By Nora Mounce
The coastal pastures northwest of Arcata are home to grazing cows, colorful Victorians and narrow, bumpy roads leading to the ocean. Blending easily with the bucolic scenery, a yellow farmhouse sits surrounded by acres of greenhouses – this is the humble home of Sun Valley, America’s largest cut flower farm. Since the first Dutch-style glass greenhouse was built on the farm in 1982, under the recommendation of today’s company CEO and President, Lane DeVries, Sun Valley Flower Farm has quietly, yet steadily grown their operations on Upper Bay Road. DeVries, who first immigrated from Holland to Oregon for a job growing lilies, signed on with Sun Valley after researching Humboldt’s climate. With an average temperature spread from 51°- 61° F, Arcata has one of the narrowest diurnal ranges in the country, a moderate climate that DeVries knew to be perfect for growing tulips and other bulb flowers. After joining the farm as greenhouse manager in 1983, DeVries purchased Sun Valley in 1991 with the help of two Dutch business partners, kick-starting an era of prosperity for the business. Today, the bulk of Sun Valley’s production is still the colorful trio of lilies, irises and tulips, but the company has purchased satellite farmland in Oxnard, California and continues to diversify their greenhouses with new colors and varieties of flowers.
Since Humboldt Made’s creation in 2009, Sun Valley has been a partner member and vital supporter of Humboldt Made. DeVries, who travels often for business, had been advocating for a collaborative marketing group to represent Humboldt grown products for years. Though eager to help Humboldt Made, Sun Valley’s Marketing Communication Specialist, Bill Prescott, is quick to mention how Humboldt Made is important in tying the flower farm to the local community. While Sun Valley has generously mentored several Humboldt Made businesses, a key advantage to membership, Prescott explains how the relationship between Sun Valley, the community and Humboldt Made is mutually beneficial. Humboldt Made has been instrumental in connecting Sun Valley to talented local professionals, such as photographer Amy Kumler and filmmaker Malcolm DeSoto, who Sun Valley utilized for successful marketing campaigns. In Prescott's own words, he reiterates the underlying Humboldt Made mission that, “Rising tides float all boats.” In short, the success of one Humboldt business is good for the economic vitality of the entire region.
When speaking about economic health, conversations about environmental impact and conservation are never far behind. Years before local or sustainable became household names, Sun Valley had been a leader of environmental responsibility in the flower market. As 80% of cut flowers sold in the United States are grown in South America, where environmental regulations are far less stringent, Prescott illustrates how there is little competition for a more sustainably grown stem than Sun Valley flowers. The farm is certified annually by multiple third-party regulating agencies such as Bloom Check and Veriflora. Such agencies award certifications to farms like Sun Valley for being in compliance with sustainability checks like ecosystem management, resource conservation, integrated waste management and energy efficiency.
This March, Sun Valley hosted a "Field-to-Vase" farm dinner, showcasing Eel River Organic grass-fed beef and local produce, prepared by Folie Deuce and Café Brio of Arcata, alongside wine from local artisan producer, Stargazer Barn and beer from Six Rivers Brewery. Dinner was served on one long, white table festooned with rightly bouquets of Sun Valley flowers. Rows, upon rows of tulips encircled the dinner guests as they honored the edible abundance of Humboldt County. Guests came from as far as Florida to literally dine among the tulips and enjoy great food, wine, flowers, and conversation. Stunning images of the feast, taken by photographer Amy Kumler, capture the elusive power and beauty of flowers, honoring their role in Humboldt’s agrarian landscape. With the diverse array of products grown behind the Redwood Curtain, Sun Valley Flower Farms reminds us that local flowers can sit on the dinner table every night.