Over the past decade, America in Bloom has had a trade show presence at the OFA Short Course, promoting nationwide beautification through education and community involvement by encouraging the use of flowers, plants, trees, and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements. This month, Laura Kunkle, director of communications and membership at OFA, talks about how her organization and AIB continue to work with retailers to take the beautification efforts to the next level.
GARDEN CENTER: America in Bloom and OFA have created a dynamic partnership. Please explain how that came to fruition.
LAURA KUNKLE: OFA has been actively involved in America in Bloom (AIB) since its inception. OFA’s then-executive director, Dennis Kirven, and I were on the industry task force that was developed to create America in Bloom. At that time OFA was simply providing minimal administrative support to the task force to help move the process forward. OFA’s involvement grew after 2001 when America in Bloom went from a “what if” idea to an actual organization. It is a 501c3 charitable entity with official bylaws, governance structure, and operating policies and procedures. Since the organization was legally formed 10 year ago, OFA has provided full management services to AIB, though OFA provides this service as an in-kind contribution to AIB.
GC: AIB is front and center in trying to get more communities involved in gardening and beautification efforts. How can garden centers become part of the process?
LK: This is AIB’s 10th anniversary of planting pride in America. The most visible part of America in Bloom is the contest. In it, communities participate in friendly challenge and are evaluated by a team of professionally trained judges in eight criteria: floral displays, landscapes areas, urban forestry, turf and groundcover areas, environmental awareness, community involvement, tidiness, and heritage preservation. Awards are presented each year to winning cities during the annual educational symposium. To date, more than 22 million people in nearly 200 cities have been affected by AIB through the contest and evaluations.
The contest provides a unique way for retailers to connect with their community. By being actively engaged in a local AIB effort, a retailer can highlight their commitment to community development, earn goodwill, and sell more plants! There is a step-by-step guide on the AIB website (www.americainbloom.org) that illustrates how to get involved in AIB.
GC: What else does AIB have going on?
LK: America in Bloom is more than the contest. The organization is touching millions of people each year through its robust website that has research about the economic and health benefits of horticulture and resources to help communities develop beautification programs. This information is available to everyone; retailers, in particular, should use this information to showcase to their customers the importance of flowers, plants, and trees to their quality of life. The website is a great resource for educational information to be shared with customers.
AIB has a year-long webinar series occurring right now. Topics include showcasing the power of horticulture, helping communities get grants for beautification initiatives, and finding volunteers to jumpstart a city’s program.
We are also excited about the 10th anniversary edition of the Best Ideas book that will be published in July. This award-nominated book series spotlights more than 2,000 of the best ideas from AIB cities over the past decade.
The educational symposium and awards program is the highlight of the year for many. AIB communities join together for three days of learning, idea sharing, networking. This year’s symposium will be Oct. 6-8 in Washington, D.C. The first symposium was held 10 years ago in Washington D.C., so we are celebrating a decade of success by returning to the nation’s capital. I encourage anyone involved in horticulture to attend this event.