For most of the history of the floral industry in the United States if you were a retail florist or wholesaler and wanted to know something about the care and handling of cut flowers you usually got it from reading articles in trade publications or a rep from Smither’s-Oasis, Floralife or Chrysal (who were usually pushing their products) They would put on a demonstration at a convention or wholesale house or sometimes floral designers would talk a little about this during one of their design shows.
The problem was there weren’t any professional, unbiased programs out there on the care and handling of cut flowers. Most of the so-called experts were researchers at major universities who stayed in the labs and classrooms and rarely ventured out into the retail and wholesale world. When they published articles they were usually in obscure horticultural journals that most florists and wholesalers never read.
But this was all about to change.
In the late 1970’s a flower researcher at Ohio State University was getting fed up with the lack of reliable information available to the floral industry, especially at the wholesaler,retailer and consumer level. Being attached to a university also presented lots of red tape and constraints.
During his time at Ohio State he, along with others, developed the groundbreaking marketing and educational program called “Chain of Life”. It simply stated that the life of a flower or plant is only as good as the weakest link in the distribution chain, from growers to consumers
So a man by the name of George Staby decided to leave behind the university classrooms, not to mention the nice reliable paycheck and venture out into the real world and form his own company called Perishable Research Organization (PRO). Setting up shop in the mountains of California. Volcano, CA became kind of the Menlo Park
of the flower industry. George is responsible or played a part in creating several of the care and handling products that we use in the floral industry today.
I feel the biggest impact George had on the industry was not so much his research, but his tirelessly devotion to preaching the gospel of proper care and handling of flowers and plants. All across the country and the world he gave seminars and presentations at wholesale houses, florists conventions, wire service meetings, etc.
It was at a wire service function I first met George. In the mid 1980’s at a FTD Young Owners/Managers workshop in Fort Lauderdale, FL Having devoured the manual he had written for SAF I couldn’t wait to see him in person. To put it mildly, I was blown away. I’d never seen someone so energetic and madly in love with what many would consider the most boring subject in the flower industry-post harvest care of flowers. George was like a kid in a candy shop. It was obvious he loved what he was doing and he loved talking about it.
30 years later (2012) in Davis, Ca he gave what might be his last presentation. And you know what? He was just as enthusiastic and googly eyed about flower care as he was 30 years ago in Fort Lauderdale. For a little over 2 1/2 days from 7 in the morning to 7 at night he lectured and reminisced to 24 people from all walks of the floral industry from around the world about post harvest care of plants.
What did he talk about? What new inventions had come down the pike since I first saw him 30 years ago? What had changed in these past 30 years? Well… the basic principles of proper post harvest care of flowers is still the same now as they were back in the 1980’s.
- Proper Sanitation
- Proper temperature
- Controlling Ethylene
- Identifying the cultivar
- Use cut flower food
I suspect that 30 years from now the same successful tactics will still be important.
What makes George Staby so unique in this industry and why will they may never be another like him? It’s pretty simple when you think about it. While there have and will continue to be great researchers in the field of floriculture that will come up with groundbreaking products and ideals to make our flowers last longer, there still has to be someone who can educate and get the industry to use these tools. Someone who is not tied to any one company or institution and has the time to tirelessly educate the industry and consumer about post harvest care of flowers. Not too many horticulture professors would leave behind their nice, stable job at a university to go out on their own and do this. George Staby took a huge career risk and it paid off for him and most importantly, for the floral industry. For this, I and the floral industry owe George Staby more than we could ever pay back.