News Story

Governor’s ‘Stay-at-Home’ Orders Stymie Teenager’s Lawn Service

Gov. Whitmer’s emergency executive orders among strictest in the nation

New Jersey and New York lead the nation in the number of people who have died from COVID-19, yet their governors have not ordered landscapers and lawn care services to stop working, provided they observe social distancing protocols. That’s not the case here in Michigan, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders – among the strictest in the nation – have shut down the industry.

That order has cost 13-year-old entrepreneur Caleb Leitch, and countless others, thousands of dollars. As a teenager, Leitch doesn’t depend on the money for his livelihood, so he’s been using it as an opportunity to help neighbors to get their grass cut — and help others too.

Guidelines from the federal government include landscapers in the category of essential or critical workers, with the recommendation that they be allowed to operate. Most states have followed suit, but not Michigan. The state’s FAQ about what services are and are not shut down says the following:

Q: May landscaping, lawncare, tree service, irrigation, and related outdoor maintenance companies operate under this order?

A: In nearly all cases, no. A business cannot designate workers to perform these services unless the service is necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of a residence. This is a narrow exception that only permits in-person work that is strictly necessary to address a circumstance that immediately and genuinely impairs the habitability of a home during the emergency; the exception will be satisfied, at most, rarely. Routine concerns, such as about longer grass increasing insects, pests, or allergies, do not qualify.

To get around the order, his company, Caleb’s Outdoor Services, is cutting the grass of his 40-plus clients for free, but accepting donations in order to give to a local food bank. He raised $250 in one day from his work in Redford Township.

“We read the order, then we read it again and decided that lawns needed cutting and our elderly and disabled clients needed help,” wrote his father, Matt Leitch, on Facebook. “He owns all the equipment and it was nice to see the swagger back in his step after 45 days stuck at home. [We had] zero contact with homeowners. [It was] totally safe.”

In an interview with Michigan Capitol Confidential, Leitch said his son started mowing lawns four years ago, saved up money to buy his own equipment, and expanded into snowblowing and shoveling as well. The homeschooled student has had up to 45 customers, including a small historical cemetery and one commercial account.

Caleb understands the virus and how it can be spread person-to-person, but “like most of us in outside services,” his father said, Caleb is “having a hard time understanding why he can’t go mow his lawns.” Just missing out on spring leaf cleanup has cost him $2,500.

Leitch knows the virus is serious and notes that Caleb is a kid with little overhead, and he will survive this. But that’s not the case for lots of people across Michigan employed in landscaping and other outdoor services, who are now banned from working.

Michigan is among the states with the most cases and deaths from COVID-19. But the governor’s extensive state shutdown has been criticized for being too wide-ranging and arbitrary. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Michigan Chamber of Commerce have released guiding principles for reopening society, and Republican state senators have put forth their own plans.