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Garden centers at large stores must close under governor's order

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
A Walmart garden center closed.

An extended "stay at home" order by Governor Gretchen Whitmer bans keeping garden sections of stores open for businesses with more than 50,000 square feet. But many nurseries and garden centers contacted by Michigan Radio are interpreting the rule as a ban on selling fruit and vegetable plants. Workers at greenhouses and nurseries say it's confusing and makes no sense.

The governor wants people to restrict their trips from home to getting the essentials such as fuel and food. Large retail garden centers have been ordered to close temporarily.

Callie Gafner works at a small garden center. She says banning fruit and vegetable plants would not help limit the spread of COVID-19.

“If you’re growing them yourself, you're reducing the contact between people because you're not going anywhere. You're going out in your own garden and picking them up rather than going into the store and coming into contact with how many people?” Gafner explained.

She says garden centers can do "no contact" sales following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“[I] Just want us to be able to do curbside pickup and help our local customers to be able to do their own gardening and put the money back in the local economy,” Gafner said.

She adds, at a time when so many people are troubled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many find gardening relieves stress and is productive as well.

Farmers markets may also be barred from selling seedlings for fruits and vegetables.

“Currently there is a ban on all plant sales at the market. So, that is a big portion of our May market and so we might have to limit particular vendors at that time,” said Rori Jean Trench, Executive Director of the Fulton Street Market in Grand Rapids in an appearance on Michigan Radio’s Stateside program with April Baer.

In a news release, the Michigan Farm Bureau indicated that its president, Carl Bednarski, sent a formal request to Governor Whitmer to “ask for a reconsideration of retail garden centers to be included as essential infrastructure workers.”

A Farm Bureau horticulture specialist says the industry has an estimated retail value of up to $700 million and more than 9,000 employees.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated Governor Whitmer's Executive Order banned the sale of fruit and vegetable plants. That is not correct, but it is how all the retail outlets we contacted have interpreted the Executive Order.

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Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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