As the coronavirus swept across the country and the globe, many individuals were, for the first time in their lives, being told they were “non-essential.” This, of course, was how government officials were determining what businesses and organizations could stay open and operating during this crisis. Many parents were faced with the painful and awkward task of informing their kids that mom or dad wasn’t essential for the community and needed to stay home instead of going to work because what they did for a living wasn’t very important. For others, it meant being put into the equivalent of social isolation. For some, this may result in some damaging psychological fallout.
If you’re a landscape professional, you already know that initially, your profession had been deemed “non-essential” and on a certain level that is true. But then, many states and even the federal government back peddled saying there were some aspects of the profession that were essential, while others would be exempt under the condition that all work is performed outside while upholding the highest safety standards. Talk about feeling like a yo-yo! Certainly, there is no doubt from any of us that, first responders, healthcare professionals, as well as grocery store and pharmacy workers are more essential right now for helping to keep people safe, healthy, and fed.
The solitary work of pruning roses
But I’m here to tell you perspective is everything and that even landscape services can be considered essential in that landscape professionals do valuable work that contributes to the mental health and wellbeing of many. Just because the government may unilaterally decide that landscapers are “non-essential”, that in no way gives them the right to define an individual’s value. We are, in fact, essential in the larger scope of community functionality. The work we do provides a valuable service done by workers earning an honest living that provides for their families’ wellbeing. That work also boosts the wellbeing and positive mental outlook of the beneficiaries of that work: the homeowners and their families as well as businesses and their employees.
After all, a well-designed and maintained landscape provides a welcome refuge for families struggling to cope with a rapid, unexpected, and significant change in their daily lives. Being able to get outdoors and enjoy nature’s beauty is a proven antidote to the confinement and challenges of being cooped up indoors. Getting outside into a safe, well-maintained outdoor environment can substantially reduce stress and help defuse the growing resentment and conflict that can result from being in close quarters too long with the same people.
If you take a moment to consider what is truly essential, anything or anyone deemed “essential” – necessary – can be assigned to one of three value levels:
If the pandemic, along with the state of fear and uncertainty it has created, have taken their toll on you and increased your level of anxiety, take a deep breath and assess your current situation objectively. I feel confident that most of the audience reading this blog have the resources to adequately meet these three essential needs and are not in imminent danger. That puts you well ahead of the large majority of people in the world.
Plant diversity brings us to a state of joy and hope
Clearly, emergency management and healthcare professionals, as well as the food supply and pharmaceutical workers labeled “essential” by the government, are vital for maintaining life itself. They deserve all the respect and support we can provide to ensure that they can continue to do their jobs and protect all of us.
But that does not diminish the importance of another class of workers who are, in their own way, essential. That includes all trade workers including landscape professionals. In Massachusetts, that distinction has been officially recognized by the governor who specifically called out landscapers as one category of “non-essential” workers essential enough in their own right to be exempted from stay-at-home work restrictions, provided their work is outside.
I join the governor in urging landscape professionals who can work while maintaining safety for themselves and their communities to do so. It’s important to be self-sufficient and not a drain on the economy. Working safely includes keeping social distance, not truck or equipment sharing, wearing your PPEs, including always wearing gloves, wearing masks when in close proximity to one another and keeping extremely vigilant hygiene. All easier said than done. This webinar by ABC Massachusetts, Associated Builders and Contractors, is extremely helpful in outlining how to be safe on a construction site. Please watch it as you develop your safety policies. And remember that the protocols change as the information we have evolves. The key to safety is vigilance.
My belief is that the work we do as landscape professionals is a valuable way to actively engage in maintaining overall social wellness and our clients’ wellbeing (not to mention that of our own employees) while doing our part to support economic recovery. Our brave and well-guided actions will set the tone for others who will eventually need to get back to their professional lives. We can act as beacons of hope, that going back outside, working with your coworkers, and being productive can be achieved safely. Getting back to work also enables us to stay aligned with the environment as spring unfolds into summer bringing signs of renewal and growth.