Wednesday started off like any other day until we received the memo from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). It seems that nearly all of the cities and counties that make up the Hampton Roads region have been put under a fire ant quarantine. According to the memo, the number of fire ant mounds treated (free of charge) by VDACS has increased from a yearly average of 33 , to 642 in the last six months of 2008. A shocking figure, but are the ants on the march, or is there greater public awareness, maybe some of each. The quarantine restricts the movement of such items as nursery stock, sod, soil, mulch and even mud-caked construction equipment. You are not allowed to send any of these items out of the quarantine area unless it has been certified to be free from fire ants. In my opinion all of this was unfortunately dumped onto affected businesses without many details on how one gets certified. It had me wondering if we were going to have to ask for ID's to make sure we did not sell plants to people outside the quarantine, or would there be roadblocks at the county line to check for contraband begonias and azaleas. I put a call in to the local VDACS office to get clarification, the poor lady who answered the phone said she had been inundated with calls, but no one had provided her with information, and she would have someone else call me.
Not long after I finished reading the memo, the phone rang and WTKR TV was on the phone wanting to know if they could come out to get my thoughts. I did not want to sound like an idiot, especially on TV, so I got a quick on-line education on the critters to add to what I already knew. There was no interview, I just had to stand there and spout ant facts for the evening news. After the cameraman left, the phone rang again. This time it was the Daily Press asking me to answer ant questions and wanting to know what affect this would have on our business. I spoke at length with the reporter, and she must have liked what she heard, because she decided to come out to the store with a photographer. Later that day a gentleman from VDACS returned my call, and apparently retail garden centers that do not grow or ship product will likely not be affected. Even so I asked if they would come out and give us an fire-ant-free clean bill of health. We also decided to get more fire ant bait onto the shelves, as VDACS will no longer treat fire ant mounds in the quarantine area. As expected this story was airing on all of the TV stations that evening, thankfully it was not as sensationalized as I had expected.
On Thursday it was an "above-the-fold" story in the Virginian Pilot, complete with little ants surrounding the headline. Later that morning The Smithfield Times (The Pulse of the Counties) called me for yet more questions. Of course now all of this ant news and any other news story has been pushed well aside for Michael Jackson news (I am sure a certain governor in South Carolina is not in mourning tonight). Even though I was never a big Michael Jackson fan, I am sorry he is gone, but now I have that Alien Ant Farm cover of Smooth Criminal stuck in the folds of my convoluted brain.
I guess I am becoming Ant-Man.