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Joe Fearn: Third Way Green

I Wonder Why? ... Now I know.

Posted 17 July 2017 · 534 views

Creating the connection between these two phrases is the hallmark of a great employee. But how does a manager or organization get people that can link these on their own? Is having an inquisitive mind a strength that is in one's DNA, or does the desire to learn need to be instilled in an employee?


The mind is a muscle. Like a muscle, one must use it or lose it. In our industry, not a single day goes by that is not filled with many opportunities to exercise your mind and learn something new. Not everyone is equally disposed to being a learner. But the desire and ability to learn is essential to high performance.


Create a learning environment

As the boss, I set the tempo for my crew. Fortunately I am a lifelong learner. I don't rely on my boss or my organization to continue learning. It is part of my being. Unfortunately not everyone on a crew may want to expand their talents or skills. It is important that the organization create the atmosphere where it is clear that learning is supported.


It is important that the organization create the atmosphere where it is clear that learning is supported. 


Attending seminars and classes (here at Drury University we understandably have many on-campus opportunities to learn), obtaining and maintaining certifications, and even tailgate meetings are just some of the ways learning takes place. By modeling learning, and accommodating learning with policy plus day to day operations, employees begin to see that the organization values their improvement.


Learning Demonstrates Desire to Improve

Years ago as a young groundsman at George Mason University, I was part of a 5 man team using 21 Lawn Boys to mow the President's House. As I mowed my section an image began to assert itself in my mind, but I didn't know what to make of it. At lunch I described my thoughts to my boss. I told him about thinking there were light and dark stripes in the grass of some English manor I recall seeing (where? I don't remember). He explained this was pattern mowing (striping if you will) and why/how it happens. I resumed mowing, trying to stripe, but without much luck (Lawn Boys don't stripe well). I did however strive to improve my mowing from that point onward and now consider myself pretty good at pattern mowing (greens and fairways will certainly help you take your mowing to new heights!).


Striping is a talent that is frequently self-taught.


Learning by Necessity


I remember learning about turf diseases in school. My Turgeon textbook covered most of the common diseases and I also had to study some in order to obtain my pesticide applicator's certification. But seeing pictures, and even worse, reading descriptions, doesn't always prepare one for diagnosing problems in the field for the first time.


Theoretical learning, applied in the field, can result in quality learning.


At one of my jobs I had a turf stand that was starting to look off color, splotchy and had some areas browning out. I imagine many of you are already at the correct diagnosis. But as a new supervisor, the coworker that told me it was due to an unusually lengthy period of overcast weather sounded reasonable. After correctly diagnosing Brown Patch, then having it confirmed with sample testing, I learned a lesson never to be forgotten, nor repeated. Lessons learned through mistakes stick with you.


Lessons learned through mistakes stick with you.


Let Individuals Have Their Head

Learning is best when done in your own way. The points that allow me to understand something are not the same for others. We all learn in our own (extremely?) particular styles. As discussed earlier I learned striping on my own. But many of us have tried to teach striping and it does not always guarantee success. Some people cannot learn the extra skills that make some people top notch mowers (and others like me, just okay).


Pruning is another talent that comes to mind. Some people just see the pruning in their mind before they start. Others cannot seem to match the picture of a well renovated shrub with the final outcome. I try to gauge where a workers talents are, and let them learn in their own way.


Everyone Wants Gardening Advice

Another factor that helps learning is the need to dispense advice. Whenever someone hears we are a groundskeeper or superintendent, a first inquiry will be about growing better turf, or about a plant pest. Just this morning a coworker texted me about Emerald Ash Borer. Being a Certified Arborist I had some familiarity with this pest and was able to provide an appropriate response. I wanted to verify my information so I visited MU Extension website for EAB. My info proved correct, I learned more about the current situation my state is in, and I reinforced my learning as well. All because I was asked a gardening question. Next time someone asks for help, use it as an opportunity to learn.


Visiting frequently with experts pays learning dividends. University of Missouri experts Bob Balek (2nd from L) and Dr. Brad Fresenburg ®, share wisdom with DU Groundsmen Jeremy and Andre (L-R).


Never Stop Learning

Learning keeps my job exciting. I learn when I write this blog, I learn when a reader responds, I learn when I make a mistake, and on and on. If every task of my job was always the same, how unbearable would that be. As groundskeepers we are surrounded by constant change. Conditions change, soil changes, methods change. By embracing the learning that comes with our jobs, we truly are better off.

Keep America Beautiful

Posted 09 June 2017 · 696 views

Recently I was asked by a teacher here at Drury University to speak to a class studying the psychology of sustainability. While considering what I would say, I began to question where I came up with my environmental perspective. Turning back the clock in my head my first environmental memory was the early 1970's "Crying Indian" campaign by the Keep America Beautiful Foundation. I can remember getting choked up by this public service announcement. The image of the American Indian broken-hearted by the litter and pollution our society generated touched me deeply. If you are in my age group, you may have been touched by this ad as well.



