This year marks the Society of American Florists’ (SAF) 43rd annual Congressional Action Days (CAD). Held last March 20 to 21, 2023 in Washington, D.C., this event gave different segments of the floral industry — growers, wholesalers, importers, and retailers — the unique opportunity to meet with their peers and advocate the industry’s most pressing concerns with Congress.
The two-day event consisted of a series of in-depth discussions where industry representatives got the chance to sit down and make networking connections with the rest of the floral community — fondly coined by attendees as their #SAFCADfam.
Participants from across various sectors were grouped into different committees and task forces to address specific industry trends and issues, such as the reauthorization of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) which is a trade program that supports the floral industry by containing costs and providing greater price certainty.
Together and with one unified voice, they brought these issues to Capitol Hill and shared their stories directly with state representatives and legislators with the goal of impacting change and improvement in the floral industry as a whole.
SAF CAD Interviews
For the second year in a row, Sahid Nahim, in representation of Above All Flowers and New Blooms Solutions, joined this year’s CAD as a member of the Growers Committee.
During the event, he sat down to interview some of the industry’s leading professionals in attendance — most of whom were first-time participants — to share their stories and firsthand experiences at CAD. He also got to have a few words with Katie Butler and Kate Penn of SAF, who shared their insights about their advocacies and what they hope to achieve at this year’s event. Here are some snippets of the interviews:
1. Katie Butler of SAF
Katie Butler is the Senior Vice President of SAF who, together with SAF Senior Lobbyist Joe Bischoff, was in charge of overseeing SAF’s government relations efforts and setting up advocacy priorities. She also handled the logistics side of the event, to ensure that members were comfortable and prepared for their trip to Capitol Hill.
When asked about their mission for this year’s lobbying event, she had this to say:
“The mission is really two fold: one, we want to get the priorities that we have for the industry in front of Congressional offices and this year, those priorities were: (1) funding for the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative, (2) renewing the Generalized System of Preferences, (3) reforming agricultural labor, and (4) hoping that Congress can act swiftly to renew the 2023 Farm bill.
The second purpose is to put a personal face on the industry’s stories. It’s really important that members of Congress understand that people in our industry work in their districts back home and have an economic impact in there. And the best way to do that is to share your personal stories face to face with Congressional offices.”
She encourages other members of the floral industry to come and participate in this unique event for a chance to visit Washington and advocate for the floral industry’s needs.
“I think it’s a really unique opportunity and a unique experience. Many people in the country have a chance to come to Washington and advocate. And we make it easy for you; we set up all the meetings, we train you to talk about the issues. So the idea is really to get a Washington DC experience in addition to advocating for the floral industry’s needs,” Butler says.
If you want to know more about this and other upcoming events, check out SAF’s website at https://safnow.org/
2. Juan Guaqueta of Guaqueta Trading and ASOCOLFLORES
Juan Guaqueta is the CEO of Guaqueta Trading which is a family company that imports and distributes plant material to cut flower growers, catering to clients in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and other countries. He is also attending the event as President of the Board of Directors of Asociación Colombiana de Exportadores de Flores (ASOCOLFLORES), which is the Association of Colombian Flower Exporters .
When asked about how important this event is to him as well as to ASOCOLFLORES, he stresses that they are here to support the work of SAF because at the end of the day, these issues are affecting them as well.
“I am here as part of ASOCOLFLORES’ venture with SAF. We collaborate and help the flower industry as a whole. That’s one of the reasons why I’m here because on this Congressional Action Days, we want to support what’s happening with our clients and the many flower shops that there are in the States and which, in a way, are one of our most important distribution channels for the cut flower industry,” Guaqueta said.
As a first-time attendee at CAD, Guaqueta relates how important it is for the flower industry to work together. He says:
“I remember one thing somebody told me ages ago when I was starting to do sales. They told me: forget about selling, think about developing a market.
