Saving Tulip Town

Photo credit: Jane Johnson

More than 30 years after summers spent boarding the spinach bus bound for fields where they’d pick and remove male spinach plants from the females; five childhood friends returned home to their roots to found Spinach Bus Ventures (SBV) in 2019.

These five natives from Skagit Valley, come to SBV with an array of experiences, or “super powers”, including the military, law school, business school, accounting, web development, product management, and real estate (to name a few!). However, they have one shared vision to help promote, preserve and create economic development in the place where they were raised.

I spoke with Managing Partner Rachael Ward Sparwasser, President & COO Angela Speer, CEO Andrew Miller, and Chief Development Officer Donnie Keltz on a call (I would have loved to meet in person, but, you know, social distancing) to talk with them about their first investment, how they’ve been handling business in this new climate, and how you can help.

SBV’s first investment last June was a tulip farm purchased from the previous owners of 36 years. Tulip Town is an iconic seven-acre property that has been in business since 1984 and is one of the only commercial tulip growers in Skagit Valley. Not only were the spinach bus squad new owners, they were also new operators.

This little guy is practicing social distancing. Photo credit: Jane Johnson.

This March was their inaugural season and also the same month Governor Jay Inslee issued a stay at home order due to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Washington State University Skagit County Extension, a 2018 estimate showed the annual Tulip Festival brings in an estimated 300,000 visitors and $65 million in revenue to the county. The Tulip Festival’s Executive Director Cindy Verge has expressed deep concerns that the pandemic could kill the valley’s entire tulip industry.

“For the first time since 1984, the annual four-week long Tulip Festival was canceled, and our farm was simultaneously shut down,” says Andrew Miller, Chief Executive Officer of Tulip Town. “The tulip bloom here is something hundreds of thousands of people from across the world look forward to every spring, and hundreds of small local businesses join together to create and share value with our guests.” Andrew and his team decided that they needed to channel the same energy on a new whiteboard. They knew their product is amazing, they just had to be creative on what they could do under the new stay home order and then figure out how to pull it off.

Photographers can purchase a one-time or seasonal pass to capture the tulips in bloom. Photo credit: Jane Johnson.
Photo credit: Jane Johnson
Tulip Town CEO Andrew Miller. Photo credit: Jane Johnson.

This team has worked tirelessly rolling out several initiatives to save the farm, and in part, the community they call home.

Here are the some ways to support Tulip Town:

  • Tulip Townie Membership: An opportunity to invest in the future of Tulip Town year round + exclusive access to farm dinners, partner launches, plantings and private visitation during tulip festival. Learn more here.
  • #ColorForCourage: For $15, you can donate a bouquet of Tulip Town tulips to a hospital, nursing home, or other members of the Courage Community that could use the joy of tulips! Donate here.
  • Order Fresh-Hand Picked Tulips: 20 tulips (2 bouquets of 10 flowers each), packaged with care, and shipped to your door or the door of a loved one. Purchase them here.
  • Bulbs Shipped Nationwide: Put a little Tulip Town magic in your gardens and grounds this fall with our expertly curated catalog of tulip bulbs. The farm will ship nationwide starting in September (tulip bulbs are planted in the fall when soil temperatures are lower). Browse the selection and buy them here.
  • What’s at Stake: Tulip Town puts your name, or the name of a loved one out in its field, snaps a picture, and captures it in the What’s at Stake Gallery on the Tulip Town website. At the end of the year, Tulip Town collects all the stakes to create a “What’s at Stake 2020 Memorial” in remembrance of your contribution to the future of Tulip Town. Learn more here.
  • Photography Passes: Tulip Town in full bloom to yourself? A photographer’s dream come true! General admission to the public is not available this tulip season, but “artists providing services through streaming or other technology” are considered essential personnel. Daily and seasonal passes are available here.
  • Community Partnerships: The best towns have the strongest sense of community and connection, and nowhere is that more apparent than Tulip Town. The COVID-19 crisis created an opportunity to reach out to new like-minded partners like Canlis, to offer tulips in their to-go meals and CSA boxes and an emergency approval by the Puget Sound Food Hub to allow Tulip Town to sell wholesale tulips into the Food Hub’s Bellingham and Seattle-area markets. 
  • Tulip Town Roadside Stand: There is something special about rolling up to a roadside stand on a country road, and Tulip Town has captured that opportunity by opening up a roadside stand where customers can purchase fresh tulip bouquets, potted tulips, Tulip Town merchandise and even batch milled craft flour from Fairhaven Mill. The stand is open daily: Monday through Thursday 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm and Friday through Sunday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.

Learn more about all these opportunities and experiences here.