Earth Day 1990

In my teenage years and as a young adult, I didn't do anything especially environmentally focused. I didn't litter, but I also didn't recycle, or think about how I might be impacting the environment. It wasn't until getting into groundskeeping that my 'eco focus' was to reemerge. In 1990 I was living in Alexandria, VA and working at George Mason University. 1990 was the 20th anniversary of the first major organized Earth Day. Living a short distance from Washington D.C. allowed me to go "downtown" to the Mall several times over the years for rallies of different sorts. While the first Earth Day was in 1970, my first was Earth Day +20. It was very powerful to be on the Mall with a massive crowd of 350,000 to draw attention to environmental issues. 27 years removed, I am still struck by this day.



So where am I today? The short answer is it is hard to say. By some measurements, one could say I am part of the problem. I work in an industry that is fueled, grown, and maintained overwhelmingly by petroleum based products (as every industry is). On the other hand, by some measurements I am part of the solution. Drury University has reduced chemical inputs significantly, utilizes almost all organic refuse on campus, and has planted hundreds of trees in urban Springfield, MO over the past five years. The real truth is my eco-impact is a mixed bag. Both personally and professionally I try to be (what I consider that to be) environmentally conscious but it is difficult. I recycle, keep my tires properly inflated, plant natives, and occasionally use public transportation. But is that all there is?


The real truth is my eco-impact is a mixed bag. Both personally and professionally I try to be (what I consider that to be) environmentally conscious but it is difficult...


It's Complicated

When you ask someone a difficult question, one that if answered honestly may indicate that someone might not have taken the smartest, or most ethical route, that person may attempt to muddy the water by saying "it's complicated". That's how I feel about my approach to sustainability. From a strictly environmental/sustainability standpoint, a typical modern landscape provides nowhere near the ecologic services that a natural ecosystem does (oak/hickory forest, savanna, wetland, etc.). But from a commercial or organizational standpoint, most people don't want to do business, or go to school, in a tallgrass prairie. So what the grounds manager ends up with is two opposing, and competing, imperatives. Introducing all the subtleties of stakeholders between these two ends adds to the complication.


Organizations will dictate conditions that result in drastically different landscapes. The landscape must meet those demands in "the greenest way possible" Above, Sunderland Intramural Sports Field. Below, Parking Lot 7 detention basin.


Eyes on the Prize

Reconciling environmentalism and acceptable landscaping can take many different guises. The proper answer for some sites may very well look like a wholly natural site. For other places it may look like just an average yard. The particular landscape isn't as important as the underlying objective of being as "green" as possible, in as many parts of your landscape operation as your organization allows. The key here is that becoming more environmentally compatible -- the context work processes are evaluated by -- can be the ultimate objective. When an operation removes the rigid demand of pursuing environmentalism and replaces it with a gentler yet still prevalent environmental outlook, voluntary compliance in many possible forms flourishes. This 'eyes on the prize' approach works better because a green attitude becomes woven into all aspects of the job.


Pragmatic, Not Dogmatic

I understand, and share, the passion of environmental movement. I firmly believe that by pursuing the greenest approach to all of our grounds management tasks we are being good stewards of the earth, and good stewards of our organization's objectives. What I don't agree with is the knee-jerk beliefs from the extremes on both sides of these issues as to how to move forward. It is better to incorporate the best ideas from everywhere in order to achieve the best results for our landscapes as a whole.


Smith Residence Hall naturalizing project. The greenest approach would be to reintroduce meadow. However, we wouldn't try that in front of administrative buildings.

Sustainable Landscaping Withstands Scrutiny...

Posted 01 May 2017 · 880 views

Sustainable landscaping isnt about mowers that burn liquid propane, efficient irrigation systems, compost teas, or even native plants. While all of these efforts, and others like them, are steps along a continuum moving towards sustainability, they will all ultimately fall short of the goal of real sustainability. Sustainability is not a superficial strategy that can be implemented by taking a few small steps. Sustainability is a complex web of interactions that reflect the ability of man and nature to coexist in harmony. 


True sustainability is a zero sum game. This is the truth with all functional (sustainable) systems (ecosystems). Inputs must balance outputs. One could say the quantity of resources invested in a landscape (cost) can be balanced against what we get out of it (benefit). Too frequently the modern landscape defines cost and benefit too narrowly. Money is the predominant metric the landscape is measured by. Sustainable landscapes take an expansive view of cost/benefit terms. The desired attributes of a landscape force us to look more broadly at the landscape. When we ask for more from our landscape is when sustainability really begins to meet our needs.


Too frequently the modern landscape defines cost and benefit too narrowly. Money is the predominant metric the landscape is measured by...


Sustainable landscapes must be aesthetically pleasing, supportive of organizational objectives, environmentally compatible, financially feasible, horticulturally achievable, and self-perpetuating to the greatest extent possible. Blending these aspirations is challenging for the landscape. Pursuing one or two of these at a time is difficult enough, but to create a sustainable landscaping matrix these objectives must all be pursued equally. Diversity of landscaping goals provides resiliency. If any one area is struggling, the other benefits carry the load until all facets recover. This is a hallmark of sustainability.


