Guest Editorial By Ron Pierre

America in Bloom: An Opportunity for Unity

The year 2001 will go down in history as a year of both tragedy and unity. Last month’s horrific attack of terrorism brought our nation and the world together and renewed a sense of national pride, patriotism and solidarity that had been missing for decades.

On a less profound level, this has been a year for unity in the floriculture industry as well. Growers and allied suppliers have come together in an unprecedented manner to acknowledge and solve common problems facing our livelihood. It started this winter with growers addressing escalating energy costs and the inability to raise prices in today’s retail climate. One long-term solution is to raise the value perception and stimulate demand for flowering plants. The America In Bloom (AIB) initiative was identified and clearly plays a major role as part of this solution.

What is AIB?

Conceived by Bedding Plants International (BPI), America In Bloom is a community beautification contest that promotes our industry through civic pride. One way pride can be expressed is through planting flowers. This can be done in window boxes and hanging baskets on Main Street, in residential gardens or in mass plantings at public parks. BPI saw tremendous potential in this kind of grassroots effort.

When BPI dissolved in July 2001, the rights to the program were purchased by the America In Bloom Task Force, which consists of myself and about 50 industry members. The program is administered and hosted through the gracious support of the Ohio Florists’ Association (OFA).

When the task force first convened, our purpose was to explore organizing a national marketing initiative that would be much bigger than the America In Bloom contest. The idea was to fund national advertising through industry supply chain assessments, a long sought after but elusive goal. We all agreed that containers would be the simplest and most universal point of collection. We also agreed assessments would be mandatory to make it fair to all.

AIB Status Update

We presented the America In Bloom concept to the industry at large in July at OFA’s Short Course. The goal was to get people talking, stimulate feedback and generate constructive input. While there is strong support for building and promoting the AIB contest, too many growers dislike a container levy as an assessment vehicle and aren’t convinced this system would be equitable. People love the idea, but not the mechanism. We agreed that this program should “feel good” for all and in order to succeed, we needed to overcome feelings of being forced to contribute.

We decided we would not pursue a container assessment or a supply chain levy at this time. Instead, we will pursue voluntary contributions from growers and allied industry segments. For the first year, our thrust will be building a stand-alone America In Bloom contest and capitalizing on public relations. Once we have results or success stories, we can ask the industry to generate funds for high-profile consumer advertising.

This year, four U.S. cities have partnered with four Canadian cities and will compete as pairs in the Communities In Blooms international division, as a pilot for the America In Bloom contest. The partnered cities are Stratford, Conn. and Stratford, Ontario; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Medicine Hat, Alberta; Monroe County, N.Y. and Oshawa, Ontario; and Portland, Maine and Saint John, New Brunswick. The cities were recognized during the Communities In Bloom symposium on September 21-22 in Saint John.

AIB in 2002

We will continue to work closely with the Canadians as we build a U.S. contest in 2002. The testimonials and footage from the pilot contest and awards ceremony will provide something tangible that we can use to promote the contest next year. Our initial promotion includes literature dissemination, media coverage, a Web site and event appearances.

Participants say the most rewarding aspect in the program is bringing communities together. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our industry could play a strong role in bringing people together, especially in a time when the need for healing is so great? What better way to remember the thousands of innocent lives lost than with beautiful, living tributes? Memorial and patriotic plantings have tremendous potential, in the way Victory Gardens swept the nation during the two World Wars.

America In Bloom is a work in progress and is continuously evolving. For more information on how you can support the cause or share ideas, write O.F.A. Services, 2130 Stella Court, Suite 200, Columbus, OH 43215-1033; call (614) 487-1117; fax (614) 487-1216; or E-mail [email protected],

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Ron Pierre

Ron Pierre is president of Express Seeds, Oberlin, Ohio. He can be reached at (440) 774-2259.

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