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Certified American Grown Flowers urges White House to buy American-grown flowers

Casey Cronquist, left, administrator of Certified American Grown Flowers, with Tim Dewey, a wholesale florist from the Delaware Valley of New Jersey, and Beth Ann Van Sandt, owner of Scenic Place Peonies in Homer, Alaska. They are standing behind a table with a centerpiece that features proteas, roses and parrot tulips. Photo by Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report

Shouldn't President Donald Trump's theme of "America First" also include American-grown flowers at the White House?

The Certified American Grown Flowers organization has mounted a campaign for several years to convince the White House to use flowers grown in the United States for its official events, just as it uses American wine and American food.

But it has had limited success.

Last Thursday, however, first lady Melania Trump got the message directly. American Grown furnished the flowers for the annual luncheon of the Congressional Club, a spouses group, in honor of the first lady.

“Certified American Grown is proud to sponsor the flowers for this year’s first lady’s luncheon, and looks forward to continuing this tradition of featuring American Grown flowers and highlighting why origin matters.” Casey Cronquist, administrator of Certified American Grown Flowers

And Carolyn Yoho, the chair of the luncheon and wife of Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., told the first lady and the crowd of several hundred attendees, "I urge everyone, including the White House, to support American-grown flowers."

The first lady has not reacted to the suggestion, but the statement from Yoho was music to the ears of the flower growers, wholesalers and designers who had furnished the flowers for the head table and the centerpieces at the luncheon in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton.

On top of Yoho's statement about the White House, the attendees were told they should take the centerpieces to their spouses' offices on Capitol Hill so they could be displayed.

This was the second year that the American Grown organization has provided the flowers for the annual luncheon sponsored by the Congressional Club, Kasey Cronquist, the administrator of American Grown and also the CEO of the California Cut Flower Commission, told The Hagstrom Report.

"Certified American Grown is proud to sponsor the flowers for this year's first lady's luncheon, and looks forward to continuing this tradition of featuring American Grown flowers and highlighting why origin matters," Cronquist said.

In a blog post (see link below), Cronquist also noted that he and floral designer Diana Roy had gotten a chance to speak with Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, after the event, and that she had encouraged the group to write a letter to her asking for support for the American Grown movement.

Cronquist also reported that flower farmers shipped more than 18,000 stems from California, Florida, Washington, Oregon, Virginia and Maryland to Washington for the event, and that a team of 20 volunteers had assembled the arrangements.

The American Grown campaign started in 2014 and has had some success in re-establishing the U.S. cut flower industry, which is a fraction of what it was before flowers from foreign countries, mostly Colombia and Ecuador, were admitted to this country tariff-free in the early 1990s as part of a campaign to discourage drug production and processing. Today about 75 percent of the flowers sold in the United States are grown in foreign countries.

Kathleen Merrigan, the first Agriculture deputy secretary in the Obama administration, made "Know Your Flowers" a part of her Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program. Her successor, Krysta Harden, played a role in President Barack Obama's and First Lady Michelle Obama's decision to feature American-grown flowers at the state dinner for French President François Hollande in 2014.

On a day-to-day basis, however, the White House does not give a preference to American-grown flowers. Privately, White House staff have said cost and availability are issues with using American flowers. But Merrigan said after the election that she recommends the Trumps express a preference for American-grown flowers.

This year's luncheon was the 105th time that the Congressional Club has honored the wife of the president of the United States. The group was incorporated by a act of Congress in 1908 to provide a nonpartisan setting for friendships among the spouses of House and Senate members, who were then all wives.

Today active membership includes spouses of members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and the president's cabinet. Honorary membership is conferred upon spouses of the president, vice president and the speaker of the House. Many retain their membership when their spouses are no longer serving in government.

Pence, who introduced the first lady, said that when she met Melania Trump she already had the luncheon on her schedule.

The first lady said she was pleased that some of the proceeds from the luncheon would go to Southeastern Guide Dogs and to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Her husband brought up the problem of opioid abuse on the campaign trail, she noted, "and it remains an issue with him." F

–The Hagstrom Report