To spring to life no matter the times

Grassroots: The Plant Sale Story

SUNY Cobleskill’s greenhouses are blooming with plant life. Getting them that way is no small feat — especially in 2020.


Think about the time and effort you put into starting your own planting season. Multiply it by 100 or so. You can almost start to envision the work that goes into preparing for SUNY Cobleskill’s Spring Plant Sale.

The months of March and April are peak growing periods in the campus greenhouses. Space is in high demand. Student projects, along with vegetable starters, wildflowers, and herbs for the plant sale, and whatever else you might imagine, create some serious – and seriously mesmerizing – botanical congestion.

Greenhouse Manager Heather Anthony and the greenhouse staff oversee all planting and growing for the Plant Sale. While balancing projects and independent research, students, faculty, and staff take care of sale logistics. Customers come from across the region. Sometimes they drive for hours to pick up their haul. The sale is a full departmental project that launches, runs through, and ends an especially busy time of year in the Plant Science Department.

This year, the frenetic energy that signals spring’s beginning in the Plant Science Department has gone virtual. Courses, including the ones for which students are completing special projects and independent research, moved online in March. The online farmers’ market Schoharie Fresh is hosting this year’s sale.

That hasn’t stopped the growing. And that, in turn, has made Heather Anthony’s spring a little wild.

Certain things simply can’t be stopped, and so Anthony and Greenhouse Assistant Lloyd Jones are on campus every day providing care for all plant sale plants and the wide variety of this year’s student projects.

Anthony estimates that currently about half of the total greenhouse space is devoted to hemp projects. With students completing their semesters off campus, it is Anthony’s job to provide care for a plant that, until recently, has not been part of the program.

“There is such an interest in studying hemp right now, and it’s something that is new for me, too,” says Anthony. “I have had a crash course in hemp management that was totally unexpected.”

The entire spring semester has been illuminating. SUNY Cobleskill’s greenhouses have never looked quite like this before. They are totally full of plant life, though not human life. The constant stream of activity continues – Anthony says she didn’t wrap up spring planting until the end of April. But it looks and feels different.

Plant Sale 2020

The Plant Sale sat in limbo for several weeks while organizers planned for how to go on with the show. On May 8, the Schoharie Fresh website relaunched and began making this year’s plants available for purchase. The sale will last a week. Pick-up will be on Friday, May 15 and Saturday, May 16.

The virtual format is a first for Anthony and for Plant Science Department Chair Tim Marten, both Plant Sale veterans. It is different for students who literally planted the seeds that have helped make this year’s sale a possibility. And it has to be unusual for the loyal customers who rely on the College to start their spring planting.  

There is hope however that after a week of online ordering, for two days in the middle of May the delightful chaos that escaped the greenhouses in March and April will return to make a wild spring a bit more familiar. It will all take place from a safe distance, but everyone is looking forward to some activity when it comes time for pick-up.

That includes the students whose work ethic has brought them together – even while they’re apart.

“All our sales go to supporting student greenhouse activities,” says Tim Marten. “We count on the sale a lot for operational expenses. And after we put in all the hard work to prepare, we all look forward to the gig.”

Looking forward is really what it is all about. Nothing can or would jumpstart the start of summer like some much-needed good feeling here in the middle of the spring. 

“Like every year, it’s about a generation plus of students who have shared in pulling off the sale,” says Tim Marten. “Yes, this year is different. But the work of the students, the faculty, and the staff isn’t any less meaningful, and certainly no less important.”

Spring Plant Sale 2020