Independent nursery retailers in New Mexico have won the right to reopen for business, provided they do it via curbside pickup and/or delivery service only.
The state government had previously left garden centers, retail nurseries and retail greenhouses off the state’s list of essential businesses, although farms — a category that includes wholesale growers — were on it. All businesses not deemed essential were ordered to suspend operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, big box stores were covered by an exemption for hardware stores and were still operating, including their nursery departments.
At least one independent nursery retailer had been shut down by the state police in response to a public complaint, while others operated in violation of the order, the Santa Fe Reporter and Santa Fe New Mexican newspapers reported.
But late Monday, the state governor’s office changed course, and the state Department of Agriculture provided new guidance. “As of April 20, 2020, the guidance from the governor’s office is that plant nurseries – including floral shops – selling live product will hereby be allowed to do curbside or delivery service only,” the department posted. “They must take all necessary social distancing precautions and must continue to abide by the mass gathering rule. No customers are allowed in the facilities.”
The change was due to successful outreach from the Colorado Nursery and Greenhouse Association (CNGA), which includes a New Mexico chapter.
“We rallied the troops,” CNGA Executive Director Glenda Mostek stated in an email to Digger. “Not only the nursery, greenhouse and garden center owners, but also their customers, who want to be able to continue to support local business. And we reached out to multiple places — the governor’s office, the Department of Health, as well as the Department of Agriculture.”
Mostek said she received assistance and advice from Oregon Association of Nurseries, the Nursery and Landscape Association Executives of North America (NLAE), and others, using their communications and advocacy as a blueprint.
An online petition on Change.org also helped, with more than 16,000 people signing it.
Natalie Sept, an Albuquerque nursery worker with Oregon ties, also became involved in the fight when the nursery where she worked, Plants of the Southwest, was forced to shut down.
“The inventory is perishable, and from March to June 1, we do the bulk of our business for the year,” she said. “Each week we were closed, we were that much closer to shuttering forever.”
Sept didn’t want to see a woman-owned business with a 40-year history go away, so she redeployed skills she had developed as a lobbyist for nonprofits, and as a political aide to U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) and to Nick Fish, a former Portland city commissioner.
“Because of my political background, I reached out to my representatives both at the federal and the local level, and the governor’s office, to see what kind of information they needed so we could continue to do business,” she said. She urged them to find a way “so so we could sell seeds and plants to families to grow their own food, move inventory, and keep people safe.”
“Now we’re glad we can continue to operate with integrity, and legally,” Sept said.
Despite the win for green industry businesses, the landscaping trade in New Mexico remains closed, but efforts to get them up and running will continue.
Despite the win for green industry businesses, the landscaping trade in New Mexico remains closed. CNGA will next set its sights on getting those companies up and operating.