates about $ 20 million a year in gross revenue, of which $ 3 million comes from lamp sales.

– Washington Bulb Co. և Tulip Town are the only bulb farms in the region.

– The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in April brings 400 $ 65 million in annual revenue to around 400,000 visitors to the county. More information about the festival can be found at tulips.com և tuliptown.com.

Source: Washington State University Skagit County Extension 2019 Agricultural Statistics

RoozenGaarde third-generation producer Brent Ruzen said being closed last spring was surreal.

“The garden has never been more beautiful, the weather was everything we ever dreamed of, it was an empty garden day by day,” he said.

The closure cost RoozenGaarde almost a year to earn. In April, businesses earn about 90% of their revenue from receptions, gift shops, flower and lamp sales.

“Spring is what really hit us, when it was lost, it was lost for a year,” Ruzen said.

The epidemic also affected the Roozen family’s other business, the Washington Bulb, a lamp and flower seller. The farm has 500 hectares of throat, 350 hectares of poppies և 15 hectares of greenhouse. It is the largest producer of tulip և darfodil bulbs in the United States

Roozen said last spring the company lost almost a month of fresh flower sales from Easter to Mother’s Day, its busiest season.

As panicked shoppers rushed to buy more toilet paper and beer, grocery stores canceled large orders for flowers.

With no market for its perishable products, the Washington Bulb donated tens of thousands of flowers to hospitals and first responders. After all, it had to fertilize millions of flowers, Ruzen said.

“Breathing room”

“In March of last year, there was a discussion about whether we would move forward this year,” Ruzen said.

Fortunately, the demand for fresh cut flowers increased later in the spring.

“(Er’s sales) normalized when everyone realized they were at home or could not visit people,” Ruzen said.

Lamp sales are strong this year, if not better, he said.

He said the Washington Bulb և RoozenGaarde employs about 250 to 300 people. The companies received a $ 1.66 million Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan last spring to help employees harvest light bulbs.

“It gave us a breathing room,” he said. An additional $ 1.55 million PPP loan was approved to the companies in February.

Trying to recycle, fewer acres of tulips and marigold were planted on the farm this season, Ruzen said.

Surviving the pandemic for a year has given the business prospects.

“Even your worst days are not so bad,” Ruzen said. “Being on a farm, you have a lot of things out of your control, but we, like most people, have never predicted such an (epidemic).”

RoozenGaarde is looking forward to the reopening of reduced capacity for tulip visitors this week, he said.

The hope is that guests will be able to enjoy their free space during the week ապրիլի month of April, ց the cold spring weather extends the season until early May.

New owners are innovating

Spinach Bus Ventures, a local venture capital firm, acquired Tulip Town in June 2019. The 30-acre Mount Vernon farm was started by Tom և Jeannette DeGoede և and played the founding role of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in 1984.

The new owners are five graduates of Mount Vernon High School in 1994 who grew spinach seeds in the rural fields of Skagit Valley. They also operate Fairhaven Mill, Skagit Acres (formerly Skagit Valley Gardens) and open a restaurant called Skagit Landing at Skagit Regional Airport.

After investing $ 1.5 million in Tulip Town, the company had to survive the tulip season without people, its biggest source of income.

Tulip Town earns about 95% of its revenue from visitors who pass through its gate, said Andrew Miller, CEO of Spinach Bus Ventures.

“We had to fill it with other eggs,” he said.

The farm started selling light bulbs, a small percentage of the farm’s total income. Tulip Town also sold flowers off-site for the first time, partnering with local restaurants to offer a bouquet to order.

Tulip Town has also launched the Colors for Courage campaign, which allows people to buy bouquets online for health workers, first responders, military families, members of isolated or vulnerable communities, and potential employees.

“It was just enough to barely keep our noses above the water,” Miller said. “We survived, not evolved (regime).”

Tulip Town also launched a 360-degree mobile phone app to give viewers an immersive view of poppy fields at home.

“The muscles of our innovation have really, really grown, and so have the muscles of compassion,” Miller said. “What surprised me the most was how much we were able to connect the tulip people.”

He said the epidemic underscored that many people have a personal connection to tulips, even from afar.

Miller said restrictions on COVID-19 have eased this year, and the farm is working on what is best to tie people in person with tulips.

“Commercially and economically, we can have a good year, but at the same time, it’s like this clash of energy-collective therapy (after COVID-19),” he said.

The owners have incorporated other aspects of their business into Tulip City. In addition to the Tulip Town Gift Shop, there is a second retail area with Fairhaven Mill flour and other Skagit Valley products.

The Skagit Landing menu at the new cafe will serve Pacific-themed food such as local beer, wine and cider. There is a closed seat և outdoor patio overlooking the tulip fields.

The owners also tried to move Tulip Town to the digital age.

Anesthesia scanners at the entrance gate are scanned with a QR code. Visitors will be able to browse the tulip bulbs on the tablets. Signs in the Tulip Fields will display QR codes for each variety of tulips. Scanning the code on a mobile phone will take guests to the Tulip Town website to purchase the appropriate bulb.

“(The opening) is huge for us as a team; it is huge for us individually,” Miller said. “I owe it to myself that we have been participating in it for two years without really being able to celebrate.”

Breaking National business contributors contributed to this report.

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