Garden centers afraid of withering away due to order

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Now that Easter weekend is here, it’s the time that many people start planting their gardens.

But under the current state restrictions, garden centers are not allowed to sell products.

Five generations of Ludemas have grown and sold vegetables, plants and flowers on Eastern Avenue, south of 28th Street SE, surviving wars and depressions.

But the order keeping them from selling during the busiest time of the year threatens to end all that.

“It’s terrifying,” said Allison Ludema, part of that fifth generation.

The store normally employees 60 people this time of year, selling to a steady stream of people over the next eight weeks.

“This is their income for the entire year is beginning right now and will occur over the next six to eight weeks,” said Audrey Sebolt, horticultural specialist with the Michigan Farm Bureau.

Greenhouses and garden centers can still grow and tend, but can’t sell — even though owners report getting hundreds of calls a day asking for products.

“If retail garden centers are not allowed to be considered essential, it will be devastating for this industry,” Sebolt said. “They’re showing pictures of their garden centers and they all look beautiful right now, but all the doors are closed with signs saying: sorry, we can’t open to the public.”

Most garden centers start planning for this time in October. May and June are by far their busiest months, which sustains the business for the rest of the year.

“Our product is perishable, so we can’t put it back on the shelf. We can’t stop it from growing,” Ludema said. “We’re getting a lot of phone calls right now from people wondering what’s happening and everybody is wanting and willing to pay for these products right now.”

Already missing out on Easter sales, the growing season could be terminal if it can’t sell for Mother’s Day.

“If we were not able to sell at all this year, it would be very, very difficult to come back from that,” Ludema said.

“Under this executive order, people cannot buy vegetable plants to plant their gardens,” Sebolt said.

She said many people rely on summer vegetable gardens for sustenance, including community gardens and tribal areas.

The story is the same for other greenhouses and garden center owners. A couple of them were so overcome with emotion, they couldn’t go on camera because they fear they would break down.

While they can apply for federal and state loans, that may not save this industry.

“I’ve heard from many members saying no amount of programs or low interest or zero-interest loans could save my business if we are not allowed to open,” Sebolt said.

So now, the state Farm Bureau is appealing to the governor to allow for limited contact sales either through delivery or curbside pickup at least by the beginning of May.

Sebolt said New York, Ohio, Illinois and other states make similar provisions for garden centers.

She says even with the restricted opening, many of these businesses could face serious trouble. But without opening, they could disappear.

The farm bureau is talking to legislators who are getting behind their effort.

News 8 reached out to the governor’s office but did not hear back.