Califonia Bountiful

Flower power

July/August 2017 California Bountiful magazine

Free zinnias help visitors pay it forward

Agricultural businessman Mark Mezger welcomes visitors such as Lisa Nguyen to his property to pick zinnias—for free. For online directions, search 12430 County Road 99W, Woodland 95695. Photo: © 2017 Matt Salvo

Mark Mezger gives away flowers all summer at his zinnia patch in rural Yolo County, and the only thing he asks in return is that visitors do the same. He even provides the vases.

"Come pick some free zinnias, but there's one requirement: If you pick some for yourself, you have to pick some for somebody who can't do it for themselves," he explained.

Mezger's pay-it-forward giveaway started in 2010, when his family had several dozen floral arrangements left after a customer-appreciation dinner at their company, Farmers Grain Elevator. His daughter suggested they deliver the flowers to local retirement and convalescent homes, and pretty soon, their mailbox was stuffed with thank-you notes.

"There was such a response for such a simple thing, we said, 'Next year, let's go ahead and plant some zinnias,'" Mezger recalled.

He chose zinnias for the 2-acre patch—a sunny spot near the elevator, about 35 miles northwest of Sacramento—for their hardiness and bright colors. The flowers typically bloom from mid-June through September, and visitors can pick them anytime, day or night.

"There have been people out there cutting flowers in the headlights of their car," Mezger said.

Ari Salvo picks zinnias, hardy annuals that come in a wide range of colors. Photo: © 2017 Matt Salvo

For retired schoolteacher Darlene Loyola, early morning is the best time to visit. She estimates she made 15 trips from her home in Davis last summer alone, gathering flowers for neighbors, friends and the people on her Meals on Wheels route.

"It seemed like every time I turned around, I'd tell my husband I was going up there and he'd say, 'What for now? You're going to pick them all,'" Loyola said with a laugh. "But even by the end of the season, there were still thousands and thousands of them. It's just unbelievable."

Mezger calls zinnias "flowers that keep on giving." Although he and project volunteers have provided upwards of 25,000 vases for visitors to use, he said he has no idea how many people have visited the patch.
But they keep coming.

"It's something really wonderful and really positive and the only stipulation is, if you pick a bouquet, help yourself, but pass it on," Loyola said. "Because of him, so many other people are giving. It's beautiful."

Barbara Arciero

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