Growers relieved as Alberta garden centres declared an essential service

Product needs to move during the brief spring sales window, veggie gardens are suddenly popular again

Garden centres may not spring to mind when thinking of essential services, but getting that official designation was critical, says the CEO of Landscape Alberta.

“It opens the value chain from the agricultural side,” said Joel Beatson, whose organization joined Alberta Greenhouse Growers Association in requesting greenhouses, nurseries and garden centres be classed as essential businesses.

“There are various levels of greenhouses and nursery centres that are wholesale only. They need garden retailers whether they are independent or large-box-style retailers to be able to sell that product.

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“It was important to keep that value chain open.”

Most businesses in this sector do 80 per cent of their sales in spring.

“It’s not like the product can just be held for six months and sold again,” said Beatson. “The product literally becomes compost. Being closed at that time just isn’t feasible.”

Greenhouses started growing bedding plants and flower baskets in February.

“All of that money and labour has been spent in terms of potting, planting and growing and everything up to that point — if the market got completely closed down, that would be a massive problem,” he said. “Our growers are farmers, but not in the traditional sense that the general public understands.”

As well, consumers need gardening centres to be open too, given the sharp rise in interest in growing your own food, he added.

“We’re monitoring what is happening right across North America,” said Beatson. “That food security idea is incredibly strong and being adopted by consumers. You’re going to see more people starting to grow some food at home this year.”

Given the number of novice gardeners, he expects there will be “varying levels of success.” But even if their veggie harvest is minimal, people will be getting exercise and alleviating some of their stress, he said, adding it’s also an activity most homeowners can safely do on their own property.

Gardening centres and retail nurseries will follow the same procedures as grocery stores — limiting the number of customers in the retail area, reconfiguring their setup to ensure social distancing, and frequently cleaning high-touch areas.

His association has been in contact with its North American counterparts to share best practices while the Alberta Greenhouse Growers Association has offered webinars for store owners.

“We’re trying to provide really good education and resources and options so people can operate safely,” he said.

Many small independent garden centres have quickly adopted an online business model, said Beatson.

“Some of these people are seasonal and really small,” he noted. “Maybe they’re only open three months a year. So having an e-commerce website is not high priority, but they’ve actually shifted.

“I’ve been really impressed with Alberta’s ability to try to adjust.”

Many of the garden centres are looking at online booking, so customers can schedule a time to pick up their order.

The Alberta Greenhouse Growers Association has about 150 members while Landscape Alberta has about 300 members.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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