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A key element of our COVID-19 response effort at AmericanHort has been to support efforts to enable the horticulture industry supply chain to function as peak season arrives. Federal guidance from the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) establishes a “critical infrastructure/essential worker” framework. However, decision authority rests at the state and sometimes even local level, as to whether businesses can operate under “stay at home” or similar orders. So, we are collaborating extensively with our state partners as state-by-state responses take shape.

The federal guidance includes the “Food and Agriculture” sector, and “farm workers” are considered essential workers. The guidance does not specify sectors of agriculture, but nursery and greenhouse production are federally classified as agriculture.

The status of garden retail and landscape services is a point of somewhat greater ambiguity. Perhaps the clearest “industry-inclusive” model we have seen is North Carolina, which generally follows but expands upon the federal CISA guidance and states: Agriculture workers supporting the green industry to include nursery operations, garden centers, landscape and maintenance companies critical to the environmental and physical living conditions necessary in our communities.  The State of Oregon has taken a somewhat different but also helpful approach of prohibiting specific activities; activities not listed are allowed to continue. In many other states, it has been reported that garden centers selling items like vegetable or fruit plants and seeds, food and beverage items, pet or other animal feed, or even fuels like firewood or propane have made the case to operate.

Many retail businesses choosing to operate are innovating to enable online or telephone shopping, order pulling for curbside pickup, deliveries, and careful management of customers onsite. Growers are adjusting how workers’ tasks are structured to achieve social distancing, sanitizing surfaces frequently, educating on personal hygiene and sanitation for disease prevention, and so forth. In all cases where business operations are enabled, the ultimate decision rests with the business owner and should be made in the context of strict adherence to health and safety guidance to protect workers and customers.

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