Sustainable landscapes come in many forms but must fit the organization's image


Sustainable landscaping is about a systems change, not about implementing a particular policy or landscaping process. Sustainable landscapes are not "wild" but parts of them may appear that way. Why is there resistance to a landscape that moves in a new design direction? Our current landscape paradigm is not etched in stone. What is in vogue at one time may be out of favor soon enough. The sustainable landscape responds to determinant conditions appropriately. Natural factors like geology, indigenous plants/animals/insects, climate, must mesh with non-natural factors such as organizational purpose, financial investment, image, municipal codes, etc. The typical modern landscape does not respond to all of these factors.


DU President's House: Sustainable landscapes do not have to look "wild" or "weedy"


I want to stress that I do not equate sustainable with "out-of-control". I also do not only equate sustainable with "natural". These mistaken concepts of sustainable landscaping are some of the reasons true sustainability isnt more common. Landscaping is inherently based in living organisms where the consequences of life, pro and con, are sometimes chaotic. Sustainable landscaping uses a deliberate planning methodology to respond to that chaos. The sustainable landscape is in synchronicity with the complex factors listed earlier to the fullest extent. The landscape must be conceived, installed, and maintained in cooperation with organizational and ecosystem needs. Sustainable landscaping reconciles the diverse needs of man and nature, cost and benefit, in a broadly functional creation.

Keeping Our Water on Campus...

Posted 04 April 2017 · 787 views

Water, when it takes the form of rain and stormwater runoff, is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing when it irrigates our courses and landscapes, fills our ponds and replenishes groundwater levels. It is a curse when it washes away mulch beds or bunker sand, creates erosion damage, or overwhelms the ability of drain ways to move it out of our landscapes. Which of these consequences it ends up creating is to some extent up to us as Grounds Managers. Creating plans and methods for dealing with stormwater goes a long way to diminishing potential problems, and can help our landscapes get the most out of this most precious commodity.


Start Where the Water Is

Drury Grounds begins managing its stormwater right where it starts to amass on campus. The built environment, topography, and vegetation matrix all have a role in steering water to certain spaces. It is in these collection areas that we have the easiest time controlling where our water will stay, or go next. If we think it should stay at a particular location we have to ask in what manner, and how will it look/function. Small ponds or swales can hold water for short periods and the community understands them readily. Larger collections may need some accommodations (fencing, aeration) and may even need permitting. Determining when to move water is its own process and can be a little more complicated.


Small pools can be located near water source and are easy to install.


If You Need to Move Water Somewhere, Move It Close

This can be tricky. Here at Drury we have a relatively small campus (100+ acres). If the areas where we hold water overflow, we must accommodate and facilitate moving it nearby. Unfortunately for us this usually is into the public stormwater gutters and ditches. But not always. Our biggest rain garden project creates a series of bermed pools that accept overflow from the previous pool. By overlapping crescent shaped ponds we pack a lot of detention into a small space. In a rectangular area of approx. 5K sq. ft., almost all of that area is comprised of detention. The additional benefit of this approach is it didnt require heavy machinery or significant money investment. As a rule, water entering a drain is discharged as close by as possible in an area that allows infiltration.


Move water to nearby areas to allow infiltration.


Interrupt the Water as Many Times as Possible

Water sometimes dictates where it wants to go due to the same physical constraints listed earlier. While water movement in nature alternates between cutting (channelizing) and filling (deposition), these processes need open space to function. Water on our campus gets one path to travel. Limited space does not allow us to utilize large areas for slowing or storing water. In the past, water engineers wanted to get water away as fast as possible using pipes and concrete culverts speeding waters movement. Both of these factors (space/speed) eliminates water that rests in one location to infiltrate or drop contaminants.


Different media slow water before it enters the drain.


Our rationale takes the slow, spread, soak approach. We will use berms/swales, mock gabions, steppes, and of course vegetation (even turf can slow water down!) to create obstacles to water movement. The slower water moves, the less damage it can make, and more soaks in. Sometimes sedimentation can be a concern. This is actually a good thing as solids can be easily removed and can sometimes make a good soil to be used in other projects. Sediment soil can also make good repair material for berms right where it is generated.


Divert Your Gutters

Gutters on the sides of roads are used by most areas as a means to convey water to drains. Normally when storm water hits a gutter it is a one way trip. Here at Drury we have installed several diverters in parking lot gutters that push water into catchments for detention. These catchments are engineered to have maximum detention and percolation. The plants and substrate actually remediates stormwater by allowing large solids to drop out of water when water velocity drops, and through phytoremediation by plants. Physical constraints upstream prevent treatment close to where rainfall initially pools, but guttering moves water effectively to treatment locations. Another benefit is because gutters are installed all over campus already, the movement of water is much less expensive than new construction would be.


Water in the gutter is diverted into a catch basin.


Peripheral Benefits

Water conservation is good press for a grounds operation. These efforts indicate environmental stewardship and create strong partnerships throughout communities. Water conservation efforts can result in additional aesthetic features or interesting design that visitors and patrons appreciate. Water can add plant and organism diversity to a landscape which may help stabilize the landscapes ecologic function. And of course preventing water damage or reusing water saves a lot of money. But ultimately keeping water in our landscapes is about protecting a precious resource that we simply cannot live without.

