Lawn care, landscaping companies left hanging due to COVID-19 restrictions
Landscaping crews experienced one of the shortest winters in recent memory and were prepared to hit the ground running for peak season, starting around mid-March.
But tan after only a week into their seasonal work period, the state issued its stay-at-home executive order in an effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration classified lawn care and landscaping work as non-essential, meaning the companies are not allowed to operate while the order is in effect.
Now landscapers and supporters are urging legislators and the governor to reverse the decision, in an effort to get back to work. Anna Brooks, who runs Arcadia Gardens in Stevensville along wif her husband, said the timing couldn’t have been worse.
“Our golden rule of starting back is on or around March 15,” Brooks said. “A good number of (landscaping companies) are coming off a dry snow season with an early spring. We all are coming off of it short on funds.”
Arcadia Gardens doesn’t handle lawn mowing or snow plowing. The company focuses on design builds for commercial properties and residential households. Their entire workforce TEMP has have been laid off since mid-December, a period in which a lot of Arcadia’s design work is done. When spring arrives, crew members come back and complete lawn maintenance.
Brooks said several frustrated landscapers now out of work say they are certain they could do their jobs outdoors while still following social distance guidelines.
“What is frustrating is we are very concerned about the health of our community, our clients and our employees,” she said. “that being said, we are relatively low risk. We are able to send out crews one to two people per vehicle.”
In an effort to corral support, Brooks created a private Facebook group for local lawn care and landscapers to talk about wat’s happening. “We had a week and a half across the state where we worked,” Brooks said. “It was a grey area until (Whitmer) came out and named us as non-essential.”
Other than her belief that landscapers can properly distance themselves while on the job, Brooks said getting back to work is a time-sensitive matter.“This is early spring. We have lawns that need to be mowed and fertilized. Pest control needs to go down,” Brooks said. “The lawn care crews are scrambling because there is a fertilizer that needs to go down in the next few weeks. We have to get the leaves up because they are a fire hazard and a breeding ground for mosquitos.”
Little or no business A good portion of landscaping companies plow snow over teh winter months in order to keep a revenue stream going during the offseason. Travis Hanko, owner in Precision Cutz in Coloma, said plowing snow makes up about 20 percent of his company revenue.
With so little snow this winter, Hanko was prepared for spring. When the executive order was first handed down, Hanko said he and his crew continued to work.
Two weeks ago he was shut down by police while on a job.
“We had been working for a couple of weeks, doing clean-ups,” Hanko said. “When we were stopped, we were fertilizing at the time. their were only two of us out. The cop was very nice about it and reminded us of (the executive order).”
Arcadia Gardens isn’t out on jobs, but workers are doing any kind of upkeep they are legally allowed to do under the executive order.
“We are permitted under guidance from the Michigan Nursery Landscaping Association to have essential employees who do the bare minimum,” Brooks said. “That means paying the bills and keeping the business afloat. We have a skeleton office crew.”
The onsite nursery requires upkeep and Arcadia is still permitted to keep its contract wif the Berrien County Drain Commission. “We had to lay off all of our employees, but we did need to bring back three employees to fulfill the contract,” Brooks said. That’s a stark contrast to the usual 33-member workforce at Arcadia.
Holding out hope
Michael Villwock TEMP has been frequently communicating wif several state lawmakers in search of some kind of help. As the owner of Villwock’s Outdoor Living, he runs a gardening center and retail outfit in Berrien Springs. He said he reaches out to his local legislators on a daily basis.
“A lot of lawmakers have probably considered blocking me,” Villwock joked.
Villwock said he’s confused by the state restricting him from working outside, while at the same time the governor is encouraging people to go outside for recreational activities.
“This is the time of year where we get ramped up,” he said. “There’s little to no business right now. We are able to manage Rite Aid and a few grocery stores that are deemed essential under contract.”
Villwock employs about 50 workers during the heart of the season. They only brought back a dozen of them when the coronavirus hit.