Jack Rozendaal sales director with DeVry Greenhouses stands amid some of the hundreds of thousands of planters ready to be shipped to stores for Mother’s Day. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Chilliwack greenhouse company works through challenges amid COVID-19 pandemic

DeVry Greenhouses has implemented a number of new protocols as they gear up for Mother’s Day

Flowers aren’t the only bright colours people see when walking through DeVry Greenhouses.

Lately, small groups of workers have been wearing matching coloured shirts while on the job at the massive Chilliwack greenhouse company.

Last week, a team of three workers in vibrant red T-shirts pushed trolleys of plants down an aisle, while another trio in grey tops with blue sleeves watered rows and rows of planters in another area.

This colour co-ordinating of each group of workers is just one way DeVry Greenhouses is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The employees always work with the same three to eight people to prevent cross contamination. They also live with the same people they work with “so that not everybody is mingling with everybody,” said co-owner Arnold DeVry.

“We keep it really contained,” he said.

They’re a big company. They have locations in Chilliwack, Langley and Alberta with more than 60 acres of greenhouses in total.

Here in Chilliwack, they house 140 employees from Mexico each year and a big focus for them lately has been to keep all of their workers safe and healthy. In addition to the coloured shirts, they have implemented daily temperature checks and enforced more hand washing, like when folks enter and leave the greenhouses. And since the beginning of the pandemic, they’ve even been doing grocery shopping for the staff they house.

It’s all for good reason. They have so much product that if there was an outbreak, it would be “detrimental” to the company and they’d have to shut the greenhouse down. Plants need daily care – they can’t simply pause production for two weeks and then catch up later.

“There would be nothing to come back to,” said DeVry.

But despite all of the new protocols that have been implemented, he said the situation is still “very stressful.”

“I wake up with it and I go to bed with it. It’s on my mind all the time,” he said, adding that he is constantly wondering what else they can to do improve safety even more.

Last month, there was even more to stress about when the demand for plants plummeted.

“Three weeks ago, the situation was extremely bleak,” said sales director Jack Rozendaal. “No one was looking at any plants, they were looking for essentials like toilet paper. We were dumping a lot of plants that customers didn’t want – Easter lilies, no one wanted them.”

“It was dire,” DeVry added.

They couldn’t stand to see so many plants being tossed, so they decided to take a truckload of them to Chilliwack General Hospital where they handed them out to anyone who wanted them.

RELATED: Rosedale greenhouse brings smiles to front-line workers with fresh tulips

Fortunately, shortly after that the weather warmed up they saw an increase in sales and people wanting to get out and garden.

“We expect that trend to continue,” DeVry said.

Now they’re gearing up for one of the busiest weekends of the year – Mother’s Day.

They’re planning to ship out 300,000 planters and hanging baskets leading up to that day alone to various garden centres, grocery stores and hardware shops.

“We’re cautiously optimistic about Mother’s Day,” DeVry said.

Each year they change things up a bit when putting together the assorted planters. New designs, new pots and new looks are often based on what’s hot in Europe.

But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed.

“Purple is still the number one colour for Mother’s Day,” Rozendaal said.

He believes this year is probably the ideal time to do something nice for your mom.

“Talk about moms and the amount of pressure they had this year where moms not only became full time teachers [but] also coaches and mentors and psychologists and psychiatrists,” Rozendaal said. “So this year it’s probably a good thing for mom to get a basket… or two, or three.”

Come this weekend, DeVry Greenhouses will finally be at full staff after the last of their Mexican workers arrive in Chilliwack. A group of 25 workers has been in quarantine for more than two weeks in Vancouver where the provincial government has been housing and feeding them.

Those additional workers will make it easier for DeVry Greenhouses to keep up with the recent demand for plants.

“What’s encouraging right now is a lot of people are starting to garden at home. We hope a lot of people will continue,” Rozendaal said.

Gardening is good for one’s physical and mental health as well, they added.

The bottom line is to get out and garden. It doesn’t matter where you purchase the plants from – when you get out and garden it helps all greenhouse growers, said Rozendaal.

READ MORE: Greenhouses struggling with the reality of COVID-19

RELATED: Community plant sale by DeVry’s Growing Smiles Fundraising helps support local food banks


 

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Workers organize carts full of plants at DeVry Greenhouses on April 22, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Jack Rozendaal (left) and Arnold DeVry of DeVry Greenhouses stand amid some of the hundreds of thousands of planters ready to be shipped to stores for Mother’s Day. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

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