LOMPOC, Calif. - Flowers are in the spotlight this week in Lompoc, which is holding its biggest annual event of the year, the 67th Annual Flower Festival.
There's a good reason why the popular event is named after the colorful crop.
Flowers have long held a special significance in the valley, going back to the early 1900's.
"In the 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's and even into the 80's, this is where a lot of the cut flower seed was produced," said Dan Vordale, Ocean View Flowers president.
In fact, Lompoc was once known as the "Flower Seed Capital of the World."
However, due to economic forces, all of the local seed companies moved out of the city to other parts of the world.
Still, flowers remain an integral part of the Lompoc economy.
Currently, there are a handful of companies, such as Ocean View Flowers, that grow primarily what is called "stock" flowers.
"It's an old fashioned flower," said Vordale. "It's been around for decades, centuries actually. The beauty about stock is it comes in a wide array of very vivid colors, pastels, all the way into jewel tones. Whites, light pinks, dark pinks, lavender, burgundy, fuchsia, purple and just a real fantastic color range."
The bright, vibrant flowers can been seen throughout the year, painting a colorful canvas across the valley floor.
"If you have never seen a flower field before, it's something to behold, said Amber Wilson, Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau President/CEO. "It's amazing, the colors, the uniformity and it's not something that you see everyday. It's just gorgeous and it's something nice to look at."
There's a good reason why Lompoc is such an ideal place for growing flowers.
"We have a cool, coastal environment," said Vordale. "We have fog here, pretty much throughout the day, still high light, but cool temperatures, very mild conditions. We have the coastal breeze here and just a really ideal, rich, fertile soil for growing flowers."
When the flowers are in bloom, they attract visitors from around the world.
"We get a number of tourists that come out," said Vordale. "They'll check with our local Chamber of Commerce as to where our flower fields are every year. They'll come out and just drive around, get out of their cars and take a few pictures and just get a feel of what the Lompoc Valley is all about."
Wilson emphasized just how important the crop is to the local economy.
"People come from all around and look at the flower fields," said Wilson. "On the Chamber's website, we have a flower field brochure that outlines a map of where the flower fields can be found and it's our number one downloadable publication on our website, so for us, it's our number one tourist destination in the area."
With flowers playing such a vital role in this area, it makes sense the the official nickname here is the "City of Arts and Flowers."
"For a small community, we're not on the 101, so we have to be a destination and typically people have a reason to come to Lompoc, so it's fantastic that we have something we can offer that isn't everywhere," said Wilson. "People have to come to Lompoc specifically to see the flowers."
The best place to check out Lompoc Valley flowers is to drive west of the city on either Ocean Avenue or Central Avenue and to turn onto any of the small farm roads that intersect with those two streets.
"We start in April and we have flowers all the way through until the end of December," said Vordale. "The best time of the year is really right now. This is the peak season when we have the largest amount of production and this is when we have the widest variety of colors to take a look at."
As for the Flower Festival, it begins today and runs through Sunday.
Vordale said he's expecting visitors to the event will also take a short trip out to the flower fields.
"It's a time for the public to come into our town," Vordale said. "We get thousands and thousands of people that come in. They like to come out to our flower fields and take a look around, take a look at the beauty and just kind of get a feel of what mother nature does for us."
And what it does, Vordale said, is help create a product that makes people feel good.
"It's a proven fact that flowers bring joy to people's lives," Vordale said. "We just love the fact that when you give flowers to somebody, you hand them a bouquet of flowers, they always have a smile on their face."