Further Clarification on How Retail Greenhouses, Nurseries and Garden Centers Must Operate

April 5, 2020

From: MFGA Executive Board

Jeff Doherty, President
Ed Bemis, Vice President
Bart King, Past President
Bob Luczai, Secretary-Treasurer
Jason Wentworth, MFGA Legislative Advocate

Dear MFGA Members, Greenhouse/Garden Center Industry,

Since before Governor Baker’s “essential services” designation was released this past Tuesday, we have asserted that our industry IS essential. We are an important agricultural sector and, in these trying times, can help provide our communities with a break from the 24-hour news cycle and reconnect them with the environment we treasure. We have, since the pandemic began, called for our members to voluntarily self-regulate in the absence of specific guidance and in the interests of our families, customers, and employees.

The MFGA Executive Board has been fighting hard for our members’ rights to stay in business and do so responsibly and have been following the prevailing trends on how governments and industries across the nation are responding to the challenges of COVID-19. Again, without prompting from the Commonwealth, we have urged a very strict compliance not just to the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) but also greater measures to increase distance and minimize potential exposure.

Last night, another order was issued by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), building off the Governor’s “essential services” designation providing further clarification on how retail greenhouses, nurseries and garden centers must operate. MFGA’s Executive Board has been working to prepare our members for this possibility and, with the essential services designation, we are expected to meet many of the standards other retail sectors must.

Below, we’ve broken down every component of the new order, which we’ve attached as well. Many of you are already meeting or exceeding these standards because it is demanded of you. Please note that, when the language says “must” and/or “shall”, these terms are a mandate. This order is effective immediately. Compliance is not negotiable: Below is a summation of the official language on guidelines from the recent “COVID-19 Essential Services” announcement from Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel.

  1. Many members have indicated they are receiving higher volumes of inquiries from customers asking about vegetable plants and seed, herbs, berry plants, fruit trees, i.e., food producing plants/seeds, etc. While no one has misstated the percentage during our advocacy, our members could meet these needs and what we expect to be a significant increase in demand because we live and work in the communities we serve. If this requirement does present a problem, please contact us.
  2. Within the language, there are no restrictions against exterior and interior retail. However, it does state that the following steps are MANDATORY and MUST be taken to mitigate risk:
    • Members must offer remote purchasing options AND a curbside pickup option is a MUST. Also, all touch points in an operation must be sanitized. If anyone touches it, it needs to be cleaned.
    • Six foot social distancing lines must be clearly marked at check-out points, sanitizing touch points, providing washing stations, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and disinfecting wipes (applicable for wiping down carts) are all the cost of doing business in the time that we are in. These safety features will be familiar to anyone visiting a grocery store these days. Social distancing signs are a must reminder to customers.
    • Workers who, under CDC guidelines, are considered high risk (over 60 years of age, immuno-compromised, etc.), must be provided a lower-exposure assignment.
    • This practice of sanitizing a business’s facilities is consistent with what is expected at grocery stores and pharmacies.

Numbers 5. through 7. of the order outline procedures for bagging products. Again, these bag rules have been adapted from the language governing grocery stores.

It’s nice to be trusted but, in the throes of this crisis, we can easily lose the trust of the public and the government if even one member doesn’t do the right thing. PLEASE UNDERSTAND: this Department of Public Health guidance document IS NOT OPTIONAL. A local Board of Health CAN and WILL cite you and potentially shut you down if you are not in full compliance with these guidelines.

Knowing our members, we expect that our Flower Growers will be able to follow the rules and continue their good work. If you need help with compliance, or you know a fellow member who may need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. If you have helpful suggestions or want to share how you are meeting these challenges, please send that to us via email. We are proud of our members and this Association and will continue to be a resource for you in good times and bad.