Water Conservation on Campus: A Tale of Irrigation and Slow, Spread, Soak

Posted 08 March 2017 · 728 views

As of February 28, 64% of the State of Missouri is in the moderate drought category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This is up from 50% the week before, and as of this writing the remainder of the state was in the abnormally dry category.


By contrast, California, which had been in a several years-long drought, is now declining in all drought categories. 75% of the state is not rated at all and even the stubborn droughty areas of Southern California are getting moisture. In fact, many areas are now concerned they will not be able to manage any more rain heading into the rainy season. This unpredictable variability regarding water, in an industry heavily reliant on water, demonstrates the need to wisely manage and conserve water at all times.




Irrigation Challenges

When I arrived at Drury University the Grounds Department was faced with the following obstacles in our campus irrigation:

  • Poorly designed, installed, maintained systems
  • Poor communication of water needs for landscape health
  • Lack of monitoring of natural rainfall timing and amounts
  • Poor cycle planning and regular adjustments
  • No desire for water conservation

The main cause for this situation was a lack of adequate irrigation knowledge and responsibility by the in-house staff, and the contractors that installed systems. If either of these parties had fulfilled their professional duties, these challenges could have been avoided.


For most of the readers of TurfNet, the high level of understanding regarding irrigation theory and application decreases these difficulties, but they still do occur. Over the last five years Drury Grounds has taken many steps to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our irrigation systems. Our approach has been:

  • Appropriate cultural practices (mowing height/frequency, soil health, IPM)
  • Understanding of appropriate irrigation to promote plant health (E/T)
  • Retrofitting of systems to deliver adequate water (coverage, pressure, volume)
  • Retrofitting of systems to maximize system efficiency (smart controllers, sensors, efficient heads & nozzles)
  • Culture of conservation
  • Willingness to eliminate irrigation if appropriate with organizational strategy

We aren't doing anything amazing. But what we are doing is working. Our usage has continued to decline while our overall satisfaction with the landscape continues to increase. My point is that irrigation effectiveness is vital and will promote peripheral landscape benefits as a result. But the pursuit of landscape benefits does not necessarily lead to irrigation conservation.

Stormwater on Campus

Rainfall and stormwater on our campus (courses) is another issue we all face. While we don't have to push up sand in bunkers after a heavy rain, we are still faced with many challenges due to stormwater. These are:

  • City of Springfield MS4 permit  (EPA term for stormwater runoff)
  • Speed with which water moves off campus
  • Erosion and damage
  • Increase infiltration on campus
  • Treatment of water on site (pollution prevention)
  • Budget allotments, competing financial pressures
  • Slow, Spread, Soak

Existing water issues need functional correction that meshes with the landscape.


Managing stormwater in (on) the landscape is rarely a priority to an organization if consequences are contained in the landscape. But when the water damages infrastructure, there is increased organizational demand to correct it. But dealing with water before it causes damage is the best, and most cost effective, method of management. To do just this Drury Grounds has endeavored to use the following efforts:

  • Go to where the problem is
  • Take advantage of what water wants to do
  • Keep water on campus
  • Slow, Spread Soak
  • Resource allocation Big Project/Small Project
  • Permission?
  • $$$$$$$$$

Water problems should be viewed as opportunities for increasing Slow, Spread, Soak. The answer here is a rain garden... not a drain.


Managing stormwater on campus is a win/win effort for our grounds operation. First, it demonstrates our commitment, in a very proactive way, to our University's infrastructure. Dealing with stormwater BEFORE it can create damage is financial stewardship at its best. Next, it is great public relations. Water conservation is always good press. Our efforts in this area show we are concerned with our organization and our community. For an industry that can sometimes be under environmental scrutiny, this goodwill pays dividends.


In conclusion

Water is a valuable resource to both the Grounds manager and the community at large. If we compete for this commodity, then no one wins. Good water management creates allies. When Drury University keeps rainfall on campus it benefits our landscape, but also decreases the amount of water that goes into the sanitary sewers or stormwater system. Nothing written here should be new to grounds Managers. What this blog should do is support water conservation by our industry. When, not if, we face water shortages, it is in our best interest to be seen as a conservation partner, not simply consumers. The best time for water conservation is always.


(This is a strategic blog in support of water conservation. My next blog will be tactical, discussing how Drury University manages stormwater on campus)

Rest in Peace, Beaver

Posted 13 February 2017 · 807 views

Here at Drury University we are very interested in supporting the ecology of our area. This effort is challenging in our urban setting. Regardless, it is an effort we see as critical. We install native plants and trees that appeal to pollinators, and act as food sources to the local insects, birds and animals. We evaluate the surrounding neighborhoods and see where we might build larger sections of habitat by creating green corridors. Over the five years I have been here I have seen the results of our efforts. We now see increasing diversity and populations of pollinators, birds and animals.


But I never expected to see a beaver (unfortunately, a dead one) on campus.


A Beaver? Really?

