MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — The flowers are blooming across the Skagit Valley, but even with all the brilliant signs of life, a dark cloud hangs over these fields.
The annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival brings about 350,000 people and $60 million dollars to the community every spring.
The month long festival was scheduled to start April 1, but Gov. Jay Inslee's "stay at home" order means people won't be able to gather in the fields for their traditional photos or visit local businesses for at least two weeks.
"We are really hoping to live to be able to farm another year out here," says Andrew Miller, co-owner of the Tulip Town tulip farm.
"You can't hit pause on Mother Nature," Miller said. "This is our time of year. The flowers don't wait for anyone."
But there are now deep concerns here that the growing coronavirus pandemic might kill the valley's entire tulip industry.
The festival's Executive Director Cindy Verge says the vast majority of the events have been canceled.
"The tulip gardens are closed. This is devastating to the tulip industry in Skagit Valley and there is a very good chance it may not survive," says Verge. "Right now, with the timing of this virus and the very necessary restrictions on people and movement, it is a distinct possibility."
At RoozenGaarde tulip farm the season is expected to be a near total loss. Grocery store sales are way down, as well, as customers prioritize other necessities.
"We've had floods and freezes but nothing like this," owner Brent Roozen said.
Roozen is telling people to stay away from all tulip fields this year unless the ban is lifted.
"It's hard to believe I'm saying this, but we don't want people to come. We worry that they will gather in the fields in groups, then go use the Honey Bucket or go to the gas station and spread the virus," Roozen said. "It's been a lot of thinking, a lot of stress and hopefully we'll come up with some answers to get us to next year."
Back at Tulip Town, the farm has brand new owners.
Miller and his business partners bought the farm last June and their first spring is unlike anything even the most seasoned farmer has ever experienced.
The owners are a group of high school friends who come mainly from tech backgrounds. They're trying to use that experience to find a way to save their iconic farm — and the industry as a whole.
"We want to engineer this experience using available technologies, do something absolutely different, and at the same time put ourselves in the position of our guests," Miller said. "That's where we're at."
Tulip Town is developing an app for virtual, immersive tours — possibly even using drones and virtual reality. They're also organizing a program where the public can buy flowers and donate them to nursing homes and hospitals.
Miller hopes it will be enough to keep the tulip tradition alive.
"For us to be in a position to help save the tulips in Skagit Valley is the opportunity of a lifetime and we're throwing everything we can at that."