The Carpinteria Greenhouse and Nursery Tour on April 1 can't help but be a showy affair — we're talking bajillions of beautiful blooms that are normally off limits to visitors, in one of the nation's most productive flower-growing regions.
But the farmers have a deeper message for the thousands who come to ogle the fields of lilies, Gerbera daisies and other brilliant stems: Look for the orange and blue "CA grown" stickers when you purchase your bouquets.
"We're trying to get people to be more discerning," said Kasey Cronquist, head of the California Cut Flower Commission. "Historically, in the wholesale flower business, a rose is a rose is a rose, but not anymore….Now you need to ask, 'Where did this rose come from?' "
Flower farms have become a rarity in the United States, with about 80% of cut blooms imported from other countries, primarily in South America, Cronquist said.
Only about a dozen farms in the United States (including one in Carpinteria) still grow roses for bouquets, for instance, Cronquist added. "It's simply cheaper to grow them in other countries and ship them to the United States."
Most of the imports are flown into Miami and then trucked to their final destinations, Cronquist said. "If you're looking for freshness, the average consumer is not thinking of flowers grown in Bogotá [Colombia], flown into Miami and then trucked to Los Angeles."
U.S. flower farmers have had to scramble to find profitable varieties that appeal to consumers.
"It's more challenging every single year," says David Van Wingerden, co-owner of Westland Orchids & Produce, "but being a farmer is in my blood."
9th annual Carpinteria Greenhouse & Nursery Tour
What: Free, self-guided tour of seven farms in Carpinteria, about 90 miles north of Los Angeles. Bouquets for sale at every farm, water and food for sale along the route
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 1
More: For a deeper dive into the cut-flower world, there's the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner on March 30 in Carpinteria. Tickets are $175. AmericanGrownFlowers.org/fieldtovase