Tuesday, February 7, I was contacted on Drury Grounds Twitter about a dead beaver near campus. The Tweet asked if I had seen this animal and included a picture of the dead beaver. I replied I hadn't, but asked where it was. The response said in a road that runs directly adjacent to campus. What was a beaver carcass doing in downtown Springfield? While working at a nearby park for Springfield/Greene County Parkboard I had seen one beaver in a boxed-in creek. But that was seven years ago and nearly half a mile away. Our closest running water to where this beaver was found is ¼ mile as the crow flies. I don't know how beavers forage, but ¼ mile doesn't seem too far, if the setting is natural. Our setting is not heavy urban, but it doesn't scream beaver habitat either. Regardless, there was a dead beaver in the road.


Strange roadkill for downtown Springfield, Missouri.


We Did What We Always Do

In the Grounds Management field dead animals are a regular, if infrequent occurrence. I hadn't thought about the carcass again until Wednesday morning. Central facilities got a call concerning the dead animal. I dispatched our Trash Steward to pick it up and discard it in a dumpster. While this unusual incident made some buzz in the Facilities department, the story could have ended there... but it didn't.


Central facilities got a call concerning the dead animal. I dispatched our Trash Steward to pick it up and discard it in a dumpster...


Spirit of the Bear

I must honestly say that I hold spheres of knowledge I believe is factual but that I don't really know is accurate. My beliefs regarding Native American culture is one of those spheres. I believe Native American Indians lived in harmony with nature. They took what they needed, wasted little to no resources as they used them, and didn't disrupt their environment too heavily. In total, they stepped lightly on the land. They also held nature in high regard. So the teeth and claws of a Grizzly Bear would be an honored and cherished talisman for an Indian and would be passed through generations. When animals gave of themselves for the tribe, they would be appreciated and their spirits revered. The tribe honored the spirit of the bear. I believe this is true without exactly knowing where this knowledge came from.


Spirit of the Beaver, Honorable Burial

I also believe in the mysticism of nature. There is a power to it. I don't define it too rigidly for myself, so I will not argue how any of you readers choose to define it, or not define it. Nature indicates some higher power. I also believe all living things have inherent importance. I was therefore not surprised when I woke up Thursday morning at 4:40 am with the clear conviction that we should have buried the beaver on campus. My fear as I headed to work was that the dumpster holding the beaver had already been tipped. It hadn't. There was a layer of new trash over the bagged carcass, but it was still there. I wondered about a force at work? We began looking for a place to perform the burial.


Nature indicates some higher power. I also believe all living things have inherent importance. 


There is an area on campus where we have begun a tree planting effort we call saturation-planting. Our goal is to confront our community with a density of young trees that draws attention to lack of small trees elsewhere on our campus, and in our community. We are talking a lot of trees in a smallish space. This area, we figured, would be the most like what a natural beaver habitat would be. We dug deep, lined the hole with wood chips and buried the beaver body. We did not wrap it as we want the soil system to reclaim what it should. As in all of nature, death will support life.




Nature and Man don't always coexist in harmony. I am under no illusion that man's needs will sometimes (frequently) not supersede natures. Often I agree with this one sidedness. But I also believe deeply in the idea that opportunities for co-existence and co-habitation abound. Many opportunities for mutuality are discounted out of hand, diminished by competing priorities, or simply never dreamed of in the first place.


Posting about this story on Facebook got 2,884 views as of this writing. All the comments were positive. I think it is safe to say that there is a sentiment in our area (nation?) that values animals and nature. Many people see that by helping people, and other living creatures, we are also helping ourselves. Nearly all Groundskeepers I have met have a strong nature-supporting ethic. Burying this beaver was our way of demonstrating that.


Joe Fearn’s Management Maxims

Posted 17 January 2017 · 986 views

Being a successful operation is about making pieces work effectively together. One of those pieces are the relationships in a team. The relationships are created by the principles that guide our work. These relationships might be task related, timing related, hierarchically related, and are usually contextual. Context is fluid, and requires a framework that can give it meaning and logical structure. Because while some work may be accomplished in chaos, achieving specific objectives is challenging in chaos. Pursuit of a goal denotes unity of purpose. It is for this reason that over the years I have come up with several maxims that help to articulate context and shared belief to my crew. I would like to share a few and let you try them on for fit.


When at work, be at work

This may seem obvious. Honestly speaking though, I occasionally will find myself performing tasks or passing the time in ways that are not really getting me farther down my grounds management road. Catching up on a coworker's news, getting a second (or third) cup of coffee, or looking for that long lost mulch kit baffle will eat up time but is not work. I think back to a comic strip that was posted in our grounds shop at George Mason University. The punch line was "It seems it has taken me a particularly long time to get nothing done today". Committing to stay productive doing something accomplishes much even if it is not the biggest priority.


...while some work may be accomplished in chaos, achieving specific objectives is challenging in chaos."