So this is what we do, we’re developing a market for the grower in California, for the grower in Colombia, for the grower in Ecuador. We’re all competitors, yes, but at the end of the day, we all need each other too. Because we’re working together.”
If you want to know more about Guaqueta Trading and their flower products, check out their website at http://www.guaqueta.co/
And if you want to learn more about ASOCOLFLORES and their mission of supporting and strengthening the competitiveness of Colombian Floriculture, check out their website at https://asocolflores.org/en/
3. Nate Golter of Longmont Florist
Nate Golter is the co-owner of Longmont Florist, a renowned family-owned retail flower shop that has been serving the Longmont Colorado area for 50 years.
As a first-timer at CAD as well as in Washington D.C., Nate Golter relates that it has been an educational and eye-opening experience for him. He says:
“I sit on the Retail Council for SAF and this is my first time at Congressional Action Days. It’s a really eye-opening experience. It’s really cool to see the capitol. I’ve never been to DC before. We’ve been hosted really well, treated really well by the folks here at SAF and the hotel and all that. But to see how Washington works kind of from an up close and personal level has been really educational for me more than anything. I try to contribute, communicate the issues as best I can. The meetings with the staffers have been really positive. We’ve been able to kind of fight for increased funding and certain initiatives, decreased duty costs shipping flowers to the country. It’s been a really great experience.”
He encourages other members of the flower industry, especially the younger generation like himself, to participate in SAF CAD. He says:
“If you’re in the position to get out here, I think it’s more than anything educational. Like I’ve really learned a lot about our industry and how that relates to the folks here in Washington. But then also made some great connections with folks in the industry, out of the industry, and I always think about if you can come into an event like this and improve your business, either decrease costs or improve morale, new product offering, whatever it is. Increase the effectiveness of your business by 1%, that was worth it.
Whatever the cost was in time or money, you’re going to gain that back inside of the business. If you can improve that by even just 1%, then it was worth it. I think it was a great opportunity to expand, and learn, and grow.”
If you want to know more about Nate Golter and Longmont Florist, check out their website at https://www.longmontflorist.com/
4. Scott Blumenthal of FTD
Scott Blumenthal, whose surname fittingly translates to “valley of the flowers,” is the Vice President of Strategic Sourcing for FTD and has been in the flower industry since 1981.
When asked about his experience at CAD so far, he has this to say:
“I am a first timer here and it’s been an incredible experience. I’ve never been to Washington D.C. before. I’ve never been through the halls of Congress. That alone was a huge opportunity.
Especially being able to represent SAF for the flower industry and also being able to see those representatives for our district here in Washington D.C. It was a huge experience, very exciting.”
He recommends other members of the floral industry to participate in next year’s CAD, as a unique opportunity to represent the industry.
“I would come back in a flash. Again, this is a huge opportunity to represent our industry and push the asks that we need to push us forward,” Blumenthal says.
If you want to know more about Scott Blumenthal and FTD, check out their website at https://www.ftd.com/
5. Kate Penn — CEO SAF
Kate Penn is the CEO of SAF who shared an insider’s view on how it was organizing CAD — which is currently on its 43rd year — and how long it took to get everything setup. According to Penn, the biggest part of the setup is getting and coordinating the appointments for the attendees.
“You can’t just make those appointments, like the earliest you can do it is maybe a month at the most because offices do not want to schedule those things far ahead. I wish you could do it further ahead but we can’t. And so it’s really done literally in mostly 2 to 3 weeks ahead of the event. Even down to the last minute, we’re still trying to get appointments.
Because these offices are really, busy especially since people haven’t visited for a couple of years, they really want to see their constituents. So, we have lots of competition. This time of the year there’s always lots of competition for the visits because it’s appropriation season. So, a lot of different groups, like ours, are going up to the Hill and asking for more money before the appropriations deadline hits,” she says.
