WOODBURN, Ore. – Ross Iverson spent decades growing and harvesting broccoli, pole beans and cauliflower on his family’s Woodburn farm for Birds Eye Foods.
So it chafes the traditional farmer a bit every year when his family grows – but doesn’t harvest – the equivalent of 20 football fields of red, yellow, purple, white and orange tulips just for city folks to see and photograph during the annual Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival.
“It’s fine,” said Iverson, 85. Then, he adds with a wink: “This year the market is hot (for tulips). People are buying them.”
Iverson and three of his six grown children are the farmers behind the festival, which is celebrating its 25th year. It runs daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until April 25 at South Meridian Road in Woodburn.
The Iverson women came up with the idea of letting people walk through and photograph the tulips, Iverson said.
“People come out and create memories,” daughter Barb Iverson said as she watched a family with toddlers heading toward the tulips. Every year, the Iversons debate how many acres of flowers they’ll give to the festival and how many they’ll harvest for the cut flower market. This year, they’ll farm 30 acres for the market next to the 20 acres of festival flowers.
They’ll sell at least 5 million flowers through markets such as Trader Joe’s and their Web site, woodenshoe.com, said Barb Iverson, who’s involved in both the farming and the retail side of the business.
The four Iverson families, who have homes within sight of the tulip fields, still make money on the festival. The $5 parking fee on weekdays and $10 on weekends helps cover the cost of planting the flowers, as does a gift shop.
They also farm nearly 2,500 acres of wheat, grass seed, sweet corn, potatoes, green beans, squash seeds and clover. Since 1950, they’ve grown more than 75 different crops on their land, Barb Iverson said. The tulips are among their long-standing crops, dating to 1974.
More than 100,000 people are expected to visit the festival this year. It’s not uncommon for traffic to back up eight miles from the farm to Interstate 5.
The family has learned a few things over the past 25 years – double-cracked acorn shells work better than sawdust on muddy pathways; portable potties are vital but should be located so as not to be in the background of photos; and children prefer train cars resembling cows to those resembling wooden shoes.