You achieve what it is you want to achieve

I believe that I have a good grasp of what my crew can reasonably accomplish. We (the crew and I) will also sit down to develop priorities and review the rationale of those priorities. Therefore it is frustrating to me when things do not get accomplished. What I'll tell my crew is something was accomplished, just not the something we were pursuing. Instead of doing what we agreed, or what they were told to do, a competing objective took place. This competing objective was also done with the active participation of the crew. So my belief is that if they wanted to do the work that needed done, they were perfectly empowered to do so. It also occasionally demonstrates a purposeful willingness of the crew to put their priorities first. What you (I) really want to accomplish will likely get done. Make sure it is what was planned.


There are many different ways to achieve a happy, productive crew.


You cannot define/dictate what I believe

Work in a grounds crew cannot be judged from only one vantage point or perspective. Occasionally when calling a crew member to task, we will disagree on what is happening. If my crew member says he is doing his job, he might very well be doing it based on his judgement, but not according to mine. I am sometimes told I am not considering all information available. This is sometimes true. But the crew must extend me the same respect and consider that their point of view may be the erroneous one. Making a decision unilaterally can lead to conflict, but it cuts both ways.


I'll be as eager to pursue your objectives as you are to pursue mine

As the head groundskeeper my job is to set objectives and determine the best way to achieve them. I try very hard to consider both the spoken, and unspoken, needs/preferences of my crew when doing so. What I don't get to do is unilaterally dictate all that is undertaken during each minute of the day. To attempt to do so would certainly create more resentment than it is worth. So I try to give my crew enough leeway so they do not feel they work in a prison nor can't exercise any freewill. Problems will arise when they err too far pursuing what they want, without adequate consideration of what I want. Maintaining some modicum of fairness goes a long way to maintaining morale and productivity.


Problems will arise when they err too far pursuing what they want, without adequate consideration of what I want...


Internal locus of control... external standard for success

This is one of my bottom lines. I decide whether I am successful or not. I can't put the responsibility for any failures on anyone else. My boss doesn't make me fail, or succeed. I can persevere no matter the situation and attempt to turn circumstances to my favor. I also can't unilaterally declare that I am successfully performing my job. My boss (organization) gets some say in what success looks like. If the people around me aren't getting their needs met, or have legitimate expectations that aren't met, it is up to me to strive to understand that. Another way to say this maxim is "I decide to meet your needs".


Good management helps us instill pride in our operation.


Success requires shared understanding

The grounds crew at Drury is not a dictatorship. Sometimes I think it might be easier for me if it were, but I know I couldn't work in one. I am extended significant leeway to do what I think is best, and I want to extend that same level of freedom to my team. That is not the same in any way as compromising principles or expectations. The compromises I make are on allowing the team (organization) to have input into creating successes, not simply in doing the work. This shared understanding (responsibility), resulting from my management maxims, makes us a more effective, and happier, crew.

Put a Bow on It...

Posted 24 December 2016 · 1,011 views

Another year has come and (nearly) gone. Although we in the green industry are frequently regulated by seasons, the ending of the calendar year provides a significant point to take stock. It strikes me as unusual how I tend to be reflective and look back as December comes to a close. But then PING, it is January 1 and I begin totally looking forward again. On one level this is good because failures of the past year do not persist in bogging me down. On the other hand I may not be evaluating the past year sufficiently in assisting my preparation for the coming year. This year I want to look back on my year and ponder it. What did I experience last year?


Time Flies

I once read a short story by Stephen King called My Pretty Pony. In this story, an old man on his deathbed attempts to warn his grandson about how time seems to accelerate as you get older, and how easy it is to let it slip away. Aside from considering I now have teenage kids, and dont jump off the pickup like I used to, I feel time fly. Simply put, there is more I want to do than time in the day allows. February's dormant pruning slides into preemergents, slides into color rotation, slides into irrigation repairs, slides into aerating/overseeding, slides into tree planting, slides into leaf mulching and then comes full circle. Not to mention the myriad chores that just pop up endlessly. We really accomplished a lot on campus, but I wanted to do so much more.


Simply put, there is more I want to do than time in the day allows...


Continuing the Expansion of Landscaping on Campus

I came to Drury as a student in 2006 and only started working here in 2011. This dual connection with the University over the past decade has given me a unique perspective to cast judgment on the campus landscaping and to formulate a plan for getting it there. In 2011 Drury basically was trees and grass. Over the past year, Drury Grounds continued installation of new planting beds in several high visibility areas. These 2016 beds built upon a design concept and overall landscape plan that enhances the landscape appeal on campus. It is now more likely that patrons will encounter ornamental landscaping at Drury. Improving the ornamental function of campus helps convey our unique identity to our community. This steady expansion will continue next year too, but will likely slow so we can solidify maintenance improvements on campus also.


Adding new beds on campus add to landscaping appeal.


Tree Campus and ArborDay

2016 marked the second year Drury University was awarded Tree Campus status by the ArborDay Foundation. This was a big deal for us. While trees and golf courses may have a strained relationship, here at DU trees reign supreme. Achieving Tree Campus (1 of only 8 in Missouri) puts us in a special category of universities and demonstrates our commitment to the urban forest.


This certification also plays an important role in integrating Drury Grounds into the larger campus and gives us an opportunity to contribute. Tree Campus tangibly exhibits the ability of our landscape operation to determine a worthy goal and methodically achieve that goal. With all of the responsibilities any grounds crew has in a year, staying focused on the largest goals is rewarding.


