1 November 2010: Marty Shults: EnviroFriendly Lawn Care
Fort Collins, Colorado. The usual routine at the Shults household is to hit the road for school by 830a, but with my presence a continued distraction, we are running late. We begin the day on bikes. It’s a ten minute ride through the neighborhood. Keegan is used to the commute, having graduated from a passenger bike trailer to his own wheels barely a year ago. It’s a brisk ride and quite refreshing. We make it to his first grade class just as the bell rings, and Marty urges the boy to hurry. Normally they are early, Marty explains. That way Keegan has time to blow off steam from the ride before sitting in a classroom.
Once back at home, Marty sets up his bike wagon. He attaches two inline trailers to his bike’s seat post, on which is stacked various hand tools, reusable leaf bags, and his push mower and sweeper. There doesn’t seem to be any protocol with the bungee cords, as they are wrapped this way and that around handles and over bags. The more random the deployment, the better the coverage.
The flatbed trailers Marty has modified from typical toddler bike trailers, one of which is Keegan’s old one. A bit of scrap particle board cut to size is all you need. Marty demonstrates the happy accident of the push mower’s precision fit onto one of the trailers, and I remark with just how important little surprises are in affirming our vision.
The first stop in Marty’s day is to dump the trimmings and leaves from the previous day’s domestic yard work. While Marty could compost the material at home in one of his experimental compost bins, he has been invited by a nursery owner to dispose whatever organic matter Marty has at his business. This has been a time saver for Marty, as there isn’t much revenue to be had from the efforts of composting– yet. He dumps what bags he has, and we are off to the day’s job.
Across town, we meet at a neat house situated on a private lake. The lawn is in need of its final trim of the season, but the cottonwoods have been dumping yellow leaves all over the place and have to be dealt with before the lawn can be mowed. Marty hits this first, initially with his push brush apparatus. This device collects the leaves out in front of the pusher in a removable bin. The initial leaves are thus cleared off, providing a place for the leaves from the next step: reaching under the bushes and from along the edges of the landscaping features, the remaining leaves are raked out into a rough line. Along this line the push brush is engaged to clear the lawn for mowing.
I am impressed with the efficiency Marty has developed with hand tools. I recall the mundane chores of my youth, the flimsy wire rake a-rattle in my two hands, my thoughts on all the fun things I was missing in lieu of the premeditated torture put upon me by my parents. Marty works with broad, clean strokes of accuracy, often with one hand, allowing the other to hang in a state of rest: a little trick we learned at the crags as rock climbers. His focused demeanor is not one of conversation, but of a relaxed (and therefore sustainable) focus. Therein lies the difference between chores and work: where efficiency is embraced, a particular satisfaction can result. Where this front yard would have taken the teenage Me an entire afternoon to clean up, it took Marty all of an hour. And he pruned the bushes as well.
While every step of Envirocare Lawn Care is without emissions, only one aspect of Marty’s workflow isn’t human powered: his edger. This bugs him a bit. “Keegan tells me I should get rid of it, that it’s not good for the environment and that I should do the edging by hand. I agree, but this detail of landscaping is so time intensive when done by hand, and there’s no way I could compete with the mechanized crews without an efficient tool. The one I employ uses a quick-charge, recyclable, lithium ion battery. It’s the most expensive gear I own, but it allows me to do more work. More work means more people can choose to go green when it comes to their lawn care and yard maintenance, and that’s important.”
As Marty cleans up for the afternoon, I consider the benefits of working such a job. I would certainly appreciate the ‘thinking time’ afforded by such work, and it occurs to me just how peaceful it is right now: Canadian geese are honking out on the lake, the rustle of blowing leaves mixes with the horn of a distant locomotive. If Marty employed gas powered leaf blowers and mowers, this pastoral neighborhood in suburban Fort Collins would sound like Los Angeles. This alone sells me. Then there’s the physical perks of regular exercise provided by manual labor, and the cardiovascular benefits of riding a weighted bike upwards of thirty miles a day. When the snow begins to fly, and Marty’s focus shifts from lawn care to snow removal, he continues to ride his bike. As result, he is fit year round. And because this aspect of his job attracts a good deal of attention, it is an effective form of free advertising.