With a theme of Embracing Our Agricultural Past While Shaping a Sustainable Future, you might say it was a delicious conversation, ranging from Pascal celery to heirloom apples, and touching on genetically modified crops along the way. In 1868, according to handouts from the Wheat Ridge Historical Society, farmers along Clear Creek produced oats and other grains, corn, potatoes, other vegetables, and strawberries on more than 800 acres, and, of course, wheat on another 517 acres. They have an impressive agricultural past to embrace!
After greetings from Wheat Ridge’s mayor, Jerry DiTullio, our symposium also covered historic preservation, with a presentation on Restoration and Adaptive Reuse of the Fruitdale School by Gerhard Petri and Jessica Reske of Slaterpaull Architects, Inc.A nice lunch by Food for Thought followed, during which Michelle Chichester and Rachel Parris of Colorado Preservation Inc. provided an update on CPI projects. A few more memories were shared, then participants went off to an afternoon of tours, including Wheat Ridge Historic Park (via a geocaching exercise), Fruitdale School, and the newly restored James Baugh house.
“Open mike” memories were a highlight of the day. Kudos go to JCHC’s Mary Lindsey and her committee, and great appreciation to the City of Wheat Ridge and the Wheat Ridge Historical Society for hosting a most interesting symposium. Here, Claudia Worth, right, provides some historical stories.
About those carnations
Carnations graced every table during the symposium, a reminder of the role this area once played in the flower industry as well. Since 1970, Wheat Ridge has celebrated its carnation glory with an annual Carnation Festival (history page). The last carnation grower in the area was Novachek Greenhouse, where carnations were grown from 1949 until finally phased out in 2008, a family occupation that spans three generations. Novacheks continue to grow bedding and garden plants at 26th and Youngfield. Read more about the history of Novacek Greenhouse.
What killed the Colorado carnation industry that once employed 2,000 people, produced 400 million flowers a year, and made Colorado THE Carnation Capitol of the World? We got the story from Westminster City Council member Bob Briggs, once a carnation grower himself. The answer lies in international trade, dating to the days of the “Great Society,” in 1965 when President Lyndon Johnson wanted to give Colombian drug producers an alternative crop. By exporting the greenhouse technology and plant material and giving Colombia “favored nation” status, Congress enabled the flowers to enter the U.S. duty-free and costing “little more than the price of the box,” said Briggs. As these competitive imports blossomed, the local industry declined.
In 2005, Colombia provided 89% of the fresh-cut chrysanthemums, standard carnations, anthuriums, and orchids; 69% of cut roses; and 35% of other cut flowers imported into the U.S.—a total of almost $400 million in trade, according to the U.S. Dept of Commerce (Table E-3). However, “most U.S. cut flower producers recognize that the U.S. market has evolved over the last 25 years and that the abundance of low-priced cut flower imports has worked to increase awareness and consumption of flowers in the United States,” according to the same report. Bouquets of carnations are available in grocery stores today, but expanses of greenhouses full of them in Jefferson County are now relegated to history.