Pulling Together for the Common Good

Historian T.R. Ferhrenbach once wrote that Texas is “a primordial land with a Pleistocene climate”.  Those of us who live here understand how true this can be, and we deal with it on a regular basis. The joke about the climate here is that we have perpetual drought with intermittent flooding. But last May, over the Memorial Day weekend, that joke turned into a nightmare when torrential rains filled our otherwise slow and placid Blanco River with a wall of water that went crashing downstream for miles. Hundreds of homes were flooded or swept away, giant pecan and cypress trees were stripped of their bark and uprooted, and many lives were lost. Two major bridges were destroyed. One of our neighbors who lives well above the river had four feet of water in her home. After the river went down, she measured the high water mark with GPS and found that the river had risen fifty-three feet from its normal level. Usually the Blanco River is only a couple of feet deep.

Even if you weren’t affected directly, you knew someone who was. As you would expect, the community pulled together and went to work getting things cleaned up. Pamela and I were out the next morning with sandwiches and shovels helping friends clean out their flooded home. But it was a staggering level of destruction. There were (and still are) major appliances and building materials stuck 20 feet high in trees. Tour busses and RVs were wrapped around trees downstream from the RV park in Blanco, and they stayed there for weeks as other, more pressing issues took precedence. The bridge to town is gone, and although it’s being worked on, it won’t be repaired for a long time.

Our farm is two miles from the river, so the flooding didn’t affect us directly, but the rain did. We figure that nearly twelve inches of rain fell on the farm in just a few hours. (The rain gauges all overflowed, but we estimated from buckets.)That’s a lot of rain! Most of our harvest for June was lost, and many of the young plants were damaged beyond recovery. The wet soils kept us from being able to replant, so our production was affected well into the summer. Overall, we estimate that we lost around $70,000 in production. That’s quite a hit, but nothing compared to people who lost homes and family members.Watching the community pull together, I was reminded of something I had heard on the radio years ago. Bill Moyers was speaking on the NPR show Fresh Air. Host Terry Gross asked Mr. Moyers if he considered himself to be a liberal. After a few moments, he answered, “Well, if you define liberal as meaning that you believe we can accomplish more together than we can by ourselves, then yes, I’m a liberal.”  

I have, in the past, considered myself a liberal, and although I have come to temper my views somewhat in the past few years, I still believe strongly in Bill Moyers’ definition.  

That is why I am a member of the ASCFG. I believe that together we can accomplish more than we can by ourselves. As members of this organization, we are able to pool our resources and strengths to put together conferences and growers’ schools that benefit all of us. We can print a quarterly publication to share information and news, and we can run a web site that hosts an active bulletin board and allows potential customers to find us with just a few clicks. We have a research foundation, new variety trials for both annuals and perennials, and a Cut Flower of the Year program. These are things that we do together for ourselves that we couldn’t do alone.

In addition to all the great things that come from our talented staff in the Oberlin office, this has been a big year for new projects. We have a very active Board of Directors, with good ideas and great involvement and follow-through. As President of the organization I can proudly point to what we’ve accomplished, but to be sure, it is through the hard work of the board and staff that this is possible. They make it happen. Some of the things I can point to include:

•   A mentor program that will bring new growers together with seasoned flower farmers.
•  The Flower Bucket Challenge.
•  A local flowers project video to promote the value of locally-grown flowers.
•  A Shopify-based online marketing program for selling your flowers. (Details available soon.)
•  Increased social media and other networking presence

But the ASCFG also has a leadership role to play in the floral industry at large.  We are but one part of a bigger picture, and once again Bill Moyers’ definition comes into play. We can accomplish more together than we can by ourselves. I believe it is in the best interest of our members and the industry at large for the ASCFG to continue to work with and complement the efforts of other groups and associations.  Some of the projects and associations we have been involved with are:

•  American Society for Horticultural Science’s education program to promote education to the public and encourage students to choose careers in horticulture.
•  Cooperation with the CalFlowers group to provide significant shipping discounts to members.
•  Working with the American Grown Flowers program to educate the public about imported flowers and the choices they have to buy locally.
•  Supporting the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus to educate our lawmakers in Washington about the importance of our domestic cut flower industry.
•  The Land Connection’s cut flower workshop in Illinois, North Carolina State Extension’s two cut flower meetings, and ACORN’S “Grow a Farmer” program.

As I have said in the past, the ASCFG is an educational organization for growing better growers. To that end, we have had an exceptionally active year. We have had four excellent meetings in four area of the country. We are also constantly updating the Members Only section of the web site, where (among many things) you can see and hear videos of the talented speakers at past conferences. And of course there is The Cut Flower Quarterly, which I think should be in the running for a National Magazine Award, if not a Pulitzer!  No other floral or farming industry group that I know of has a publication of this quality.

We’ll continue this pace into 2016. We have a Growers’ School scheduled for March 5-7 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and we’ll be organizing a national conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan November 6-8.

But it takes you to keep it going. Get involved. Sign up to be a grower for the New Variety trials. Contribute an article to the Quarterly. Attend conferences and consider being a speaker if you have something to share. (We all do!) Add your voice by running for a position on the board. Together we can accomplish more!

Back in Blanco, things are getting back to normal, but you can tell that at the same time, everything is changed. After the flood, it quit raining completely, and we haven’t had a drop for three months. Typical! But when rain is mentioned now, there is a sense of trepidation, of unspoken concern. Will this happen again?

A week after the flood, the river was still running well above normal. Our power was finally back on, and that Saturday I drove over to Home Depot and bought a couple hundred dollars worth of supplies for the relief center in Blanco. I dropped them off and walked across the square and had a beer out on the porch of the café owned by some good friends. People came and went, and we all talked about what we had seen.
A young couple was sitting at the next table. They were from Austin, and had come out to help some friends clean up. Their friends, and many others, hadn’t been able to cross the river to get out all week. It was the first day that anyone could get into that part of the river where an oxbow prevented access from either side.  

As we were sitting there, a state truck pulled up and two strapping guys from the search and rescue program came in for supper. The young couple asked the waitress something and she went inside. Soon another state truck pulled up, and then another, all filled with big, hungry guys. The waitress came back out and cautiously asked the young man, “There are twelve of them now.  Do you still want to pay for their bill?”

“Absolutely.”  The guy said.  I tipped my beer at him and told him “Thanks.”