It is certain that no one will forget the global pandemic caused by coronavirus in 2020. Most countries have enacted some level of economic lockdown and medical professionals are hard at work finding treatments and researching this fast-moving virus. In the meantime, tens of millions of workers are adjusting to a new normal. Whether that means working from home, working with extra precautions, or unfortunately for some, losing their jobs entirely.
In most states, green industry work has been declared “essential,” and turfgrass managers and landscape workers have been allowed to continue to operate, although with strict social distancing requirements. This situation has presented unprecedented challenges for all – those who are “nonessential” struggle to make ends meet, and those who are “essential” must adapt their procedures to protect themselves, their families and their customers.
Below are some reflections from professionals across industry segment on how their lives and work have changed during the pandemic and resulting shutdowns.
As a place that is normally full of life and activity, it is very quiet. Our bell tower tolls but only a small number are here to hear it. As I write this on April 15, 2020, we will most likely still have some restrictions due to Covid-19 when this is published. Since March 23, our staff has been split into two teams with less than nine on each team. We have been alternating schedules and teams between M, W, F and Tu, Th, Sat with a maximum of 24 hours per employee. Therefore, our work hours have been severely limited, and we have a couple full-time vacant positions. I believe we have the cleanest doorknobs, switches, counters, steering wheels, and equipment handles in the state because they have never been cleaned this thoroughly in my 12 years!
So, what do you do? “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” and “Make hay while the sun is shining” are two proverbial sayings I thought of when it comes to my work life. The former encourages you to think positive and be optimistic about the adverse situation you may be facing. Growing up on a farm I heard the latter on many occasions. I believe it encourages you to take advantage of the good weather days and not let them pass you by.
Here is what we have done and some future thoughts. Thankfully we did not apply a large amount of fertilizer this spring to our campus lawns (80% Bermuda grass over-seeded with perennial ryegrass) so we are able to cut the campus about every eight days as compared to five. Beginning with our athletic fields on March 30, we started the process to remove our ryegrass and have continued on to select campus areas. On certain high-profile areas, we are spraying plant growth regulators to help us manage the lawns and until we go back to a regular schedule, we will only apply fertilizer to weak areas on campus. In the past, we have used a plant growth regulator on our hedges and fully intend to do so this spring/summer. Our graduation has been rescheduled to October so we have been thinking about how the summer flowers will look. Historically, this is about the time we are planting the winter annuals so we are concerned about this transition as it may be a challenge. I have not seen half of my staff since March 20, so communication is vital to our success. My Associate Director and I text and talk each day since we are working opposite schedules. We also created a Google document to use for cross department tasks that can be viewed and marked when completed. I talk to my vice president, who is teleworking, more now than I would normally in a week. I feel it is important to keep her informed of our progress and concerns because she is not here on campus.
This work schedule has gotten me out of the office and I’ve been able to see more of the campus because I’m doing some of the tasks (i.e. cutting grass, spraying weeds, etc.). I have probably become a better task and time manager because of it. I hope you all have made the best out of a bad situation and I pray for the safety of you and those around you. This will pass, but until then, the sun is shining and I am going to make some lemonade!
– D.W., Director of Grounds
I believe the pause of social routine has actually made our work not only more apparent, but important. The spring colors and greening grass have always been a lovely harbor for city life, but with less people on campus we are able to better notice the connectivity of habitat – birdsongs, sunning turtles, even a fox was spotted this week. The Division of Grounds & Landscapes has a public obligation to not only provide the physical safety of a well-maintained environment, but also for the psychological comfort of our community. There are many people using this time to walk or bike our campus right now, connecting with themselves and their families, it is meaningful to know we deliver a passionate framework for that experience.
– C.P., Assistant Director of Grounds and Landscapes
These past few weeks have been surreal. At a time when we are usually ramping up to get campus ready for graduation, we got orders to do only the essential mowing in an effort to reduce staffing on campus. During a season when our campus is at its prettiest in blooms, we were told to make rotating staffing schedules and students, staff, and faculty were sent home to social distance. As crazy as it seems, I feel fortunate to work at a place that cares for the health and well-being of their staff — a place that has never wavered on paying their employees, a place where our staff have risen up and when it is their shift on campus they work as hard as possible to keep our campus looking the very best it can.
As our daily lives have changed so drastically in such a short amount of time, during what is traditionally our busiest season, our maintenance crews have had to adjust to a ‘new normal’. As a municipality, our priority has been to keep our essential staff working safely, practicing the recommended CDC guidelines for social distancing, sanitation procedures, etc., while continuing to maintain our green spaces. Creating staggered work schedules, changing our daily operations and means of communication, providing additional sanitizer, as well as working in smaller crew numbers have all been in an effort to minimize interaction. Our employees have appreciated these efforts, but also take extra precautions with regular equipment and vehicle sanitation.
I believe it has been helpful for some crew members to be working, maintaining their daily routine as much as possible. Our City has done an excellent job of keeping employees informed of updates, changes in policy, and providing information as the situation has evolved. As we continue to maintain our parks and facilities during these unprecedented events, we will strive to do our best for our citizens while taking care of our employees.
– L.R., Landscape Management Coordinator
I have to admit not much has changed for me as a county employee. Initially the situation was a little hectic as we adjusted to the social distancing. We went from needing 3 trucks to needing 5 trucks. Each employee drives their own county truck to each site. This was a small logistical nightmare, but we made it through. With multiple operations needing to share vehicles, each department stepped up and did a good job cooperating and my crew has been able to continue work on the athletic fields.
At this time my operation is considered essential so we are doing our normal spring turf program. The Turf Crew manages 250 natural grass fields and 45+ artificial fields. We are responsible for applying nutrients, any liquid spray applications, aeration applications and any artificial turf maintenance across the county. Currently the crew will continue doing the turf applications like normal because mother nature does not stop. This is the most important time of the year for turf managers that grow turf in the transition zone. Skipping our spring turf applications could affect the turf quality months down the road and maybe going into next year. We are responsible for the safety and the playability of the fields even if no one can play on them. People will be eager to get outside and play team sports again so we need the fields to be ready when the community gets the green light.
– S.B., Turfgrass Specialist
I am the Grounds Manager for a public school system. I have a crew of 4 FTE’s taking care of 458 acres total. Our groomed acreage is 160 acres with plenty of playgrounds and nature trails.
In the face of a pandemic we are essential employees. We are working a modified shift consisting of half days. We will possibly be going back to a full shift soon. We are trying to figure things out as we go. We are given clear instructions daily, but they change every day. My men are scared to death, and frankly so am I.
At the time I’m writing this, we are on spring break. This morning I received a text that my administrative assistant’s husband was admitted to the intensive care unit with a COVID-19 diagnosis. She is symptomatic as well. My plan for my crew is to minimize our exposure by wiping down anything we touch, wearing masks, and washing or sanitizing our hands constantly. We are also using social distancing.
I pray that God is watching over us, has mercy, and protects us from this.
For me as a contractor, I am losing a few jobs because all sports are cancelled. I didn’t let this deter me from reaching out to my customers and hopefully new customers about cleaning and disinfecting their synthetic turf fields, as well as any other jobs we can start because there is no use on the fields.