By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
As you get ready for the annual war on weeds in your front lawn this spring, you can choose to load up on conventional weed-and-feed and launch a chemical offensive, or you can call the local lawn service to begin the assault on your behalf.
Or…you can skip the harsh chemicals and the usual services and find an organic lawn service.
Organic lawn care companies are pushing into the market. So much so, that even Chem Lawn, a king of the old guard, now goes by TruGreen and offers an all-organic plan. These days a check for “organic lawn care” will usually pop up someone in your region, if not your exact town. And a search for do-it-yourself organic lawn care products, like corn gluten pre-emergent weed killer or composts for fertilizing, will turn up products at hundreds of online and off-line retailers.
But we only know of one lawn service, the Clean Air Lawn Care franchise, that is aiming for green on a multiple levels, greening lawns with organic materials while also making its operations sustainable by using solar power and electric mowers.
Clean Air Lawn Care is a pioneer in its industry. Based in Fort Collins, Colo., the company strives to live up to its name, offering customers a chemical-free lawn, mowed by electric mowers that are charged by solar panels mounted on the company trucks. The result is a full service, clean, quiet, non-polluting alternative to conventional lawn plans.
“We’re providing sustainable lawn care; it take all facets into consideration. By using electric equipment we’re not contributing to emissions, to climate change, those type of things. We’re also quiet. In a neighborhood, you won’t even hear us. The noise pollution (reduction), that’s a huge issue,” said Skip Vest, owner of the Raleigh, N.C., franchise.
Vest has been an organic lawn care expert for years. His master’s degree from the University of Montana is in natural resources management. For years, he worked restoring natural habitat for industrial construction projects. He decided a lawn care franchise would keep him closer to home, so he searched for the right opportunity.
He hit pay dirt with Clean Air Lawn Care – a company devoted to improving lawns by caring for the soil organically and reducing not only pesticide pollution, but lawn mower exhaust also. Franchises use electric lawn mowers made by Neuton and Black and Decker.
Emissions from lawn mowers and leaf blowers are not regulated. According to Clean Air, electric mowers emit 5,000 times less carbon dioxide than gasoline powered lawn mowers, and zero emissions when they are recharged from clean energy sources. (Even electric mowers charged on the grid, with a coal-fired electrical plant or two providing the electricity, still come out with emissions far lower than gasoline models.)
A gas lawn mower operated for one hour emits greenhouse gas emissions comparable to running 40 cars for the same time period, according to the EPA.
So Clean Air comes by its name honestly. And people are noticing. Founder and CEO Kelly Giard was named Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year by Entrepreneur Magazine in late 2009.
The only not-green aspect of the Clean Air program has been that there are no electric light-duty trucks available for crews to use, says Vest. He is looking at buying hybrid trucks, Toyota Tacomas, but until then, all the crews can do is drive responsibly.
They can do much more in yards, where they reclaim a healthy environment by adding organic fertilizers that feed the soil and ultimately, sustain heartier grass. Crews also mow the grass at a higher level than other services, leaving taller grass to shade out weeds and form drought-resistant roots. And they leave clippings on the lawn, providing a free nitrogen boost.
“What we’re after is the soil,’’ says Vest. “And what we’ve seen is that by doing this (enriching the soil) after a while, you almost work yourself out of a job.”
Daniel Whittaker, owner of Green Planet Catering in Raleigh, is a customer of Clean Air Lawn Care. He started the service after scouring ads for an organic lawn service to revive and maintain the small front yard of his downtown area house.
Whittaker appreciates that when the Clean Air crew arrives to mow outside his bedroom window early in the morning, they don’t even wake him up. But his lawn is waking up after nearly a year of organic care.
“As far as the results, it’s a twofold thing,’’ he said. “One, the lawn looks really good and it was in horrible condition when he (Vest) started; it was nothing but crab grass and clover. He put down some organic pre-emergents and reseeded with some organic seed.”
Even casual visitors have noticed the turn-around.
“One guy said he stopped and ran his hands thru the lawn because he said it looked so soft.”
- To find a Clean Air Lawn Care service in your area, see the website location tool.
- Other organic lawn services are available, including Natural Lawn, with more than 20 years in the business, and the green wings of TruGreen and Scotts Lawn Service.
(Warning: Some of the organic lawns services are only partly organic because they kill pests like fire ants chemically, though sometimes with “safer” chemicals.
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