Friday, July 16, 2010

Rethinking America In Bloom

America In Bloom (AIB) has been around since 2002, leading the charge to beautify our communities, towns and cities with floriculture. But despite the nine years AIB has spent spreading the word of our industry, growth has been somewhat hard to come by.

AIB, of course, has involved 180 cities in its competition over the last eight years, and it has made its presence known in 38 states. But at a Tuesday breakfast at OFA Short Course, growers, retailers and other industry leaders discussed ways to reshape AIB with leaders of OFA and AIB.

First, a grassroots program like America In Bloom is only possible because of the volunteer board and judges who dedicate time away from their regular jobs to make sure AIB grows and connects more and more people to plants via education and its friendly competition.

Still, AIB needs more financing to connect more communities, cities and states to our industry. A full-time paid director and staff could propel AIB into thousands of towns over the next few years rather than the near 200. But from where will the financing come?

Ultimately, it should come from growers. But AIB needs to show growers precisely what its impact is on them. AIB leaders say the program has engaged 22 million people since its 2002 inception. And I firmly believe AIB’s role has generated more interest in plants, which, in turn, has resulted in more plant buying from the public.

But as Blooms of Bressingham’s Gary Doerr asked Tuesday, how do we measure the additional plant buying? If AIB can show how many more plants growers can sell as a result of having their community involved in the beautification program, more growers would be compelled to support AIB.

Of course, I’m not sure exactly how you measure AIB’s impact on purchasing – the industry leaders in the room don’t seem to have the formula in mind, either – but I do believe more growers would support America In Bloom financially if they knew the program directly benefited them.

Another point that emerged from Tuesday’s meeting is this: AIB is geared toward beautifying cities when, perhaps, it should be focused on neighborhoods and communities. How, as Doerr pointed out, can AIB beautify New York City? It’s a daunting challenge, yes, but beautifying Coney Island or the Upper East Side is a more manageable project.

Then, once you’ve showed Coney Island and the Upper East Side the value of plants, perhaps they’ll peak the interest of adjacent neighborhoods who want to get involved.

The bottom line is America In Bloom is a good program – a very good program. And it’s definitely the vehicle that can take our industry to new heights. Perhaps it just needs a makeover, as OFA President Danny Takao suggests in Greenhouse Grower’s July issue.

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