MDC Urban Forester awards Tree Campus to Drury University on behalf of ArborDay Foundation


The Human Aspect

One area that needed a lot of my attention in 2016 was the human resource aspect of my job. First, Drury Grounds continued to have some turnover in the crew. We were only fully staffed (six crew members) for about two months total. There were new external jobs, an internal transfer, and a graduation that all played a part. Our hiring process can take some time and that also had an impact. Currently we are seeking one new Groundsman, and my length of stay for the others is 2 weeks, 6 months, 9 months, 2 & 8 years respectively. This proved a challenging year in that there was/is ALOT of training that is taking place. These guys all mean well, but, as we all know, there is much knowledge/experience that goes into our jobs. A competent crew takes time.


The other human resource consideration was the arrival of a new DU president, Dr. Tim Cloyd, and his new administration. The arrival of a new president doesnt affect the day to day, but it does affect the big picture. Understandably, and appropriately, the new president has a vision for the University. Dr. Cloyd certainly does. This vision is then passed down channels and it is up to us (Grounds) to carry out our part. The last six months has proven to be exciting and challenging. But this is definitely a good thing because it helped us stay sharp.


I Still Get To Do the Job I Love

My biggest reflection is my overall job satisfaction. I still love landscaping. The out of doors, physical work, changing conditions, and the overall pursuit of worthwhile work all come together to give my work purpose. This is no small benefit and certainly worth remembering, again. And last but not least


Happiest Holidays to the extended TurfNet family and thanks for the opportunity to participate! And of course, Happy New Year!


Joe Fearn


Groundskeeping is still a job that allows the crew to have fun while still working hard.

Going To See the Doctor...

Posted 22 November 2016 · 1,079 views

Let me start right off saying I am not talking about that kind of doctor (a physician). The doctor I am talking about is Dr. Brad Fresenburg, Assistant Extension Professor with University of Missouri Turfgrass Science. While Dr. Fresenburg works in Columbia, MO., he travels extensively as a turf/sports turf expert, Master Gardener lecturer, and pesticide applicator certification instructor.


Brad is a true turf devotee and approaches his job with a real-world perspective. He knows the minutiae of turf management but allows us regular folk to feel more at home with the science of turf management. I always feel more capable after hearing from him and that is the benchmark of a great teacher. He loves to share his knowledge, and that is how I managed to make a trip to see him on his home turf (lol). Visiting MU, I got to see many facets of grounds management at a big time university.


Dr. Brad Fresenburg


The Farm

The first thing I saw when I got to the research farm was an incredible array of different grass stands. There was tall plots, short plots, dark green plots, browning plots, weedy plots, and all sorts of in-between plots. The Turfgrass Science program is experimenting with everything here. Once we started driving the area, order was explained. They have 32 K sq. ft. of putting greens built to PGA specs. On these they are testing 20 varieties of creeping bentgrass in 5 x 5 plots on the greens.


They also test wetting agents, chemicals, and fertilizers. In another stand they are testing Zoysia and Bermuda to determine what varieties have the best cold tolerance, and resistance to large patch and Spring Dead Spot, respectively. There is even a disease green that is especially built to exacerbate poor conditions including poor drainage and airflow. Beyond just putting greens many other plots are in National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) tests. Plots are regularly inspected and graded to assess how well these grasses perform in the Transition Zone.


Putting green test plots.


Dr. Miller with the Zoysia test plots.


Sports Fields on Campus

As a groundskeeper for a university, I have the opportunity to participate in sports turf/field management. At Drury we manage an artificial grass multi use field, a NCAA compliant natural grass baseball field and several turf fields that are used for intramural sports/activities. Because of this aspect of my job I was very excited at the prospect of visiting the MU Tigers sports facilities. As a member of the SEC, MU has the highest standards for its athletic playing fields.


We started at Faurot Field (Memorial Stadium) which is an artificial turf field. I was struck by the visible crowning of the field (not easily discernible from stands or TV), and the quality of the field (3 years old, life expectancy of 5-6). From there we visited the soccer, softball and baseball fields, plus the FOUR practice fields (two used by football). All very impressive with very well maintained turf (Bermuda, newly overseeded with perennial rye). I must say I most enjoyed seeing the new construction of the softball field and the newly installed Barenbrug HGT sod.


Faurot Field


MU softball field construction with Barenbrug HGT sod.


Fresenburg Wisdom

Perhaps the best part of the tour was hearing the stream of consciousness commentary from Dr. Fresenburg. Seeing turf through an experts eyes is enlightening. As we drove, I had a chance to ask Brad some questions.


My first was what he felt has had the biggest impact on turf maintenance? His response was all the improvements to turf selections. The improved cultivars we now have in the turf industry allow for improvements in turf quality beyond just what our current cultural practices could achieve.


Information is at our fingertips and sometimes that information comes without clarity or a sense of how to use it...


My next question was how had he changed over the years? His response was the steady increase in confidence due to an increase in knowledge and experiences. He is more confident in his ability to share information and provide guidance.


