The COVID-19 pandemic has affected Skagit Valley’s tulip growers in multiple ways, from a collapse in flower sales to the cancellation of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and loss of several hundred thousand visitors who roam the fields each April and buy merchandise, bulbs and bouquets.
The seasonal businesses that earn a majority of their income in early spring are doing everything they can to make up what they lost.
“Instead of truckloads (of tulips), we’re doing a box at a time,” said Brent Roozen, a third-generation tulip grower for RoozenGaarde. “If we could replace ... what we lost, we would be beyond thrilled, but that’s probably a long time off.”
A few weeks ago, orders for a million tulip stems destined for grocery stores throughout the country were canceled, as stores prioritized stocking up on essentials such as toilet paper, Roozen said.
“Flowers were the first thing everyone cut,” he said.
Roozen said the farm tried to donate as many tulips as possible to hospitals and first responders. Ultimately some ended up in the compost pile.
“They are a perishable product,” he said. “When the whole market dries up, there is nowhere for them to go.”
He said bouquets are back in grocery stores, but it’s a fraction of the volume the farm had expected.
Roozen said in a normal year, crews would be cutting flowers from a portion of the farm’s 300 to 350 acres of tulips. This year the farm is filling all its orders from tulips grown in its greenhouses, and has cut its workforce.
“We can’t afford to have any extra costs at this point,” he said.
Roozen said this hardship is different than any the family-owned farm has experienced over its 70 years in business.
“It’s probably the most stressed out I’ve ever seen everyone, and for some of them, in 50 to 55 years of work,” he said. “It’s flashing before their faces, what’s this mean for next year?”
He said the goal now is to make it through the spring. The farm is hoping sales will pick up for Mother’s Day.
The farm’s retail store is closed in compliance with Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order that closed all nonessential businesses.
For Tulip Town, the farm’s business has also been upended, but in a different way.
“Our whole business model is getting people off the road to enjoy tulips,” said Andrew Miller, CEO of Spinach Bus Ventures, which has owned Tulip Town since last year. “We can’t do that this year, so we’re trying to take the tulips to the people.”
Tulip Town hired an Arlington company to film a virtual reality video of its 7 acres of tulip fields for an upcoming Tulip Town mobile phone app. Miller said filming took place this week and the video is in postproduction.
He said the app will be free and may include games such as tulip bingo. He said the thought is that when people see virtual tulips, they will want to buy bulbs to plant in their home gardens.
For the first time, Tulip Town is offering nationwide shipping of flowers and off-site bouquet sales, which will help the farm come closer to breaking even and keep crews working, Miller said. But visitors are irreplaceable.
“Our business model is not to sell bouquets in grocery stores. We’re in the business of connecting people (to tulips),” he said.
Tulip Town’s farm stand is open and is selling boxed lunches, bags of flour from Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill and vegetables starts, in addition to tulip bouquets. Farm stands that sell food are considered essential and may continue to operate under Inslee’s order.
The farm stand’s checkout line has markers six feet apart to ensure social distancing.
Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde’s tulip fields are closed to the public, but the colorful blooms have drawn interest nonetheless.
Skagit County Sheriff’s Office traffic Sgt. Jeff Willard said patrols are monitoring the area and focusing on moving people along safely.
“If folks say, ‘While we’re out doing essential business, we’re going to go the long way home near the tulip fields,’ I think that’s acceptable,” he said. “Do I want people driving up from Seattle? I don’t think that’s what the spirit of the governor’s order is.”
Willard said drivers should stay in their cars as there is no safe place to park on the side of the road.
“We would like folks if they are coming through the area to drive slowly and enjoy the beauty of the tulips without stopping and getting out of cars and taking pictures,” he said.