And The Winner Is…

For the last few days, I was in Fayetteville, Ark., at the 2012 America in Bloom annual symposium. Besides experiencing some spectacular weather and one of the best downtown farmers’ markets I’ve seen in a while, there were some pretty enthusiastic cities that congregated for the annual awards program.

For those of you who may have been out of the country for the past 11 years, America in Bloom (AIB) is a non-profit 501©(3) organization whose mission is to promote nationwide beautification through education and community involvement by encouraging the use of flowers, plants, trees and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements.

Cities and communities that participate in AIB have the opportunity to participate in its friendly competition. In doing so, trained judges come to their town and evaluate it on six criteria:

➊ Floral Displays
➋ Landscaped Areas
➌ Urban Forestry
➍ Environmental Efforts
➎ Heritage Preservation
➏ Overall Impression

Once the judges do their thing, the results are tabulated and awards are presented. The AIB awards are as meaningful to these folks as Academy Awards are in the movie-making profession. It’s easy to see the pride the award-winners have in their communities, and they love to have the countless volunteer hours acknowledged in this way.

AIB Impacts Communities

Interestingly though, most communities say even if they do not win an award, they benefit in many ways. Most even contend that just having the judges evaluate their town is worth several times the nominal participation fee.
Obviously, running a national program like this costs money, and it is amazing that AIB does so much with the modest amount of funding it receives. This year, we had more growers sponsor AIB than ever before. I think this means the word is getting out that growers who live in cities and towns that participate in AIB generally see increases in their sales that year, some as much as 8 percent.

Plants Provide More Than Beauty

Let me emphasize, however, that AIB is not just a beautification program. It is quite evident it is a quality-of-life program that illustrates the value and relevance of our industry’s products and services.

Some of the program’s other benefits include the following:

Increased Community Involvement: People notice the little things. Cared-for buildings and properties, colorful plants and a clean environment are reflections of a thriving, caring municipality. AIB helps spread the message that this is a great place to live, work, play and visit.

One of the comments we hear over and over is how the program brings together residents who might not otherwise collaborate on common goals. For instance, the people who serve on the tree commission might not know the people who serve the historic district or chamber of commerce, but AIB provides the vehicle for them to work together for the first time.

They all want to work for the betterment of their town and can maximize their efforts as they participate in AIB. Their participation often becomes a springboard for positive momentum to do more to improve their cities and pursue grants to help make it happen. Time and time again, AIB has proven to be a catalyst for positive change.

Increased Civic Pride: Participants continue to tell us that being part of the program changes their lives, helps improve the community and makes a visible difference in their towns. The phenomenon of the AIB bug that infects people who have become involved with the program is palpable. Once citizens experience the true community spirit that results when everyone pitches in to make visible improvements, there is often no turning back. Citizens come to relish the community, as it has been transformed. It’s a whole different kind of urban renewal.

Decreased Vandalism And Crime: Well-tended communities have less crime. That’s why the woman in charge of Downtown Indianapolis’ plantings was honored as the crime fighter of the year by the police department. I guess it’s just not comfortable to be a criminal in a garden.

Various Economic Benefits: Economic benefits range from reducing heating and cooling costs to improving property values. Other perks, from improving privacy and security to reducing maintenance costs, have also been documented, as has the potential for deriving new economic benefits from parks, sporting facilities and increased tourism.

Additionally, folks will travel further distances to patronize businesses that are well-landscaped. They spend more time shopping and are more at ease while doing so. Patrons also end up spending more and are often willing to pay higher prices.

A Healthy Dose Of Nature

These benefits (and others) provided by AIB, however, are not knowledge ingrained in modern-day American culture. Humans often have difficulty seeing plants in their own environment, much less connecting plants to tangible benefits. For most people, flowers, shrubs and trees are a part of the subconscious sector of mental life. Plants are perceived as the backdrop, not the main actors, in our everyday lives.

Further research and widespread education — especially for city planners and local governments — may serve as the best tools for helping us recognize the advantages of beautified green spaces. As Henry David Thoreau once claimed, “A remedy we can never have enough of is a healthy dose of nature.”

If you would like to learn more about AIB and some of the plant-related benefits associated with the program, please visit the Benefits of Plants resource area of AIB’s website (AmericaInBloom.org under the Community Resources tab).

Lastly, I get asked all the time about how growers can become involved. Easy — become a sponsor. I did, so know that I’m not asking you to do anything I’m not willing to do myself. Even if the tough economic conditions have left you in a position where you can’t sponsor monetarily, then the very best way to become involved is to get your own city to participate. Work with your local community leaders to initiate a program near you, and your business can experience the plethora of benefits I described. You too can be a winner.   

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