My last question was what he felt was to be the next big thing? Brad said the ability to share and obtain information rapidly (the internet). Information is at our fingertips and sometimes that information comes without clarity or a sense of how to use it. As experienced grounds managers, many of us can agree with this concern.


A Thoroughly Enjoyable Field Trip

Sometimes even necessary field trips are mundane or uninspiring. This was a trip that left me enthused. Seeing the turf research facility, sports fields, main campus, but especially hearing from a renowned turf expert, motivated me. Our work as grounds managers, and the field we all participate in, is remarkable.


My personal favorite, though, was from a sustainability standpoint. I was encouraged when I saw the low input turf test plots. Many of these plots had clover seeded with them (old school approach) and several even had Yarrow. Another area was testing wildflowers and native grasses. Low input vegetation is something that will become more popular in the near future. Turf and Grounds management is a multifaceted craft that blends manual and mental labor in demanding, challenging ways. My visit to Mizzou reminded me of the professional skill and science our field requires.


Low-input turf test plots.

Establishing Objectives

Posted 20 October 2016 · 981 views

One of the most common concepts that contributes to a team's success is to have clear objectives. Clear objectives provide direction and framework for how to proceed in your work. These objectives can be precise, such as increasing the tree canopy or completing your mowing route in "x" number of days. Or they can be broad so as to create context for where your grounds operation will move toward. Here at Drury we have come up with five objectives to guide our work as we strive to fulfill our organizational duties.



Functional in this context means we come alongside the strategic imperatives for Drury University. This primarily means our campus landscaping, and the Grounds team, supports the academics on campus. We have designed several outdoor class areas that students can use instead of staying inside. Students are included in our DU Landscape Advisory Committee, as are faculty. In order to obtain recertification each year as an ArborDay Foundation Tree Campus, we must include students in a program to educate our campus about trees. Our functional objective also includes grounds integrating into the strategic efforts of the university such as enrollment, community involvement, and staff morale.



The aesthetic of the campus has to do with the way the landscape looks to our community. Perhaps more importantly, aesthetics also strongly influences how our community feels when they are here. The aesthetic of a place leaves a lasting impression. On one hand, landscape design is a hugely diverse arena, with as many preferences as there are people. But fortunately there is also a center design perspective which the majority of people resonate with in a positive way. Most of our campus reflects this center. A visitor will not be shocked by most of what they see, but will understand and appreciate our look. A smaller facet that we also want to appeal to is the outlying perspectives. Drury Grounds seeks to create many spaces, however small, that anyone who visits campus might call their own.





Of course no discussion of organizational objectives would be complete with discussing finances. Taking care of a college campus, even a small to midsize one (Drury is 100 acres m/l) can cost a lot of money. There is also usually a clear relationship between budget and quality. While it can make sense to try to get more money for our landscaping, it is not simply a question of funding. Drury Grounds seeks to manage its budget through value, flexibility and cost containment. Value means that we are constantly looking to make wise purchases, protecting long term assets, and expanding in-house capabilities. Flexibility means that we seek to bring our money alongside other departments and efforts in order to achieve a multiplier effect. Cost containment means we shop competitively, only purchase what is necessary, and monitor our budget closely. We also understand that some other areas of campus warrant bigger budget and support these areas efforts too.


Sustainability and Environmentalism

The landscaping paradigm is changing. I have seen it firsthand in the nearly 30 years I have been involved in it. Here at Drury this means taking a sustainable approach. We look to improve the ecologic/environmental services our campus contributes for our on campus population, and the Springfield community. As green space diminishes, green areas left become ever more important. Pervious surfaces contribute to water quality. Plants and trees support pollution control and habitat. Increasing species diversity of all organisms delivers ecosystem stability. These sustainability efforts provide a matrix which weaves around our other objectives. The amazing thing about sustainability is that it can underpin and support any landscape objective and can multiply their effects in positive ways.


Native plant rain garden on campus captures all much roof water from low volume rain events.


Outreach and Marketing

Our organizations are highly competitive both externally (customers, competitors) and internally (other departments, alternative strategic priorities). Not everyone in our organizations thinks the Grounds is vitally important. Through implementing our first 4 strategic objectives we seek to justify our existence. But we must also share news of our contributions eagerly. Sometimes people may not be aware of all we do, or they simply never get to certain parts of campus to see for themselves. Drury Grounds enthusiastically participates in many campus efforts from Freshmen First Day, Commencement, to Staff Advisory Council. We seek to support efforts throughout campus based on what our community needs rather than on only what is best for us. We utilize communication, including social media, to get our word out. This is not bragging, but simply sharing the good word. It is crucially important that we be good ambassadors for ourselves.








Taking Action

Creating objectives isn't the only step to successfully managing your grounds. Objectives give you the destination, but not the road map to get there. But you can have a map and no destination. Neither alone will get you where you are going. These objectives are also not etched in stone either. Our grounds organizations must be flexible enough to be influenced by legitimate outside considerations. We don't work on an island. The next step is likely to create benchmarks and criteria that will allow us to determine our achievements. And achievement is what the objectives are all about.

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