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Dutch immigrants significant in U.S. bulb distribution business

Flowering bulb industry tips hat to American customers

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

HAARLEM, the Netherlands - An American city skyline with the Statue of Liberty, topped by giant tulips and fronted by tulip fields along a highway with cars earlier this year promoted the Westfrisian flowering bulb exhibition Flora 2001 in a special section in the local daily. The gesture, rated as the next best thing to “Say it with flowers,” was the second time in 25 years that the Dutch flowering bulb industry singled out the U.S.A. for its Flora theme.

Dutch bulb growers have sold significant quantities of plant material across the Atlantic Ocean over the past decades. The export of bulbs to the U.S. - in 2000 valued at 289 million guilders - has surpassed the 1,4 billion mark, leaving all other countries far behind it on the customers’ list of 150. The bulb industry in the Netherlands which includes 2,700 growers and 100 exporters, jointly sponsors Hillegom-based International Bloembollen Centrum. The 75-year-old agency that coordinates the promotion of the flowering bulb. It has done its job so well that the words tulip and Dutch almost have become synonymous.

The success of IBC may well have been far more tedious if the transplant of the Dutch flowering bulb into North American soil had not gone in hand-in-hand with the resettlement of Dutch horticulturalists looking for better opportunities in the New World. Such opportunities were well advertised by bulb salesmen returning home from their months-long annual sales trips abroad.

A quick perusal of surnames of flowering bulb growers and wholesalers in both the U.S.A. and Canada turns up the same names as those well-known in the Dutch industry sector. Family members living in the U.S. on a year-round basis who know the local markets well, since cover the sales territories far more intensively then travelling a salesman ever could have hoped to achieve.

A reporter of the oldest (founded in 1790) Dutch newspaper still in existence, Noordhollands Dagblad, recently travelled to the U.S. to check out the North American leg of the Dutch flowering bulb industry. The result was a special feature section which appeared just before the Westfriese Flora 2001, the colourful annual industry trade show of February. The stories on some of the growers in California, Oregon and Washington State confirm their dependence on the Netherlands for more than just plant material: the research, the very specialized equipment, computerized greenhouses and systems, often installed with the help of other Dutch immigrant specialists, and the infrastructure they developed for a successful local industry.

The Noord Holland daily along with other stories particularly featured Oregon Flowers Inc. (the Mesker family, originally from Julianadorp and Breezand, now in Aurora), Oregon Perennial Company (the Wierstras, Andijk, now Aurora), DeGoede Bulb Farm (the De Goedes, Breezand, now Mossyrock), and Holland America Bulb Farm Inc. (the Dobbes, Breezand, now Woodland).