WASHINGTON, D.C. – Roger Phelps choked up while addressing the crowd on the morning of July 8 at PLANET’s Renewal & Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. But while talking about his friends and classmates who were buried at the cemetery, the Navy veteran had a positive message for the 400 volunteers and 100 companies standing at the ready to help maintain the turf and trees that surround the rows of white tombstones.
“The stones here are speaking to us,” said Phelps, promotional communications manager of STIHL. “They are telling us to live.” With that message, the volunteers began their work on the cemetery grounds. Whether they were trimming a tree, working on an irrigation project, applying lime or aerating half of the 400-acre cemetery, the volunteers all expressed gratitude at the opportunity to take part in the event.
Renewal and Remembrance is the largest event PLANET participates in, and represents $250,000 of services and goods a year donated to the cemetery. In the past 16 years, more than $2 million in goods and services has been donated.
Michael Kravitsky, co-owner of Grasshopper Lawns, has participated in R&R all 16 years, and makes a family trip out of the event, travelling four hours from northeastern Pennsylvania. He said a few things have changed since the beginning, including the increasing popularity of the event and the equipment used to maintain the grounds.
“Sixteen years ago, it was in February and we all used push spreaders,” he said. “I don’t know if any people remember push spreaders because of all the equipment and the iron that’s running around her now. So that’s been a huge difference, but it’s just been fantastic.”
Norman Goldenberg, PLANET president, said the event is so popular now that the association had to turn away volunteers.
“We have more trouble keeping the volunteers away than getting them to come here because we are limited to the number of people that can actually come here and perform this work,” he said.
Michael Sisti, owner of Weed Man in Montgomery County Pennsylvania, said the event also gives green industry professionals a chance to show unity as an industry.
“It’s coming together as an industry and showing our strength as an industry and giving back to those who gave to us,” he said. “Until you’ve experienced it and you go through those gates, and you step on these grounds, there’s no other way to explain it.”
Also as part of the trip to D.C., contractors meet with their elected representatives during Legislative Day on the Hill.
A few issues PLANET and its member have in focus include:
H-2B Visa Program: PLANET members want Congress to pass legislation prohibiting the Department of Labor from implementing the final H-2B methodology and program rules. Many contractors depend on this program to staff their business because they say American workers don’t apply for available green industry jobs. The labor department wants to raise the amount H-2B workers are paid hourly by more than $3. A rule change would also allow any American to apply for a job up to 21 days before the H-2B worker is scheduled to start work even though the company may almost be finished with all the costs and paperwork needed for the H-2B worker to start. If the DOL’s rule changes go through, it would also affect companies that don’t use H-2B by increasing competition for American workers.
NPDES permits: Increasing the amount of permits to apply pesticides may overburden LCOs with paperwork. PLANET’s position is that the Senate should pass the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011 to alleviate the amount of paperwork required to allow for pesticide applications.
Lyme disease: PLANET wants a bill passed that would establish an advisory committee that would educate the public on tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease. Lyme disease can be deadly, and more education on the subject could result in faster and better treatment.
The author is associate editor at Lawn & Landscape. He can be reached at email@example.com.