An international expert in floral care and handling and dedicated volunteer to the Society of American Florists’ (SAF) annual Outstanding Varieties Competition, Gay Smith received the 2016 Society of American Florists’ President’s Award. Smith, technical consulting manager for Chrysal USA in Miami, Florida, received the honor on Sept. 24 during the association’s 132nd Annual Convention in Maui, Hawaii.
“Every once in a while, the SAF president officially acknowledges exceptional work being done by an individual in the floral industry,” said SAF President Martin Meskers, AAF, of Oregon Flowers, Inc., in Aurora, Oregon, during the award presentation. “I would like to give the President’s Award to someone who is known as an expert in a field critically important to the success of this industry.”
About Gay Smith
Smith is respected in the floral industry for her vast knowledge of flower care and handling and is well-known at the annual SAF convention for her role with its Outstanding Varieties Competition, which features hundreds of entries — several thousand individual stems of fresh cut product and plants placed on display for evaluation.
Following her studies in Environmental Horticulture at the University of Arizona in Phoenix, where she grew up, Smith began working at a florist in San Francisco in the late 1970s. Following that retail experience, Smith began working at the San Francisco Flower Market for Kitayama Brothers. By 1981, Smith had made a name for herself as the first female manager among the male-dominated world of growers and wholesalers at the market.
Smith introduced to the market the innovative idea of importing flowers from Holland, Israel and South America, and she made a name for herself among floral designers in San Francisco. Before “Buy Local” was a common phrase heard around the country, Smith marketed Sonoma County-grown garden roses, and established herself as an expert on unusual, unique blooms and their post-harvest needs.
Due to her keen eye and attention to every detail, and success in working across cultures, she was hired to open a small export business at the flower auction in Aalsmeer, Netherlands, in 1983.
Smith returned to the U.S. in 1986, and settled in Portland, Oregon, where she honed her knowledge of marketing and care and handling at Melridge Inc., one of the world’s leading breeders of new varieties of lilies and one of the nation’s largest growers of bulbs and flowers at that time. Smith also led tours to farms throughout Central America and Europe, educating her floral industry colleagues about postharvest techniques, care and handling, and how to market unique floral products.
Smith joined Chrysal in 2001 as the technical manager for North and South America, traveling to wholesalers, retailers and supermarkets country-wide, dispensing care and handling techniques, proper hydration methods and the importance of PH levels to maximize shelf life.
Smith has also been a strong advocate for the industry participating on numerous SAF committees and attending SAF’s Congressional Action Days each spring. She also has been active with many other industry organizations, such as WF&FSA and the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.
“Gay’s presentations are peppered with anecdotes from her 45 years of experience,” Meskers said. “There is literally no post-harvest question she can’t answer — and she shares that knowledge in many trade publications.”