When asked what SAF is aiming for with this year’s CAD, Penn has this to say:
“We’re trying to make good things happen for our floral industry in a big picture way and it usually revolves around getting money for something. So what we’re advocating for is more money for research funding, for the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative (FNRI), and that money helps do things like create better, healthier crops, helps us reduce our crop protection, chemical pesticide use, be more efficient with water. You know, it really helps in the sustainability side of things. Also helps all kinds of research that helps different facets of the industry.”
Penn also highlighted the importance of lobbying for the issue of the Generalized System of Preferences or GSP.
“Another issue is the Generalized System of Preferences or GSP. That’s a huge issue this year. We are trying to push for the renewal of it. And until that gets renewed, our industry is going to be paying a 6.7% tax on roses from Ecuador that are imported. It just has to get renewed, that’s it. We’re two years behind on it, we’ve been waiting for it, so all these money’s been held up, it should be just staying in our industry. And instead, these duties are being paid. So that’s another big issue and that resonated with a lot of offices, and so that was a big ask this year.
And also as usual the labor issue. Immigration reform, H-2A, H-2B workers making that more simplified, better, so our industry has more access to labor. Were pushing for that and we have been for years. And we hope this is the year it will come through,” Penn says.
She encourages more members of the industry to come and join the rest of the floral community in next year’s CAD. According to her, it’s a profoundly eye-opening experience, especially for first timers, because attendees get the chance to sit at the table with people who are actually able to effect policies that directly affect the floral industry.
“It’s pretty powerful stuff. You’re like: oh my gosh, I just had this conversation where maybe I actually had an impact on something and you feel heard. And I think that it’s hard to come to CAD without feeling the impact of your vote too. You leave thinking: I’m exercising my right as an American. This is what we should all be doing and advocating for the things that we believe in and so it’s really eye-opening.
Plus, it’s also just fun. Like, you’re with your industry, so you’re part of this mob — this really friendly flower mob — and were all up here for the same purpose. Just like when Joe stood up yesterday and he’s like: you all have a job to do. You’ve got a job. This is really fun but you’ve got a job to do. So it’s this group effort. You’re teaming up. With many people, florists, people in the industry they’ve never met, retailers, growers, and we’re all kind of doing it together. So there’s a lot of power in that unity that we bring to it.
So I think that that has a really big impact on first timers. There’s so much that they didn’t expect because it’s such an unusual event. They’re not coming here sitting in seminars, it’s not a trade show, it’s not a design show. It’s really doing this work for our industry. I mean, it truly is community service and on a massive scale,” Penn says.
Penn also mentioned how important it was to acknowledge the role of SAF Senior Lobbyist Joe Bischoff, who has been working all year round to get these issues heard.
“While this is, you know, our members come in today and they’re going to the Congressional offices and talking about these issues. Joe’s doing that year round. The effort, it’s not just about today. Today amplifies the voice of what he does year round and it also lets the legislators hear directly from their constituents. But Joe year round is saying: listen we need this. And he’s doing his lobbying thing that you have to do and with our PAC — Political Action Committee.
And so those dollars, year round we’re using those dollars to contribute to the campaign of a member of Congress who is going to be influential in our issues and that means Joe will be able to go to a fundraiser where he can actually have one-on-one conversation with a member of Congress and really develop a relationship, the PAC allows us to develop a relationship with a member of Congress. So it’s like a three-legged stool where there’s year round lobbying, there’s grass roots which is what’s happening here. And then there’s that relationship building that really is developed through the PAC,” Penn says.
Here at Above All Flowers and New Blooms Solutions, we truly believe in supporting the floral industry through representation and government advocacy of important issues. We highly encourage other members of the floral community to come and experience SAF CAD for themselves, as it is a great opportunity not only for community building and networking, but also for participants to experience an insider’s view of the nation’s capital as well as the inner workings of the government.
If you’re interested to join next year’s CAD and the rest of SAF’s upcoming events, please get in touch with Katie Butler or Kate Penn at SAF’s website at https://safnow.org/