Apr 10, 2020
Despite Industry and Resident Pleas, Michigan Governor Keeps Garden Centers Closed

Despite receiving more than 18,300 messages from growers, retailers, farmers and Michigan residents asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to allow the retail sale of garden and bedding plants, the administration went the opposite direction, and  expanded and extended restrictions in her new “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order (EO) 2020-42.

Under a new section of the EO, Whitmer imposed new restrictions on April 9, saying, “Large stores must also close areas of the store that are dedicated to carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries, or paint.”

Saying there’s further effort needed to reduce crowds, the EO states, “Large stores must limit the number of people in the store at one time to no more than four customers for every 1,000 square feet of customer floor space; small stores must limit capacity to 25% of the total occupancy limits (including employees) under the fire codes.”

Whitmer’s EO continued restrictions for greenhouses and garden centers runs counter to similar EOs in Ohio, Illinois, New York and North Carolina, where the retail sale of plants has been deemed essential infrastructure.

Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski expressed his disappointment that greenhouse and garden centers are unable to sell nursery stock, flowers and vegetable plants to consumers who are requesting it.

“We respect, without question, the toll COVID-19 virus has taken, and the need to protect public health,” Bednarski said. “But, we had hoped to learn that family-owned greenhouses and retail garden centers across state would be allowed to open and operate in a safe and secure manner, following strict social distancing guidelines and safety protocols recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. The heightened restrictions within the new EO are expected to take a significant toll on an important sector of the Michigan agriculture, with estimated annual sales of $580 to $700 million in retail sales, and employing over 9,000 workers.

“With these farms missing their primary window of opportunity to sell, growers and employees could face an entire year without income,” Bednarski said. “For many greenhouse and nursery growers, their season is right now. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Bednarski emphasized again that Michigan growers are committed to protecting the health of the public and their employees and are confident they can implement alternative sales and services practices that allow them to still operate.

“We aren’t going to give up on our growers or consumers who are asking for concessions,” Bednarski said. “Michigan Farm Bureau will continue to urge growers and consumers to speak up on behalf of greenhouses and garden centers and ask the Whitmer administration to find a practical safe solution.”

Under the new order, all public and private gatherings among persons outside a single household remain temporarily prohibited. Though Michiganders may leave the house to get groceries or needed supplies, the new order encourages people to limit the number of household members running errands to the maximum extent possible.

The new EO allows for people to engage in outdoor activities like walking, hiking, running, cycling, kayaking, canoeing, or any other recreational activity consistent with remaining at least six feet from people and from outside a person’s household, and with other restrictions imposed by prior executive orders.

With the extension of the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order through April 30, the discussion surrounding the mental health benefits of gardening remains relevant.

“As residents continue dealing with impacts of Coronavirus on their lives, many would turn to gardening to cope with stress, no different than those who turn to puzzles, reading or music for similar benefits,” said MFB’s horticulture specialist, Audrey Sebolt. “If we can’t get flowers, vegetable plants or nursery stock into their hands, they unfortunately lose an avenue and outlet to help them handle our current situation.”

Michigan Farm Bureau and Michigan Farm News are committed to providing its members and readers with the latest news and information on the COVID-19 pandemic. For news, updates and resources, visit www.michfb.com/MI/Coronavirus.