The greenhouses at VanWingerden International (VWI) in Mills River are nearly empty, but it’s not because business has fallen off. “Right now, we’re shipping all our ornamental flowers to Lowe’s and Ingles,” explains Range Manager James Cantrell. “This is one of the few times of year when you can actually see our floors.” Getting those shipments prepared and out the door requires that his employees work in close proximity to one another, often in far less space than the CDC-recommended six feet to help prevent exposure to COVID-19.
Cantrell manages about 45 employees in his “range”; there are about 150 employees total at VWI, a grower and supplier of plants and flowers. “For weeks, we’ve been having trouble getting personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect our employees,” he explains. “Our growers were having to backorder masks.”
But on Thursday, all 150 of the employees at the wholesale greenhouse received reusable face masks from Agribusiness Henderson County (AgHC), who plans to distribute over 1,000 more to agribusiness workers throughout the county.
“We wanted to show support for our ag operations and express the concern we share for the safety and well-being of our farm workers,” says AgHC Executive Director Mark Williams as he passed out masks emblazoned with the AgHC logo on them. “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has officially recognized agriculture as a critical industry during the pandemic, but of course we consider our agribusiness workers to be critical no matter what. We depend on this group of hardworking folks and appreciate what they do, so the masks are just a way of letting them know we care about them.”