Because of one family's meeting weeks ago, thousands of vegetable and herb plants were given away to community members Thursday evening.

Heidi Berry said she and her husband, Burl, and the family sat down when the COVID-19 outbreak erupted and talked about how they could help others. The Berrys own Parkhill Plants.

"We contacted our seed supplier to see if they had any available vegetable seeds. With us planning ahead, we'd already purchased everything for the nursery," said Berry. "Our intention was to plant them so the plants would be good and ready and big - garden-ready."

Berry said they hoped to encourage people to plant gardens, and the gesture was welcomed by possibly more than 1,000 people. Cars lined up on South Muskogee Avenue, waiting to get to the almost 13,000 plants - peppers, tomatoes, squash, basil, and more - that had been loaded up and brought to town.

"We about panicked when we saw how many plants we got. We weren't sure if we'd be able to get rid of them all," said Berry.

But the people were ready for free plants. Berry said when she got to the facility - which is the old Ford dealership - at 1 p.m., there were people in the parking lot already. The community give-back event ran from 4-6 p.m. Thursday.

"Everyone seems really appreciative," she said. "It's fun to see the little people. I hope it spurs a new generation of gardeners."

The event notice said each household could get three plants, but depending on the size of the family, Berry said some got one or two extra. A couple of groups called her Thursday morning to inquire about picking up bulk orders. One nursing facility met Thursday morning to get plants for the residents to tend to.

About 50 Parkhill Plants employees and some volunteers, including a couple of city councilors, helped keep the car line moving. Vehicles pulled into the lot and then drove into a covered garage area so they could stop and get the plants loaded.

"We have about 10 stations set up, and each one has everything. They come through and we load them up. They don't get out of their cars. There's minimal touching of things," Berry said during the event. "We're doing it pretty efficiently, so hopefully the wait is worth it. I have a great team."

The event also ends up benefiting local organizations and the environment. Berry said some people offered donations, and since she wasn't expecting that, the money will be given to the Tahlequah Community Fund for distribution.

The pots the garden-ready plants were in are ones Parkhill Plants couldn't distribute commercially.

"The branded pots are always changing. They are carryover pots we can't use, so we repurposed them so we don't waste them," said Berry.

Although nurseries were deemed essential businesses, the industry also has also had its ups and downs during the pandemic.

Berry said there were some states they could not ship to. But she is glad businesses like theirs have been able to help others.

"Planting a garden, it's mental sanity. It gives people something to do," she said.

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