April is traditionally the month that the Sacramento Valley Chapter’s much-anticipated Spring Native Plant Sale is held at Elderberry Farms Native Plant Nursery. At the nursery, more than 120 species of local native plants are propagated and grown to be sold each spring at this sale. This year, when the order to shelter in place took effect in mid-March, the sale had already been advertised in the chapter’s newsletters, and the plants were ready to be sold. But, like all large gatherings this spring, this year’s plant sale needed to be canceled for the health and safety of our community.
The state’s requirement to cancel all large gatherings also meant that volunteer work days at Elderberry Farms needed to be canceled, so the 20 to 25 volunteers who worked at the nursery each week were no longer able to help maintain the nursery and grounds. These tasks fell to Propagation Director Robin Rietz and Nursery Director Chris Lewis. Robin and Chris were able to take care of the plants by working three days a week while maintaining a social distance from each other. This arrangement worked, but they quickly could see that they needed to make room in the nursery for the upcoming young plants, and the only way to make space was to remove the plants that were ready to be sold. So, Robin and Chris decided they would try to sell them.
In the same way that grocery stores were offering curb-side pickup, Robin and Chris put together a system so that customers could buy the nursery’s plants online and schedule a pickup at the entrance gate of Soil Born Farms, where the nursery is located. They decided the sale would take place over a set number of days—April 13 to 18. Robin compiled an inventory list. Chris created a PowerPoint that provided descriptions, photos, and links to Calscape’s website so that customers could read about and see each plant. The next day she sent out an eNewsletter to advertise the sale. They wanted to advertise in the Hibiscus as well but the timeline did not work.
Within an hour, Chris had the first of more than 100 responses, and over the five-day sale, they sold approximately 1,200 plants. Chris and Robin did the majority of the work—taking orders, scheduling pickups, pulling plants from the nursery, and meeting customers at the entrance gate. Dan Meier, Bobbie King, Mary Ann Robinson, Betsy Weiland, and Amy Ithurburn provided much needed help, with everyone maintaining social distance at all times.
On reflection, Chris feels that the sale was a great success. It created the needed room for the young plants, and the plants that sold can now become part of the area’s larger habitat, which is the ultimate goal of all the work done at Elderberry Farms. Chris also believes that the system they devised for this sale could work as a model for any future online sales. The only improvement she would make is to incorporate more technology to schedule pickups and track inventory. She also suggests that CNPS members make sure they are signed up for the eNewsletter on the chapter website’s home page—members are not automatically added to the mailing list with membership—so that they receive any future notices like the one for this sale.
The chapter’s board of directors has decided to donate the proceeds from the sale as part of a $10,000 donation to organizations that are providing food or assistance to those in need during the coronavirus crisis. They will choose those organizations soon.