From the November 1999 Idaho Observer:

Government store steals Christmas cheer and May flowers

MOSES LAKE, Wash. -- Her fingers are strong and calloused. They have to be. Karen Edwards of Edwards Nursery has to make a profit to stay in business but her competition does not. Since 1986 when the Moses Lake Soil Conservation District (MCD) was deeded 11 acres of Highway 17 frontage property by Big Bend Community College, she has been competing with a full-service government nursery. According to county records, the college MCD paid $1 for the valuable acreage.

The MCD was esablished in 1946 to provide nursery trees for commercial farmers as windbreaks to prevent the harsh basin breezes from carrying precious topsoil away from newly established Columbia Basin Federal Reclamation Project. Today the area is the breadbasket of the state where everything from alfalfa to corn and sugar beets is grown.

Today the MCD is a full service nursery that sells a full line of items to farmers and homeowners. Because it is a government store staffed by government employees, MCD does not have to operate in the black like a normal business -- it can afford to offer bedding plants, ornamentals, lawn ornaments and other traditional nursery items at prices that cannot be matched by private competitors.

MCD also has an advertising budget.

And such has been the sad fate of Edwards Nursery just 1/2 mile from MCD but not enjoying tax-free and debt-free highway frontage.

Nursery commerce is seasonal by nature, spring, of couse, being the busy season. However, nursery business is a year-round business requiring thousands of hours of labor throughout the hot summer months and cold winter months. Edwards has always had sales throughout the summer to make ends meet and would do enough business in live Christmas trees to get her through the winter.

Edward grows her own trees. With MCD able to grow or import as many live trees as the market will bear at prices she cannot compete with, the government store Grinch that has systematically stolen Edwards' Christmas as well as her spring.

Edwards, a quiet, hardworking and intelligent woman of unshakable honesty and decency, has done everything in her power to stop this government store from competing with private industry. The local chamber of commerce has been no help, elected representatives have been no help and the state attorney general has only made matters worse by rendering opinions that support the rights of government to compete in the sale of retail products to the public.

There are several such districts throughout Washington state. MCD allegedly uses the revenues generated from the sales of lawn ornaments, bedding plants and windbreak materials to fund soil conservation projects within the district. Appropriate use of those funds will be the subject of another story scheduled for publication this coming spring. For now let us just say that the contemporary posture of the MCD has become much grander and more revenue-conscious than was originally intended.

Edwards had been doggedly persistent in her attempts to seek justice and has basically given up. She will not, however, let the government run her out of business. While the government store has plenty of tax paid labor to care for spacious tax and debt-free grounds and products; while the government store has a nice, taxpayer-maintained office building and greenhouses and pays no state sales tax on items it sells, Edwards works 10-14 hours per day, mostly by herself, to continue making a living at her nursery.

I am going to be straight with all of you. My wife used to live in Moses Lake and has known Edwards for a long time. She has been witness to this travesty since 1988. We asked Edwards to be in charge of the flowers at our wedding and she took time out to bring a lot of her wonderful, beautiful flowers all the way to north Idaho in her old tired truck and made our outdoor on-a-retired-dairy-farm wedding perfect. It was a week after our August 15 wedding that I heard Karen's story for the first time from the heart of my wife.

Karen is a wonderful woman who deserves nothing less than to compete fairly in commerce.

If journalism is to mean anything it must be used as a tool of change for the better. The Idaho Observer may be full of a lot of bad news, but it is published with the best of intentions for this nation. We love our country and we want things to be better, fairer and happier for her people.

This coming spring we will run an in-depth chronology that details the greed, corruption and parliamentary shenanigans that has made the MCD what it has become. Today we want to encourage people to support a local business because a government business already has our involuntary support.

The Idaho Observer has a few subscribers in Moses Lake. We have called upon them to help distribute this Christmas message. Please, if any of you plan to purchase a live Christmas tree from MCD, consider paying a few extra dollars to buy it from Karen.

By supporting a local business, you are actually saving money. Where revenues (not profits, there is a difference) from MCD sales are turned back into government coffers to pay government employees to work government "soil conservation" projects, Edwards' revenues purchase soil and parts and services from other local businesses and her profits are given back to the community when she buys groceries, eats at a restaurant or makes deposits into a local bank to provide local loaning capital.

Those, of course, are also the reasons we should always support local businesses over national and international (and government) chain stores.

Thank you.


Don Harkins
The Idaho Observer

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