Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Summing up the Flower Business

Looking forward to 2015 in the Flower Business

As we end 2014 and head into 2015 we should reflect on what we do most days:  grow, sell or arrange beautiful flowers.  People not in the business will often say, “You are so lucky, you get to work with flowers every day!” 

I rarely read the Economist but I saw an article from the Dec 20th issue about the Manhattan flower business which had a very interesting quote. This quote made me laugh, but it captured my sentiment on a lot of days. 

I am often frustrated with our industry and business, especially since I live in the Silicon Valley where all business is cutting edge and everyone is working on their 5th billion dollar startup.  What’s odd is; it is these guys who tell me how lucky I am not doing what they do.  Of course they are right, as my favorite fortune cookie advised me, “You are where you are supposed to be.” 

The flower business can be shitty, but I can’t imagine doing anything else, and today I feel lucky that I get to do more of it in 2015.

Full Economist Article

Happy New Year!!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

KB Christmas

How did it all of a sudden become Christmas Eve?  I will start shopping in about 3 hours: my usual tradition.  I believe gift cards were invented just for me.  Anyway, we have had a nice holiday season.  Our coolers are empty heading into the Christmas holiday week. 

We could have grown and sold more flowers this December, and we will plan accordingly next year, but it will be nice to start 2105 with all FRESH FLOWERS.

Some highlights from this holiday season was a great Christmas lunch last Thursday, 
organized by our HR Director Maria Ledesma.  

The BBQ from Carmonas was delicious, and don’t kid yourself that pinatas are for kids play.  
As you can see the KB staff got into the “swing” of things.

To everyone thank you for your support and interest in KB, 
and we look forward to another great year in 2015!


Friday, December 19, 2014

What we are planning for 2015

Kitayama Brothers - CA Grower since 1948

2015 Growing Plan:
We just returned from the KB December board meeting where I presented plans for 2015.  We are expecting a 5% growth in sales and here is how we hope to accomplish this:

Gerbera Daisies: We will increase gerbera daisies in all types; standards, minis and gerrondos. We are also increasing gardenias, asiatic lilies, stock and mini callas. 



About the Same:
Oriental lilies will be about the same, but we will produce less in the summer and more in the fall and winter. 


Snapdragons, tulips, lisianthus and iris will stay the same. 

New Test Flowers:
We will test a few new items such as astible and anemones.

What we are Not Growing:
The board asked about growing Cannabis.  It is still illegal and we are not willing to risk our assets until the Federal Government changes the law.

What do you Suggest we Grow?
Send us your suggestions, if we take your suggestion, we will send you the first box of whatever it is.

Still Thinking about Growing:
Carnations: The board was very encouraging on bringing back a California carnation.  Now if we could just find some cuttings…


Monday, December 1, 2014

Norman Kawauchi: Hawaiian Gardenia Grower

A Life of Farming

I was in Honolulu last week to visit customers and deliver Christmas greens.  While I was there I visited Norman Kawauchi an 89 year old gardenia and tropical flower grower from Waimanalo.  My favorite people in the flower business are growers.  I can sell flowers and read financial statements, but I don’t grow.  My father and uncles were growers, and that was the strength of Kitayama Brothers.  I am dependent on good growers and I try to understand what makes a successful grower.  Therefore I visit top flower farms and try to learn as much as possible.  I especially love to visit the growers who are innovative and passionate about what they do.

Norman shared with me his love for growing gardenias, but the bigger lesson was hearing about his life as a farmer.  It wasn’t an easy life, but I don’t think he would trade it for any other.  

Please take a look at this 2 minute video of Norman.  I wish I had more of his life on video, but I do plan to go back and “talk story” a little more.  


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NPR and the Drought

Several people asked me if I was on NPR recently, and I had to tell them it was my brother Stuart.  The piece was on the California drought and in the Pajaro Valley, there might not be another farmer who is as knowledgeable about the water situation than Stuart.  Stuart have been on two committees that advise the Parajo Valley Water Board and has been saying for years, before everyone else jumped in, that water will be one of our biggest challenges. Below is a link to the NPR piece. 

We all hope that we will have a very wet winter, but that will not solve the long term problem of increasing water demand and decreasing supply.  KB is working on many programs to use recycled water, recycle our greenhouse water, collect runoff from greenhouse roofs and reduce usage to a bare minimum.  

However...as Stuart says, the long term solution will have to be a community solution with all parties working and sacrificing together.

Stuart with a valuable resource.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nita Gizdich's Example

Watsonville Apples and Flowers Promotion:

Who is the Queen of agro-tourism and marketing in Watsonville?  The hands down answer is Nita Gizdich of Gizdich Ranch.   

Apple orchards once dominated Watsonville and the Pajaro Valley. In 1908, there were 14,000 acres of apples in the Pajaro Valley, today there is only 2,128 acres in production. It is not hard to figure out why: apples bring about $281 a ton, strawberries return about $1,947 a ton and blackberries a whopping $6,671 a ton. Apple orchards come down and berry hoop houses go up.  

Nita and her husband (who passed away) were apple growers, and instead of giving up on apples, Nita turned apples into apple pie, literally.  Not only apple pies, but every other kind of berry pie, cider, jam, syrup, and pancake mix, etc.  Her pies are famous throughout the region and every school kid within 30 miles has been to Gizdich to pick apples.  Nita said that Gizdich Ranch wouldn't be here today if she hadn't transitioned over to pies and other branded products. 

KB is inspired by Nita.  Just like apples, flowers aren’t what they once were in the Pajaro Valley.  However, we have an opportunity to create our own alternative business based on flowers.  And using Nita’s example, we can create our KB Brand products and events.  

