Greenhouses, garden centers request governor allow cautious re-opening

Posted at 7:52 PM, Apr 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 07:05:12-04

BROWNSTOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) — Robert Ruhlig, owner of Ruhlig Farms and Gardens, says Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order requiring non-essential businesses to close has had a devastating impact. The governor issued that order in mid-March to help slow the spread of COVID-19, which has now killed nearly a thousand people in Michigan.

“I understand the governor is in a very difficult position," Ruhlig said. "She has to try to keep the public safe, as well as try to do what’s right economically for the businesses that are affected by this.

“As an independent garden center, 80% of our business is done in April, May and June. So in that time period it’s like Christmas for us," he added.

"Christmas" for Ruhlig’s business, so far, has been postponed. He says he’s got $3 million worth of product sitting at his 15-acre farm in Carrollton.

That's left the shelving at his retail location in Brownstown Township empty, dozens of seasonal workers without a job and customers anxious.

“The phone rings off the hook everyday with people wanting to come in and buy their vegetable plants and their early starter plants and their seeds," Ruhlig explained.

Those seeds won’t be getting into the ground anytime soon. So the Michigan Farm Bureau is looking for middle ground. The organization said it formally requested the governor loosen restrictions and allow greenhouses and garden centers to reopen in a safe manner.

“So we proposed to the governor different ways that this industry can sell their plants," said Audrey Sebolt, a horticultural specialist for the Farm Bureau. "That could include curbside pickup, delivery, and or restricting the volume or number of customers that are coming into their centers.”

She and Ruhlig say it’s not all about the money. For many, they say it’s a healthy distraction from COVID-19.

“Just being outside, outdoors, getting the fresh sunshine and getting into a pastime or a hobby that really gives them peace of mind and at this time we could all use a little bit of that," Ruhlig said.

We reached out to the governor’s office for comment but have not heard back yet.