April is National Lawn and Garden Month. It’s that time of year when we can get outside and enjoy all things Spring. Each week of this month, we’ll be shining the spotlight on some of our partners who help to keep outdoor spaces looking beautiful.
This week, I’d like to introduce you to Curtis Dragon, owner of Earth Landscape, which is located in Salem, Massachusetts. For over 35 years, Curtis has specialized in practicing landscape solutions using organic products and sustainable practices. His most recent focus is on getting organic products on the market that are not just “earth-friendly”, but also price-competitive as compared to synthetic products.
I asked Curtis, “How did you get into the landscaping business”?
Curtis went to an agriculture high school. Students were presented with a variety of trades, and with the urging of his father, he chose horticulture and agriculture. “My dad was a truck driver and a carpenter. He guided me in this direction because he saw that there was an opening in the industry and a chance to grow as an entrepreneur”, Curtis said.
The Push for Sustainable Landscaping
I knew that Curtis has a special niche in his practices. He focuses on providing organic, or sustainable landscaping services in Massachusetts. So I asked about his inspiration for going into organic services.
Curtis explained that in school, students were pushed to get their agriculture licenses so they would be certified in the use of DDT. Where he is from, agribusiness is synonymous with the use of petrochemicals. It is standard to use harsh chemicals for weed and pest control. One day, his class was up in the potato fields during a hands-on lesson. Curtis went on, “Our professor was so proud of the power of the chemicals to kill weeds and pests. He sprayed the whole area with them.” There was a pond at the bottom of the hill. The next day, it rained. As the group of students returned to the fields, Curtis was horrified to see ducks and birds lying dead by the pond and fish floating belly up. The destructiveness of synthetic products had a profound impact on him. “Bells went off and I thought there must be a better way”, he said. Curtis discovered Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. It was his first exposure to sustainable gardening and he still uses it today. That was the beginning of seeking alternatives.
Over the years, he has moved away from the term “organic”, which usually conjures up a sense of “expensive” and moved to “eco-minded” or “sustainable-minded” terminology. He continues to educate others to overcome the stigma that organic is much more expensive than synthetic products.
Challenges of the Landscaping Business
When asked what unique challenges he has faced with his business, Curtis quickly responded, “Seasonality!”. It hit him quickly that the growing season is short in New England. He had to find a way to make a living year-round. Curtis earned a college degree in horticulture and agriculture and got creative with learning ways to hone his tool to provide income throughout the year. The answer was product development, running workshops and becoming active with related organizations.
In an effort to find affordable organic products that he could use in his landscaping practices, he discovered that the standard system of using petrochemicals is incredibly inexpensive, but that organic products have come a long way. In fact, Curtis learned to develop his own line of organic products that are competitively priced and can compete with synthetic fertilizers, such as Miracle Grow and Miracid. Curt uses a blend of kelp and fish, which are derived from ocean waste (fish bones, guts, etc) and ferments them in 55 gallon drums. This is just one of many creative ways to create beneficial products from waste products.
In addition to using these “homegrown” organic fertilizer products, he now sells them to consumers. Why is that important? His products feed the soil, which feeds the plants. He can customize the pH depending on the result needed (neutral for grasses and annuals, acidic for perennials, shrubs, evergreens). People are raving about being able to purchase organic lawn and garden fertilizer that is both effective and cost-competitive.
Curtis uses sustainable practices to control grubs and other garden pests in ways that protect the environment and surrounding plants and enrich the soil. For example, seed oil only goes after the grubs. The water becomes a carrier of the oil, which penetrates their exoskeleton and stops them from feeding.
How 99 Calls Helps With Landscaping Leads
Curtis attributes over 25% of his business through the years to leads generated by 99 Calls. The content team worked with him from the beginning to customize the lead website to focus on being found by new customers who are specifically looking for sustainable lawn and garden solutions. Although this is a smaller niche, the customers are “preselected” and he’s happy to have a more condensed audience. He receives fewer leads than if he advertised as a mainstream landscaping company, but they are of higher quality to him.
Goals for the Future
Demand is changing. Consumers who began buying organic food years ago are now searching for additional lifestyle choices that support sustainability. This is naturally bringing eco-sustainable-minded people to businesses like Earth Landscape. Curtis hopes to continue to educate them on the lowering cost of organic practices and will continue to produce these products himself and bring them to market. He is working on packaging and promoting these products.
As if that isn’t enough to keep him fully committed, Curtis is also writing a book around a term he has coined, “Eco terrascape”, which he describes as a system of sustainable practices.
In closing, Curtis disclosed that 95-98% of Landcare businesses are still doing it the conventional way. They are removing material from their lawns; filling trucks up with cut grass, debris, and paying to dump it! By following these methods, landscapers can actually make more money if they will go into sustainable maintenance practices. The soil food web needs that. Green grass is 70% nitrogen and water. They are taking it out of the system and having to put it back in by watering and fertilizing. Simple practices such as using mulching mowers will feed the system and save water. There are many benefits to sustainable gardening, for workers, homeowners, and the environment.