Here is a picture of our grower Jimmy Zheng and Nita at last Friday’s Wine and Rose event in Watsonville.  Always the promoter, Nita made sure Jimmy had one of her brochures in his pocket.  Don’t forget your Gizdich pie for Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Flowers Make KB Unique?

There are a few flowers that make KB unique: gerrando gerbera daisies, stemmed gardenias and KB lisianthus to name a few.  We hear this comment all the time, “You have the best lisianthus!” 

It's not a secret that lisianthus is hard to grow.  It isn’t hard in the summer but getting a good year round crop…that is the trick.  Our grower Jimmy Zheng prides himself in growing lisianthus when others can’t.  He says it isn’t any secret, just like everything else, “hard work and experience.”

Lisianthus is one of the longest lasting, great performing flowers that consumers don’t know.  Whenever we have tours, we often hear, “It’s beautiful, what is it?”  Lilium, one of the best florists in Ft Worth shared a picture of a bridal bouquet featuring only KB lisianthus; of course we think it is gorgeous.  Next time you talk to KB, ask them about lisianthus.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

KB Supporting Local Flower Growers

About 40% of what KB sells is not from our own production.  A lot of it comes from local growers and cutters who work hard to produce or cut beautiful and unusual flowers and greens.  California is known for the unique and fun: berries, branches, grasses, blossoms, pods, etc.  If it wasn’t for their efforts, we would live in a commodity world of boring roses, carnations, pompons, lilies and gyp. 

Our growers are by and large of Hispanic origin and usually learned their trade working for other growers.  We know how hard it is to survive and thrive as flower growers, so we invited them over for a “Thank You” BBQ and to have a discussion on how we can support them.

Local Flower Growers - picture by Tony

Our local Ag Extension agent Steve Tjosvold came to explain resources available to help these growers with growing issues.  Steve has been supporting the Monterey Bay flower growers for over 25 years and he has seen the decline in growers, and was heartened to see a good size group still growing flowers. 

Discussion at KB - picture by Tony

At KB, our goal is to increase total flower production in Northern California.  A growing supply of good quality, good value, and interesting flowers equals to - everything better for all involved.   When we ask these growers, “How can we help?”  They tell us, “Sell our flowers,”  and to do our part, we will make sure they grow good quality and we pay them fair prices.  

You can do your part by ordering flowers grown by hard working California growers. 

CA Grown - picture by Tony


Friday, October 10, 2014

Striving for Improvements

Last month, Geoff (IT Manager - GWF & KB) and I went to Dallas, TX for a user's group conference to learn more about our new computer system. It was a busy schedule. 

After a long first day of sessions, we were ready for the networking dinner event. And wow, they were so organized...here's a picture of the 5 buses waiting for us to board, then seamlessly taking hundreds of people to the venue. I was definitely impressed with their efficiency, which in turn, created an enjoyable experience for everyone. 

As I took this picture, my thoughts were, this can't be his first time. Check out the pose! 

Wrong! 6 seconds later - man down.

Try again. 
And off he went for 26 seconds, making it look so easy!

Of course, I had to try something new. Calf roping looked easy. Boy was I wrong! 
On my first try, the rope didn't make it pass the horse. Really?!

Try again.
On my second attempt, I made progress. I didn't roped the calf, but somehow... 
I managed to roped myself. 

An open mind willing to learn and try paired with patience and practice can make it look easy. But first thing first...you have to try.


Kitayama Brothers

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

KB English Classes

Here is an update on a program spearheaded by Stuart Kitayama.  This is Stuart in his own words.

“We’ve been thinking about an English class for our employees for a long time, just never sure how it would work and who would be interested.   I know from living in Mexico how difficult another language can be, and how important it is to understand what is being said.  So when Genie Dee from the Literacy Program of Santa Cruz County said she could help us, I was intrigued.  

Genie was very positive and helpful, and it took several months before anything got going.  We started in the spring with 5 students, all foremen or higher level employees.  They were motivated and wanted to try the class.  Now they attend class twice a week for 2 hours. 

The best part is seeing the student’s excitement and satisfaction with the class and their teacher Bonnie Ott.  We see their confidence grow and they are more comfortable speaking English.  It’s very obvious that the students (Juana, Artemio, Brenda, Wilbert, and Jose Luis) enjoy the class and each other’s company.”

(Sitting: Juana and Wilbert. Standing: Brenda and Jose Luis. Center: Bonnie)

What is very gratifying to read is how well they are doing; this is an email from their teacher.

Dear Stuart,
Artemio, Juana, Brenda, Jose Luis and Wilbert are all excellent students – something I have never experienced in 30 years of university teaching!  Jose Luis has come the farthest. He was at Alfredo’s level when we began, and now he is near Juana. I think I know why:  one of their fill-in-the-blank exercises included “I am always _________.”  Jose Luis put ‘thinking’.

Such a delight your folks are.

Kitayama Brothers

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bye-bye Beauties...

Next door to our greenhouse is a 300 acre field of mini callas we have enjoyed for two years.  This past summer, the field was a riot of colors with the most beautiful assortment of blooming mini callas.  As beautiful as our flowers are, visitors were blown away by the calla fields.   

Our neighbor had leased the land to CallaCo which is the largest calla and begonia bulb producer in the USA.  Here are two photos taken with our greenhouses in the background.


To make a mini calla bulb, it is a two or three year process of blooming the flowers, then letting them die back.  After one or two more seasons of this process they have a sellable bulb.  

This past week CallaCo started to harvest the bulbs. It is a major project with around 100 workers with 8 tractor and work stations harvesting the bulbs. It is amazing how fast they cleared the fields and picked the bulbs. 

This is very hard work and CallaCo has perfected the process.  CallaCo is an example of an exceptional local flower company.  Flower growing and bulb growing is still a big part of the Northern California agriculture of which we are proud to be part of.