Many Washington FFA advisers have found ways around the COVID-19 quarantine to maintain their annual plant sales.

Several even reported online demand higher than normal in-person sales.

"Usually our customers start waiting in line at the greenhouse when we open our doors," said Tamara Whitcomb, adviser for Mount Baker FFA in Deming, Wash. "This year they will shop from the comfort of their own homes."

Mount Baker's online plant sale raised more than $16,500 — $1,300 more than last year and a sale record, Whitcomb said.

Customers scheduled an appointment through Google Forms online and received email reminders of when to pick up their orders.

"I had some really great classified staff members that helped pull orders quickly and load vehicles," Whitcomb said. "I call them my 'greenhouse fairies' and they did an amazing job and worked long hours to help me out."

The Mount Vernon High School FFA plant sale sold out within one hour of launching its site online, said adviser Amy Morrison.

She'd been worried that people wouldn't want to purchase online, as many people like to shop and choose plants. But there was no way to do that this year.

"Lots of customers told us they liked it this way," Morrison said. "It allowed people that couldn't normally come to our sale — due to work, et cetera —  to be able to participate."

Greenhouses are the "ultimate learning lab" for students, said Nathan Moore, adviser for Colton FFA.

"They have the opportunity most years to take plants from seed or starts to their finish product and culture that crop all the (way) through, by pinching, watering, fertilizing, deadheading, marketing and selling," he said. "Students might not have got the opportunity to complete all of those steps, but they still had the opportunity to be a part of the process from January to March."

Moore opted against an online sale. Colton FFA held its sale in person May 9, with social distancing protocol in place. Customers lined up outside the greenhouse at 6-foot intervals and no more that six people were let in at a time.

Selling online presented challenges, said adviser Heather McLagen, including loading all inventory into an online platform, building a website and only having one option for credit and debit cards.

But she was heartened by support from the community.

"I have been contacted several times a day since the closure by people wanting to know how they can support FFA and if there will still be a sale," she said. "It has been really heartwarming to see how much support and love there is for FFA in our community."

"The biggest challenge throughout this whole process is that students have not been able to see the progress of plants in person," Whitcomb said. "But through creating videos for Youtube and adding pictures to lessons for the Greenhouse Management classes they have been able to follow the progress through pictures."

Medical Lake FFA advisor Jennie Wagner is already inspired for next year.

"This situation had me totally rethink how we are running plant science classes," Wagner said. 

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