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Through fire & mud — how Carpinteria’s flower farmers kept growing

December’s wildfires and January’s mudslides certainly tested the resolve of California’s flower farmers in the Carpinteria Valley. Known as “the nation’s flower basket,” California’s most valuable flower-growing region faced two mandatory evacuation orders in just 30 days.

GALLUP--STRIBLINGMud and debris blocked many streets Jan. 9, including Via Real near Gallup & Stribling Orchids and Westerlay Orchids, in Carpinteria, CA.Unable to access production facilities for a two-day period due to the threat of the Thomas Fire in December, flower farmers in the Carpinteria Valley were asked to clear out their facilities on the afternoon of Jan. 8 as mandatory evacuations were put back into place due to the threat of mudslides (anticipated as a consequence of December’s wildfires).

While the path of the Thomas Fire was something farms could see and firefighters could defend against, the mudslides in January were completely unpredictable. No one knew what the rains would bring and how much damage might occur.

Out of an abundance of caution, the county’s evacuation orders proved to be warranted as areas in Carpinteria and Montecito experienced unprecedented mud and debris flow through their communities.

Fortunately, only two of Carpinteria’s two dozen flower farmers reported damage due to mud and it was minor, but the deadly mudslides have wreaked havoc on logistics and transportation of flowers through the region. With Highway 101, the main transportation artery along the coast, closed between Carpentaria and Santa Barbara since Jan. 9, farmers, carriers and customers have had to get creative with pick-up and delivery routes. With Highway 101 open south of Carpinteria, farms in the valley have been able to ship their flowers south to Oxnard, which already serves as California’s main distribution hub for transportation carriers. From Oxnard, flowers are able to continue on to customers throughout the state and across the country.

The good news — Highway 101 re-opened Jan. 21, just in time for Valentine’s Day shipping, allowing for weekly transportation routes to return to normal.

Despite all of the evacuation orders and road closures, Carpinteria’s flower farmers have been able to manage through these historic events while continuing to grow and deliver their flowers.

This was due to a tremendous effort by first responders and firefighters who fought valiantly to protect people and property from the Thomas Fire, only to return to the valley again to help clear debris and rescue people from their homes. This time, our farmers worked alongside first responders, clearing logs, rocks and branches with their tractors and heavy equipment.

All systems are a go, as California’s farms are looking forward to a strong Valentine’s Day, with plenty of flowers to help meet the market’s demand.

Kasey Cronquist is the chief executive officer and ambassador for the California Cut Flower Commission in Santa Barbara, CA. He can be contacted at