The Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm's Bloom Boom

An artisan farming niche shows its true colors

By Peter Holmstrom April 2, 2014 Published in the April 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Nothing melts a winter-hardened heart like a tulip. This month, Woodburn’s Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, Oregon’s largest wholesale producer, throws its annual festival: 40 acres, blazing with more than a hundred tulip varieties, and expected attendance into the thousands through May 4.

The Netherlands dominates the tulip world, exporting $52 million in bulbs to the US alone. Where does Oregon, with just four commercial tulip growers, fit in this vast global trade? 

“Our climate is perfect,” says Barb Iverson, whose family started Wooden Shoe 29 years ago. “Our soil doesn’t get too hot too quick in the spring, which is important. One 90-degree California spring day and your bulbs are ruined.” Even with only four in-state producers, cut tulips rank no. 1 in terms of Oregon’s domestically produced flower sales, with over 6,617,000 stems sold in 2012. 

Big retailers focus on monotone tulips. With more than 3,000 varieties in the world, small Oregon farmers, as the state’s wine growers do, could specialize in the extraordinary: the exotic red and white flames of an “Estella Rynveld,” for example, or the wine-red and crystalline fringed edge of a “Burgundy Lace.” Let’s just not go down the road the Netherlands did in 1637: “tulipmania,” modern history’s first economic bubble. 

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