Bulletin #2515, Managing Garden Center and On-Farm Seedling Sales Safely in Maine: Best Practices and Recommendations for Marketing During COVID-19

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Information for COVID-19

Developed by Jason Lilley, Sustainable Agriculture Professional, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Reviewed by Caleb Goosen, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Rachel Schattman, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Agriculture, University of Maine

For information about UMaine Extension programs and resources, visit extension.umaine.edu.
Find more of our publications and books at extensionpubs.umext.maine.edu.

potted seedlingsSeedlings sales through

  • Outdoors Display Areas
  • Indoors (Greenhouse) Display Areas

Each case includes best practices for

  • Communication and marketing to the public
  • Retail space layout
  • Crowd control
  • Collection of payment (cash box, in-person, online)

To keep farm crews, customers, and families safe during this COVID-19 outbreak, new systems need to be developed and implemented to meet CDC-based guidance for farms. Ultimately, the goal is to maximize space between people (> 6’), to minimize touchpoints, and to implement systems to sanitize areas of frequent contact.

Seedling sales pose a unique problem for safe sales during the COVID-19 outbreak due to the large amount of area that the plants take up and the large number of customers that shop for them in a relatively short period of time. Adjusting your retail seedling sales layout, customer flow, and payment methods all need to be planned in advance. Those plans need to be clearly communicated to your customers. Here are some recommendations for doing just that.

Communication and marketing to the public

  • Update your website and social media with clear communication about your systems for how customers can purchase your products.
    • Be positive and appropriate in that communication.
    • Show the community that you are using recommended practices for sanitation and distancing.
      • Example: Avoid posting pictures from last year’s sales that show dozens of people huddled around one bench or crowds of people at the farmers market.
    • Encourage customers to bring and wear a facemask while shopping.
    • Clarify if you are taking orders online or over the phone, your hours, and anything else critical to the success of your system.
    • Specify special payment methods if applicable.
  • See Social Media Best Practices in Times of Crisis.
  • Example Language: “We ask that you adhere to strict social distancing of 6 feet at all times while in the nursery and that you also keep to your scheduled allotment of time out of respect for staff and other customers. If you are late to an appointment, we will ask you to reschedule for another day.”

Parking area and farm entrance layout for on-farm sales

  • At the entrance from the parking area.
    • Put up barriers and signage posting your policies (PDF).
      • Barriers keep the traffic flowing in one direction, minimizing person to person contact.
    • Put markers every 6’ on the ground, or along the barriers to designate space between customers, in case a line forms.
    • Provide hand sanitizer and/or a handwashing station at the entrance.
    • Some businesses are requiring all customers to use a cart or basket, as a way of keeping track of the number of customers in the shopping area. If there are no carts available, no one new can be admitted into the shopping area. Staff moving carts from the checkout area back to the entrance should sanitize the carts before each new customer uses it.
    • If using boxes to aid shopping, do not reuse those boxes. The virus is believed to survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours.

Crowd control options

  1. As customers come in, assign a staff member to count and limit the number that can be in the sales area at any time.
  2. Have customers call ahead to set up a timeslot, giving each customer a set amount of time to select plants.
    • For options 1 and 2, ensure that customers are aware of the traffic flow procedure through signage or good verbal instruction.
  3. Require pre-orders by phone, e-mail or online purchasing platform.

A) Outdoors Seedling Displays

Product display area

  • Spread your benches and plants across as large of an area as possible.
    • 8-10’ between benches
  • Put barriers between benches to help direct traffic.
  • Increase space between plants to clearly display them. This minimizes the need for customers to pick up and handle containers to inspect them.
  • Post signage throughout the sales area encouraging customers to only touch or pick up containers that they intend to purchase.
  • Make large signs to display plant type, variety, cost, and other details that may be on the small tags, to eliminate the need to touch the small tags.
  • During any season, be sure to do a safety walk-through before opening to the public to address tripping hazards, sharp corners and objects, unsecured overhead items, electrocution hazards, keys removed from equipment and implements down, etc.

B) Indoors (Greenhouse) Displays

Product display area

  • Clearly mark greenhouse doors with what types of plants are in each structure to limit unnecessary entrance and wandering.
  • Prop doors fully open to eliminate a touchpoint. Consider foot-operated door openers (“handles”) where doors cannot be left open.
  • Increase space between plants to clearly display them. This minimizes the need for customers to pick up and handle containers to inspect them.
  • Post signage throughout the sales area encouraging customers to only touch or pick up containers that they intend to purchase.
  • Make large signs to display plant type, variety, cost, and other details that may be on the small tags, to eliminate the need to touch the small tags.
  • Allow for entrance through one door and exit through another for good traffic flow.
  • By the State of Maine’s Supplemental Memorandum, there should only be 5 customers at a time in a retail space (<7,500 sq. ft.). You might consider reducing that number per greenhouse.
  • Consider surfaces that someone would be likely to touch frequently (hanging hoses, bench edges, doorframes, etc.) and clean and sanitize on a set schedule (if possible).
  • Before opening to the public, be sure to do a safety walk-through to address tripping hazards, sharp corners and objects, unsecured overhead items, electrocution hazards, keys removed from equipment and implements down, etc.

Checkout options

Set up a checkout area that is in a different location from the entrance.

  1. Self-service- with support available. Clearly note prices and have a cash/ check box at the check out. NOTE: Some farms have received complaints from customers about having to handle cash. These concerns may be lessened if you can formulate even dollar pricing amounts in common increments to eliminate the need for making change.
  2. Card reader: Invest in a stand for the card reader to minimize the need for staff to get close to customers. Sanitize the card reader often, on a set schedule, ideally after every transaction. Consider installing a plexiglass barrier between staff and customers.
  3. Online payment: By setting up an online shopping and payment system, you can avoid these concerns, but need to have staff to pull and prepare orders.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2020

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