A girl walks through field after picking a tulip at the Roozengaarde during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival Friday April 12, 2019 // Photo by Zack Jimenez
Two farmers who nurtured tulip bulbs for over 36 years in Skagit Valley will once again share their love for the globally recognized ‘peace flower’ with visitors until early May, amid plans to retire.
Tulip Town makes up one of two tulip farms that attract thousands of visitors each year to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Owners Jeannette and Tom DeGoede, who are now in their 80s, have been ready to sell the farm for the past four years, but not until the right buyer comes along, Jeannette DeGoede said.
Cindy Verge has been executive director of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and working alongside the DeGoede family since 2003.
“It’s kind of a specialty operation,” Verge said. “You have to combine a lot of marketing and customer service knowledge, and it’s a lot of farming knowledge. It takes just the right person to do that.”
The 36th annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival’s main attractions are the two tulip farms, Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde, where visitors are welcome to admire the displays and purchase bulbs of their own. The festival also offers an abundance of events throughout Skagit Valley, such as the Kiwanis Salmon BBQ, Anacortes Quilt Walk and the Tulip Pedal bike ride, according to its website.
Verge said the festival organizers only put on a few events and everything else is run by the community.
“You don’t get that kind of support unless folks are coming together and believe in what you are doing,” Verge said.
The festival’s mission is to promote a celebration of spring, the harvest of tulips and to be an advocate for Skagit Valley agriculture, according to its website.
DeGoede said leaving Tulip Town will be no easy goodbye.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” DeGoede said. “I’m happy if someone buys it who will really take good care of it and bring it up to the next level, that would be wonderful. I won’t sell until we find that person.”
DeGoede said she’s not sure what the next level of the farm could be, but a lot could be done with imagination. She said the farm, which is listed for a little over $1 million on the real estate website Redfin.com, has had about four offers since they put it up for sale four years ago.
Tulips aren’t the easiest flower to grow, DeGoede said, but the Skagit Valley makes for a very unique climate to nurture their bloom.
“It’s the perfect area to raise tulips because we have that marine air that comes in from Canada,” DeGoede said. “If you tried to raise tulips in Everett, it’s too warm. If you tried to raise them in Lynden, it’s too cold.”
It would be ideal if the new owners were familiar with the area, DeGoede said.
Tulip Town’s modest beginnings started from people stopping on the side of the road wanting to buy flowers, DeGoede said. She soon created a little stand on the side of the road to sell tulips, but after about five years, the demand had grown enough that the DeGoede family moved the sales to their home farm, which is now known as Tulip Town, DeGoede said.
“We have the same vendors that we started with,” DeGoede said. “It’s just been a real little love story.”
The festival, which began in 1984 as a three-day event, welcomed visitors from all 50 states and 93 countries in 2016, according to its website. It brings over $60 million to the community every year, which, Verge emphasized, is a lot.
DeGoede said Tulip Town has become a working unit to adapt to the growing visits each year.
The preparation for April’s festival begins in the summer with digging the bulbs, she said. There are twelve different bulb sizes, she said. The 11 to 12 cm bulbs are sorted for DeGoede’s customers and then the rest are planted in September.
DeGoede estimated there are 2.5 to 3 million tulip bulbs on the farm.
DeGoede said the number of workers on the farm vary from three to 28, given the time of year, but she will dedicate about 40 hours per week preparing for the festival.
DeGoede said one of her admirations for tulips comes from it being the peace flower of the world.
During World War II, the Dutch Crown Princess Juliana was able to escape with her family to Ottawa, Canada. When the war was over, she gifted Ottawa with tulip bulbs as an appreciation for their kindness and so it became known as the peace flower, according to the Veteran Affairs Canada website.
“Standing out and just viewing the tulips in early morning when there’s a little bit of dew on the flowers; it’s the most incredible site,” DeGoede said. “Or if a sunrise starts to come over that field, that is just breathtaking.”
Tatum Eames, a third-year Western political science student, said she has gone to the festival every year since starting college. Eames said she wished the festival could be accessible to more people, through tickets priced lower than $10 and for people who work during the day.
“For the community members that it is accessible for, I think yeah there’s a sense of ‘I’ll take your picture if you take my picture and we’ll all go and enjoy the tulips together,’” Eames said.
Eames said she’s planning her trip to the festival this year.
Visitors this year can take advantage of new additions to the festival like the pop up wine tasting hosted by the Tulip Foundation of Skagit Valley during the Mount Vernon street fair, April 19 to April 20.
“I’d like to encourage everyone to come see the tulips,” Verge said. “They’re a thing of beauty, and all of us need things of beauty in our lives.”
As for the DeGoedes, expect to see them sharing their passion for the world’s peace flower at Tulip Town this April.
Tulip Town is located at 15002 Bradshaw Rd., Mount Vernon, Wash. and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days per week, April 1 to April 30. For more information about the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and to check ticket prices, click here.