Thorny Times for Bay Area Flower Growers

Tougher than ever to turn petals into profits

By Jodi Hernandez
|  Friday, Feb 12, 2010  |  Updated 6:02 AM PDT
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A Rose By Any Other Seller

Jodi Hernandez

Valentine's Day is a boom for flower sales -- but local growers are struggling.

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Valentine's Day is a few days away, and it's a big time for a big business. The cut-flower business globally is estimated at $49 billion, including $10 billion in roses alone, and 36% of the year's fresh flower purchases happen on Valentine's Day.

But California rose growers like Neve Brothers in Petaluma say it's getting tougher and tougher to turn their petals into profits.

"This year and last year, too, the economy doesn't have a lot of extra money to spend on luxuries like flowers," said Nick Neve, a fourth-generation rose grower.

It's not just the bad economy that's causing rose-growing operations to wilt. Competition from abroad -- as far away as Uganda and Ecuador -- has made it hard for California growers to survive.

"You'd be surprised, most of them come from out of the country," said Lou Neve, Nick's father.

In fact, Lou Neve and his sons run one of the few remaining rose nurseries in the state.

"There (were) over 100 rose growers," said Lou Neve. "At this point now we're one if 9, maybe 10."

Locally grown food is a Bay Area obsession, with so-called "locavores" prizing ingredients grown within 150 miles of one's home. But people are only starting to apply the concept to flowers.

The Neves are urging flower lovers to buy California-grown blossoms. Choosing the right petals may not just make your Valentine happy, it could keep California flower growers blooming.

"There are beautiful, fresh California flowers to be had," said Lou Neve. "All you have to do is ask for them."

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