Sunflowers are to Ukraine what tulips are to western Washington. During the blooming season, both are spectacular and represent the best in the people who cultivate and visit those fields.
In late 1945, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands presented the Canadian government with 100,000 tulip bulbs as a gift for providing Holland’s royal family exile during World War II. Since then, the tulip became known as a “Peace Flower” in North America. Her pilgrimage inspired Dutch tulip growers to come and farm western Washington’s rich soils.
Ukraine was the world’s leading producer of sunflower oil. At one-time, it was the breadbasket of the Soviet Union. This year, Ukraine, roughly the same size as Texas, was forecast to account for 12% of global wheat exports, 16% for corn, 18% for barley and 19% for rapeseed. The share of agriculture in export revenues was valued to be $22.2 billion.
Vladimir Putin squashed those hopes in March by invading Ukraine.
Thousands of innocent victims have been killed and wounded. Innumerable apartments, homes, farms, factories, refineries and hospitals — even nuclear plants — have been bombed. Streets, roads and highways are cluttered with blown apart remains of the Russian tanks, trucks and aircraft.
The invasion prompted more than four million people to flee to neighboring nations, particularly Poland. Ukrainians have fought back valiantly despite being out-manned and out-gunned. They are holding their own.
Images of glowing sunflowers — symbolic of warmth, positivity, power, strength and happiness — have been blocked by photos of dark billowing smoke plumes and the reality of senseless killing.
By stark contrast, the Skagit Valley continues to be peaceful and now is open again to visitors following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and mask mandates. While COVID raised havoc with Americans over the last two years, its impact is pale compared to what is happening in Ukraine.
In 2020, the Skagit Valley experienced economic losses of $80 million after its annual tulip festival was canceled only 10 days before its scheduled opening. This festival is among the largest in Washington and runs the entire month of April.
None of our farms have been ripped up by Russian tanks. No enemy riflemen have been killing Washingtonians, and we have had the peace symbolized by tulips. While America has its share of civil unrest and inner crime and destruction, we are not staring down the barrels of Russian tanks.
Washingtonians can thank Dutch families for Washington’s tulip fields.
In 1947, the young Bill Roozen and Henry DeGoede immigrated to Skagit Valley with their wives to grow spring flowering 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.
They are examples of the American dream — work hard, take risks and produce quality products. It was something the Ukrainians were beginning to experience before the Russians invaded.
Both families kept the farms in the family, passing them onto third generations.
Like many family farmers, the Roozens and DeGoedes have grown and diversified. Both families extended their enterprises beyond their spectacular fields lined with 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 bulbs and fresh tulips are grown, processed and shipped.
Meanwhile, DeGoede’s farm is 300 acres near Mossyrock. Along with tulip bulbs, DeGoede greenhouses grow a variety of annual and perennial flowers which are potted in containers, planters and hanging baskets for customers throughout the Northwest.
Hopefully, Ukraine will find the “peace” Princess Juliana envision through tulips and Ukrainians will once again feel the warmth, positivity, power, strength and happiness of its 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 theBrunells@msn.com.