The Cal Poly float is one of only two floats in this year's Rose Parade to qualify as California Grown, meaning 85% of the flowers on the float are grown in California.
The other 41 Rose Parade floats are mainly decorated with imported flowers.
The Rose Parade goes back 1890 and was started by the prestigious Valley Hunt Club. The notion was to showcase Pasadena and all its charms to easterners in hopes of enticing them to move West. "The abundance of fresh flowers, even in the midst of winter" was part of the enticement. As eminent club member Charles Holder said, "In New York, people are buried in snow," announced Professor Charles F. Holder at a Club meeting. "Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let's hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise."
Now, more than 120 years years after the Rose Parade began, southern California flowers still bloom in January and orange trees are loaded with fruit. But today the Rose Parade floats carry flowers shipped in from South America. Holder's notion of showing off our paradise has faded to oblivion. As yesterday's LA Times pointed out, the floral paradise showcased on today's Rose Parade floats is imported.
Though news to me, this importing flowers business has been accepted for decades.
In a Star-News piece from last year, longtime float builder Jim Hynd observed, "When I first started in this industry in the '70s, 90 percent of our flowers came from within 200 miles of us.... That's totally the absolute opposite now. Most everything we get comes in from South America or other parts of the world."
Turns out that most flowers used on floats are flown from South America to Miami and then trucked 4,000 miles across country in refrigerated trailers. Parade floats use "an estimated 20 million flowers transported from around the world in aircraft and trucks:orchids from Asia; dried everlasts from Africa; roses from Colombia and other South American countries; and tulips from Holland."
Imports are so much the standard that the official Rose Bowl rose now hails from South America. Last year, the Tournament of Roses and Rose Bowl named Passion Growers, a Miami-based importer of flowers grown in Columbia and Ecuador, as their official flower. As the Times reported, the news infuriated California flower growers.
As strange as it seems, it is big news when a Rose Parade float actually uses locally grown flowers Yesterday, the LA Times reported that floats from Cal Poly University and the California Clock Company.are using mainly California grown flowers with California Clock shooting for 100% California flowers.. The Tournament of Roses says California Clock is "the only entry to attempt that feat in many decades."
The Cal Poly floats are always one of my favorites and I understand that the schools' floats have always used flowers grown at the SLO and Pomona campuses.
The California Clock Company is a parade newcomer and recoiled at the notion of buying imported flowers for its float. The company is from Fountain Valley and is best known for its Kit Cat Clocks and its CEO, Woody Young, has distinguished himself as a star of this parade. As related in the LA Times, "As the leader of a California company, Young said, he wanted to support locally grown ingredients.“All of the parts of our clocks are made in the U.S.,” he said. “We resisted the idea of going offshore for even part of our manufacturing, so it is just fitting that we should have California fresh-cut flowers and greens on our first Rose Parade entry.”
I am a big parade fan. No other city the size of Pasadena has anything like it. And, I respect the Tournament folks -- they're a civic minded lot who devote a lot of volunteer time to make this thing happen.
But, personally, I was stunned to learn the flowers on Rose Parade floats are imported. To me, importing the flowers gives the Rose Parade a contrived, soulless quality. Despite all its problems, I still have pride in California and still think of the state as a place where everything grows.
I am disappointed that parade and bowl leaders don't stand up for California growers and buy local and I am disappointed for California growers who have to compete against overseas' operations that play by different rules. I'm saddened to learn that yet another California industry has withered in the name of "save money, live better."
What ever happened to California pride? Well, it is alive and well down in Fountain Valley. Maybe it takes a quirky clock maker from the OC to restore some of the parade's local luster. I hope Woody Young's local pride spreads and I will certainly be watching his Kit Cat Clock float this morning.