3 unforgettable lessons the pandemic has taught us

02-08-2020    14:45   |    Greenhouse Grower

As with any life-changing crisis that comes into our lives, it’s natural to reflect on the lessons learned from the experience. Business doors are opening again; masked people are warily venturing out to shop and socialize, even if at a distance. We haven’t seen the last of the coronavirus and its impact. We won’t for some time. Yet, there are a few lessons for the controlled-environment greenhouse industry to reflect on already as we begin this new stage of reemergence back into what we knew of life and business pre-coronavirus.

We Are Essential

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus what is and isn’t important — what is and isn’t essential. We have learned, though, that essential is in the eye of the beholder; in some cases, it’s obvious what is essential, in others it’s subjective.

Chris Rocheleau, a Sales Representative for ForemostCo, Inc. and a regular contributor to Greenhouse Grower as a subject-matter expert, shared an observation he made waiting in the checkout line at BJ’s Wholesale Club as he watched five different families add guzmania bromeliads to their shopping carts full of meat, canned goods, paper towels, and toilet paper.

“I doubt these are a good source of nutrition or have the ability in cleaning anything up in the restroom, but people want something they feel will bring them a sense of normalcy during this strange time,” he says. “A flowering plant in the home during spring can do just that!”

Pre-pandemic, there may have been those who viewed plants as essential only in terms of eating them to sustain life who no doubt have a greater appreciation for them now, whether it’s for gardening/landscaping their yards, boosting mental health, maintaining physical health, enjoying the outdoors, etc. The pandemic has helped the horticulture industry do what we’ve been scratching our heads about for years — how to get people to realize they can’t live without plants. The challenge for the industry now is how to keep plants, and their importance, in the forefront of people’s minds so that what might be a renewed appreciation turns into a lifestyle necessity.

There’s a Place for Digital; There’s a Place for Face-to-Face

Digital events, meetings, and interactions have taken a more prominent place thanks to coronavirus lockdowns. We’ve learned some types of education can take place online just as easily as traveling to a class or event, and other types of interactions beg for face-to-face contact. Whether it’s to intermingle with people or with plants, there has to be a balance between the two.

With the switch of tradeshows and events from in-person venues to digital programs, some in-person opportunities are lost that can’t be easily replaced with Zoom and a computer screen.

When Life Gives Us Lemons, We Make Lemonade

The news and images of growers and suppliers dumping thousands of cut flowers, bedding plants, and vegetables that they couldn’t find a market for was disheartening, to say the least. It would have been easy for growers to give up. Instead, people shared stories of what their companies did to reach out to their communities, find new markets, and in short, encourage optimism and a can-do attitude. All this has contributed to a positive image for the horticulture industry and proven once again that industry folk are resilient, innovative, and downright tough in times of stress.

Bob Jones, CEO of The Chef’s Garden, shared that his team branched out into the home-delivery space, a market they had previously been meaning to explore but had never had the time for before COVID-19 (learn more about that here). A coalition of growers launched an initiative to advance messaging for shelter in place and social distancing guidelines, while fostering a love for plants. One Utah nursery gave away thousands of flowers in partnership with UPS to spread cheer in its community. Cannabis growers and suppliers donated masks, invested profits back into their communities, and transitioned facilities into temporary hand sanitizer production centers. The stories go on and on.

Rocheleau summed it up best in his recent article on GreenhouseGrower.com.

“I’ve loved and appreciated the stories of compassion, ingenuity, and dedication to pull off local miracles,” he says. “Everyone wishes their neighbors the best during this time, and we all truly look forward to turning this corner together.

“This is a great time to work together to solve problems.”

Source and Photo Courtesy of Greenhouse Grower

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