Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A World of Color with Sun Valley Flowers

Today we share a story from a different side of agriculture - flowers. If you have ever wondered how flowers are grown or what a flower farm is like, Sun Valley Group shares their story for you. 

Here at the Sun Valley Group our goal is to “Create a World of Color”, and how better to do that than with flowers?  We are one of the largest growers of cut flowers in the United States.  We have 3 farms in California as well as a small farm in Ontario, Canada, just north of Buffalo, N.Y.  Our headquarters is in the seaside village of Arcata, California in extreme northern California nestled between the legendary giant redwoods and the roaring Pacific Ocean.  It is at this location we hybridized the famous Stargazer Lily which became the most popular Oriental lily in the world. 

The driving force behind Sun Valley is longtime President and CEO, Lane DeVries. Lane emigrated from Holland to America in 1983 and has been the hands on leader of Sun Valley ever since. His passion for growing tulips, lilies and irises has led Sun Valley to become an industry leader. We now ship our flowers every day of the year to all 50 states, and beyond.

Life on the flower farm is similar to most other farms, you start early and it is hard work.  Crews are out picking in the huge greenhouses, hoop houses or fields at the crack of dawn.  The flowers are then graded, bundled and shipped to clients; some as big as Safeway and Kroger Supermarkets and others as small as your neighborhood florist.  We have to be constantly planning ahead.  If we need a large crop of lilies for Valentine’s Day, then we must consider this months in advance.  Taking soil nutrients, weather patterns, and sunlight ratios into account, we decide exactly what the flowers need, and there is no room for error.  Managing the day to day ebb and flow of flowers is certainly a challenge.  Besides our three main crops of tulips, lilies and irises, we grow a wide selection of other flowers and bouquet items, such as hydrangeas, brassica (ornamental kale), freesia, gerbera daisies, asters, cotinus and rosehips just to name a few.  We pride ourselves on offering our customers a large year round selection of flowers, greens and bouquets.

Picking lilies

Flowers are a very perishable product, so we have had to innovate the best ways to keep flowers fresh for the end users.  Picking them at just the right time, maintaining the Cold Chain (constant temperature control starting the moment the flower is picked) and using the most efficient forms of transportation, all ensure that the flower in a vase on your dining room table is the absolute freshest.   Seven days a week at least two trucks leave our Farm, one drives 5 hours south to San Francisco International Airport, where pallets of flowers are flown to points east.  The second truck drives straight to Oxnard CA, about 12 hours south, where the flowers are dispersed through other flower trucking lines.  The logistics are jaw dropping and at the busy times, such as Mother’s Day, we have trucks leaving constantly, crews working 24 hours a day and hundreds of thousands of stems being shipped.

Sun Valley is also strongly committed to being environmentally and socially responsible.  We have been certified by Veriflora, which represents compliance in numerous areas, including environmental sustainability, ecosystem management and protection, resource conservation, energy efficiency and integrated waste management.   This certification process was not an easy thing to do; however, we now sell our flowers with full confidence that we aren’t harming the earth in producing our spectacular blooms. 

The flower grading line

We really love flowers here on the farm, and especially flowers grown in the United States.  In the last decade or two, we have seen a dramatic shift in the cut flower industry.  Not long ago, 80% of all the cut flowers sold in the USA were grown in the USA, unfortunately, today only 20% of the flowers you see for sale at the supermarket, at florists or online are grown in the USA.  This huge swing has affected flower farming families and communities across our nation.  Today, South American grown flowers are in all segments of the market, yet, they don’t have the overall quality or environmental standards which American farmers uphold.  We are strong advocates to educate consumers and flower professionals to insist on American grown flowers, even if they aren’t from Sun Valley. 

The best part of the flower business is the farm and the people. 
Standing out in a fiery field of blooming crocosmia. 
Watching with wonder as Lane DeVries yanks an iris bulb from the ground, pulls out his pocket knife, slices the bulb open and explains what is going on with the bulb.  
Standing alone in a quiet, yet vast sea of 4 foot tall Oriental lilies in the greenhouse. 
Walking through a giant shade house of blooming hydrangea. 
Watching everyday as the tulips get bigger and bigger, reaching for the sun. 
Seeing the upbeat crews blasting music as they box up hundreds of flowers to ship out to the world. 

CEO Lane with Tulip

We are lucky enough to see these vignettes every day.  What we don’t see as often, but we know deep down in our hearts, is that we share in the joy that someone receives when they give flowers.  When the delivery man knocks on the door and there is a stunning bouquet, just for you.  Or the amazing bouquet a bride carries to the altar or the peace a bunch of lilies can bring a person as they sit in their office or home.  It is truly intangible. This is why we do it.

Be sure to follow our blog: Flower Talk and like us on Facebook to see more photos and flowers.

Thanks to Bill Prescott and Sun Valley for sharing their story about a unique and different side of agriculture. Be sure to like their facebook page and check out their blog for more information. If you or someone you know is a farmer, ag business owner, or has a passion for plants or animals - we need your story - contact us today!