Ukraine needs Flower Power

By Don C. Brunell

Sunflowers are to Ukraine what tulips are to western Washington. During the flowering season, both are spectacular and represent the best of the people who cultivate and visit these fields.

In late 1945, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands presented the Canadian government with 100,000 tulip bulbs as a gift for providing exile for the Dutch Royal Family during World War II. Since then, the tulip has become known as the “peace flower” in North America. Her pilgrimage inspired Dutch tulip growers to cultivate the rich soils of western Washington State.

Ukraine was the world’s largest producer of sunflower oil. At one time it was the breadbasket of the Soviet Union. This year, Ukraine, which is about the same size as Texas, is expected to account for 12% of global wheat exports, 16% corn, 18% barley and 19% rapeseed. Agriculture’s share of export earnings was valued at $22.2 billion.

Vladimir Putin dashed those hopes in March by invading Ukraine.

Thousands of innocent victims were killed and injured. Countless apartments, houses, farms, factories, refineries and hospitals – even nuclear power plants – have been bombed. Streets, roads and highways are littered with remains destroyed by Russian tanks, trucks and planes.

The invasion prompted more than four million people to flee to neighboring countries, particularly Poland. The Ukrainians fought back valiantly despite their lack of manpower and weapons. They are holding up.

Images of glowing sunflowers – symbols of warmth, positivity, power, strength and happiness – were blocked by photos of dark plumes of smoke and the reality of senseless murder.

In stark contrast, the Skagit Valley continues to be peaceful and is open to visitors again after the lifting of covid restrictions and mask mandates. While covid has taken its toll on Americans over the past two years, its impact pales in comparison to what is happening in Ukraine.

In 2020, the Skagit Valley suffered economic losses of $80 million after its annual Tulip Festival was canceled just 10 days before its scheduled opening. This festival is among the most important in Washington and rthroughout the month of April.

None of our farms were destroyed by Russian tanks. No enemy riflemen killed Washingtonians, and we had peace symbolized by the tulips. While America has its share of civil unrest, crime and domestic destruction, we are not looking at the guns of Russian tanks.

Washingtonians can thank Dutch families for Washington’s tulip fields.

In 1947, young Bill Roozen and Henry DeGoede immigrated to the Skagit Valley with their wives to cultivate spring flower bulbs. They started farming small plots of land and through hard work, long hours and with the help of their families, they grew, hired people and generated income.

These are examples of the American dream: work hard, take risks and produce quality products. It was something Ukrainians were beginning to experience before the Russians invaded.

Both families kept the farms in the family passing them down to third generations.

Like many family farmers, the Roozens and DeGoedes grew and diversified. Both families have expanded their businesses beyond their spectacular fields bordered by rows of yellow, red, purple and white tulips and daffodils.

For example, in addition to its 1,000-acre tulip fields blooming for the festival, the Roozens have 16 acres of greenhouse production in which fresh bulbs and tulips are grown, processed, and shipped.

Meanwhile, the DeGoede farm spans 300 acres near Mossyrock. In addition to tulip bulbs, DeGoede Greenhouses grows a variety of annual and perennial flowers which are potted in containers, planters and hanging baskets for North West customers.

Let’s hope Ukraine will find the “PEACE” imagined by Princess Juliana through tulips and Ukrainians will once again feel the warmth, positivity, power, strength and happiness of her sunflowers.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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