My husband Dave and I started Brooks Tree Farm in 1980, so we’re celebrating our 40th year in business this year. Our first year in the show was actually 1982. My mother and father had a booth with Drake’s Crossing Nursery, where I’d grown up on the farm. We developed a really unprofessional sales list and handed it out from their booth.
In 1983, we bought our own booth. We built this really heavy lattice framework and hauled it a couple of times before investing in a professional, portable version.
I remember customers literally running to our booth when the doors to the show opened to get in line to order trees. We had phones back then, but the show was the big draw. Eventually people just called ahead of the show to order.
Many people say the show is just a networking opportunity now, but I have always known that the Farwest Show serves as a deadline. “Get your order in before Farwest” is a mantra. So, in that respect, even though the orders don’t get written there as much as in the beginning, the Farwest Show still triggers that imaginary deadline.
Longtime members will know that back in the Memorial Coliseum days, the doors opened onto a particular aisle called “Holy Row.” You had to have a ton of seniority to get to Holy Row. Drake’s Crossing never made it and we certainly didn’t.
Then we moved to the new Convention Center and the floor plan no longer had a specific best entry aisle. Holy Row died out. That was a shame. It was fun to know who was at the top of the pile!
In 1985, I gave birth to Kimberly, who now works in our office and is principally involved in developing the catalog. Five weeks later, we all went to the Farwest Show. When baby Kim needed fed, I’d have to go into a ladies’ room. Leanne Van Essen also had a newborn and would join me. There were no chairs, so women would come open the doors to the stalls and order plants while we sat there nursing our babies. Kim has never missed a Farwest Show in her entire life.
I also love and appreciate the after parties so many vendors put on. Those are such a good place to connect and an opportunity to thank the manufacturers who support the industry.
About 10 years ago I had foot surgery and was healing when the Farwest Show rolled around. No way could I walk, so we rented a little cart and by the end of the day, the battery went dead. Other show members pushed me in the cart up the hill along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. to the hotels where the parties were underway. I got to sit on a bed with my leg elevated and held court! Pretty cool friends in a pretty cool industry.
I was hired by Oregon Association of Nurseries (OAN) to cover educational sessions back when I was a journalism major at Oregon State University. I was hired to attend the sessions and write up stories — reports of the educational sessions — and those were published in Digger, and I think the extension service was also involved.
I remember going to a talk on grafting and I have this distinct memory of Verl Holden giving a talk on grafting and sharing his expertise. That was something that stuck with me with the Farwest Show. Everyone was so generous with sharing their expertise and being welcoming to people who were new. I just remember people soaking up knowledge.
When Alpha Nursery was a very small nursery in the 1980s, R.J. Tancredi (now at 40 years with Alpha Nursery) and I took the big step to exhibit at the Farwest Show at the Memorial Coliseum. Our 10-by-10 booth was furnished with wooden boxes — Humboldt Beer cases, actually — that once decorated my fraternity room at Oregon State University.
We placed plants in and around the boxes and used the sign provided by the convention. Along with our very small catalog, we passed out Brooks prunes, straight from my dad’s orchard, next to where we put up our first greenhouse. It was very simple.
My memories include meeting so many people in our industry and experiencing a feeling of unity. Plant people are unique, and they love to share ideas with each other. R.J. and I learned so much from that show and all of the others since then. The Farwest Show had, and maintains, a great reputation for buyers to come from everywhere to locate and purchase their plants.
It was at a show, in 1989, when a man approached us about representing our product in Ohio. That encounter with Maury was the beginning of putting Alpha Nursery on the map.
That one rep quickly became two, and now we have representation in several states. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them and the Farwest Show.
The show meant so much to me, so I got myself involved in the OAN and served on the FWS committee for many years. One of my favorite duties was when the show ended and having the “power” running the loading docks with other volunteers. It was crazy and never a dull moment getting everyone in and out in a semi-organized fashion. This is now much more organized, and I’ve given up my title.
I’ve met some special people at the shows over the years — establishing valued customer relationships, learning from the classes (and the hotel “happy hour”), and creating lasting friendships with those in our industry.
It is my hope that in 2021 we will be back to normal, because the Farwest Show can’t be replicated without being there in person.
I very much remember going to the basement of the Coliseum, I guess they call it exhibit hall, and I remember that very well. I remember when they moved it to the convention center, how spacious it was compared to the exhibit hall.
I was interested in what was new, what plants were going to be shown, and to meet people. It evolved to become more retail oriented, and the New Varieties Showcase came in. For me, in those years, especially in the ’80s, I had a garden radio show and a garden TV show and was writing for Digger. It was a wonderful way to get information on new plants and products and new trends, what things were going to be promoted the next year. I always remember it being very high energy, a high energy group. It was very positive and very upbeat.
Carl “Dusty” Plog
At the Farwest Show in Seattle in 1977, one of the exhibitors probably never realized that late on the first day of moving into the show, we discovered that his booth had to be moved one space to the right. This particular exhibitor had arrived early, completed set-up, put out his literature and went home before most people had even started moving in. A quick meeting was held by Show Chairman Ted Van Veen, OAN President Verl Holden and myself. So, we carefully moved his entire exhibit, including rug and dozens of other items, one booth to the right. That placed him directly at the end of an aisle and in a better location, but I doubt if he ever knew it! — from “Dusty’s Diggings,” Digger, August/September, 1977.
Being a staff member at OAN was a special time in my career. I saw how incredibly focused nursery professionals are on the success of the industry as a whole and the amount of time and toil that goes into the creation and marketing of plants. If you aren’t a hard worker, then do not represent Oregon nursery professionals.
The Farwest Show was my absolute favorite time of year. I started my near decade tenure selling booths and transitioning the planning of the seminar program from Oregon State University to OAN.
I remember the trade show manager at the time, Geoff Horning, had hired me to be his assistant. The first day training talk was, “See all that over there? You take care of that.” Let’s just say, Geoff was more of a “hit the ground running and we’ll learn together” kind of guy.
My first show was when John Coulter was Farwest Show Committee chair and we had to rearrange the entire booth layout into the new expansion of the Portland Convention Center. It was a very specific process that had exhibitors scheduled to the minute, in order of how long they had been an exhibitor.
During the show, exhibitors would report to a meeting room, look at a several feet high poster on the wall of the next year’s booth layout, discuss their thoughts with John and then choose the location they wanted. Exhibitors were really strategic with their choice and the stress level, to this newbie, felt like the NFL Draft.
One exhibitor found me on the show office and told me that they would miss their time because they had somewhere to be. I responded with something witty, like “it’s OK.” Next thing I know, their boss tracked down Geoff in his hotel room around 11 at night to explain how they had been given special permission to pick whatever location they wanted when they were ready, and they were now ready.
But what I learned most of all? Despite blistering up my feet up, having a bus go missing for tour pick-ups, telling a retailer they could load their speed boat with plants they bought from the show floor during move-out, forgetting to eat anything but candy, hiring some of the best plant experts in the country for the seminars and working on every level of that show, it is the members of OAN and the Farwest Show Committee that gave it sparkle.
It’s their family and I was just so happy to be part of it.
Curt Kipp is director of publications and communications at the Oregon Association of Nurseries, and the editor of Digger magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.