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Support Local Business While Supporting A Home Garden

It doesn’t get more local than your own backyard, and now, home gardeners can access all the supplies needed to start and maintain a home garden at their local nurseries, farmers markets, and farms.

Governor Whitmer’s latest version of the Stay Home Stay Safe Executive Order allows for nurseries to open to the public, as long as the establishments follow social distancing standards, provide for contactless pick-up, utilize enhanced cleaning and safety standards, and screen employees for illness, among other recommendations set by local health departments. 

Interpretations of the previous first two orders created confusion for retailers and shoppers alike, invoking a new wave of ‘panic buying’ for things like seeds, soil, amendments, and even lumber for raised beds, ironically as snow continued to fall and accumulate across most of the state. Many turned to online retailers for garden supplies as well. Now, in addition to April sales being impacted due to mandated closure, some fear sales will be even lower than usual in May since folks already stocked up on plants and supplies for the season.

The change to open these portions of the economy in Michigan are in line with the latest recommendations of The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released April 17. While all three versions of the document indicate “workers supporting the growth and distribution of plants” are recommended to be considered essential workers, Michigan previously declared these areas as non-essential. After lobbying on behalf of its members during most of the shutdown, The Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association acknowledged on its website, “Working is now a privilege that we must not take lightly or it will be taken away.’

The Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA) also updated its guidelines as of April 27. Sales can consist of food, personal hygiene products, pet food/treats, and plants and gardening items. Vendors selling essential items may also sell non-essential items if the sale of such items does not require any additional measures. But, vendors selling only non-essential items, such as cut flowers and craft items, may not attend the market for in-person sales at this time, but may facilitate sales through remote sales and curbside pick-up. Some farmers may be delighted to sell plants finally, especially after losing wholesale business with schools and restaurants closing.

The sudden outrage and attention over home gardening speaks volumes to the uneasiness consumers have concerning the food supply chain, whether conscious or unconscious. Perhaps, a new market and demand will be created in 2020 for additional home gardeners. If so, local nurseries and independent stores will need the support. Get out safely, and get planting.

Kimberly Conaghan is the Northwest Michigan Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference, and the Executive Director of the Grand Traverse Area Children’s Garden. She will be selling plants from asparagus to zinnias for the GTACG at their Annual Plant Sale (online this year) on June 6. You can reach her at kimberly@localdifference.org.

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