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About this blog

Joe Fearn is a professional groundskeeper. We writes about reconciling economic, aesthetic, functional, and environmental needs in the landscape.

Entries in this blog

How Can You Win When There Is No Finish Line?

It is student move-in time here at the University of Kansas... a great time for our Grounds Crew and for the university community overall. 5,000 students returning to campus is a big deal.  Our team begins focusing on residential areas in the weeks preceding in order to put our best foot forward. Making the campus landscape look good is a labor of love benefitting our campus community, but also benefiting our team. Finding satisfaction in these moments can provide a deep sense of accomplishment

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn in Teamwork

Raising Mowing Height Makes Sustainability Sense

Grounds management in any organization is a complex undertaking requiring the performance of myriad tasks necessary to fulfill the desired strategic objectives. For many, if not most of our grounds crews, sustainability is one of those strategic objectives. While sustainability is a moving target based on one’s definition, sustainability for me means decreasing resource consumption while increasing resource service. Too often pursuing sustainability is a complex undertaking resulting in difficul

The Hills of Kansas...

I have lived in the Midwest for a number of years. Although some may group all the Midwest into one image, this does injustice to the amazing variety of landscapes (not to mention people) that are here. One common Midwest misconception I had heard was that Kansas is flat. When I drove across Kansas, from Missouri to Colorado, I walked away (drove away as it were) believing this. I remember the hours of straight and flat driving until finally catching a glimpse of the mountains looming far ahead.

Restoring the Landscape?

In my work I come across the term landscape restoration on a regular basis. Not every day, but frequently enough, and it usually comes from a stakeholder with an environmental agenda. I think this is a great thing. First because I love to hear from any of my stakeholders, but also because I think having an environmentally sound landscape is a very good thing. But what even is landscape restoration? Like many of our landscape management approaches, this phrase means something different to everyon

Building a Real World 'Employee of the Month' Program

Everyone knows that having a skilled, productive, and engaged team is a critical aspect to a successful operation. For this to occur, the hiring and retaining of good workers is essential. Given the current hiring/retention environment, if you are able to onboard an employee, keeping them is another significant issue requiring sound management and smart retention policy. Employees will stay on a job if they feel the compensation they receive is fair exchange for their efforts. Of course money is

What Am I Missing?

I don’t want to wait any longer. I have long contemplated a sustainable landscape that that is acceptable to my organization, achievable by my team and profession, and importantly, beneficial to the environment/ecosystem. But year after year I dance around this subject making gains here, losing ground there, and never really getting down the road to something that answers all of these hugely diverse and sometimes antagonistic objectives. The sad truth is I really cannot say what I am after. What

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn in Sustainability

Checking All the Boxes – The 3-P Approach

This past month I was fortunate to assume the Landscape Manager position at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. I say I was fortunate because I really enjoyed my job at Mississippi State and wasn’t looking to change roles or location. The job at KU however would be a return to the Head Groundskeeper role and also a return to the Midwest. So I applied and after a visit, an interview, and a first candidate dropping out, I was informed I was getting the nod. In my mind this is the career

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn in Teamwork

Is Your Crew Sustainable?

Based on the title of this blog you may be thinking how your team works with native plants, resource conservation, or uses alternative fuel. I am thinking of sustainability from a different vantage point. Crew sustainability asks 'can your team survive?' Put another way, this blog asks can you survive AND be successful over the long term? The landscapes we manage are constantly changing. Most often our responsibilities are increasing while the resources we are provided by our parent organization

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn in Teamwork

Being a Good Employee Is Not Easy, But It Is Simple

All of us want to be good employees and work with good employees, but how does that happen? Companies utilize many ways to quantify employee performance and determine who is measuring up and who is not. There are job descriptions, annual evaluations, coaching sessions, employee reward programs and other approaches to get the best out of people. But far too often there is disagreement over who is doing a respectable job. The lack of clarity can be frustrating for employees who are doing a satisfa

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Landscaping IS Infrastructure

Infrastructure is a hot topic in our country right now. While it seems to me many different voices agree we should be investing in infrastructure, there seems to be significant differences over how much we should invest. Perhaps even more importantly, there are differences over what even defines infrastructure. While most agree roads and pipes qualify, past that agreement ends. For those of us in the Green Industry, the components of our work are rarely considered infrastructure. Not only is thi

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Your Grounds Crew Can Do So Much More…

Early in my career I was the Head Groundskeeper at a hospital in Northern Virginia. Like many hospitals mine was invested in community health and each year held a major screening and education event for the area. Because of the size of the event, volunteers were looked for from all areas of the hospital. Being eager to help my organization, I volunteered. The day of the event I checked in to get my assignment and was seriously disappointed to be assigned trash detail. While this was not the end

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Trees, trees, and more trees...

Trees are a well-known part of most landscapes. I can’t think of anyone that hates their trees although several segments of our industry may have a more nuanced relationship with them (think golf course Superintendents and sports field managers). I, however, am a through-and-through treehugger (smile when you say that). Given my connection with trees, I have always planted quite a number at each of my professional stops. Therefore, it was no surprise when in my role with Mississippi State Univer

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Make a New Plan, Stan...

All of us have heard the adage “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Of course, many have also heard “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.  One of my favorites, attributed to Abraham Lincoln and also appropriate to the green industry is “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” . Regardless of how we view planning, it is essential to achieving goals and successful team operation. My career has now landed me in a position that

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Goodbye 2020... and Good Riddance

January 2020 was like many other New Years. I say this now with some embarrassment because of how actually good my life was at that moment (oh, hindsight). My family was healthy and happy, my professional life was established and predictable, and while not financially carefree, I was managing. I truly would have said things were fine. Fast forward nearly a year and things are much, much different. Like many in our country and TurfNet family, this past year brought about many changes in my life.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

My next step...

As of my last blog post I was at a crossroads. My position had been eliminated due to circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, I was actively seeking work in the green industry. Losing my position was a blow to my livelihood and my confidence. Being out of work is tough at any time but even more so during a pandemic, when many people are out of work and companies are hunkering down, not looking to add new employees. So, it is my good fortune to be again gainfully employed as

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Getting Back In The Saddle...

Parting ways with a job is something that will happen to nearly everyone over the arc of a career. Sometimes this occurs in some predictable or desirable way such as promotion, relocation, or retirement. In these cases, parting is usually manageable and follows a transition by both the employee and employer (notice period, job posting, training a replacement, etc.). But in other situations, the severing is a surprise and does not allow for transition planning. One or the other parties is prepare

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

When job loss hits home...

This week I lost my job as a result of the COVID19 pandemic. It was not directly due to the disease (no one in my family/acquaintance circle has tested positive) but because like many others, the education sector has been severely affected by the Coronavirus. Clearly the COVID19 pandemic is still with us. Reports of the devastation take many different tragic forms and continue every day. For me, these stories were always somewhat removed. I knew they were real, and I sympathized in my mind,

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Organizational Value is the Key to Sustainability

Sustainability has always seemed to me like something an operation must work toward. Meaning sustainability requires actions or steps that must be invested in, or operational adaptations that require the addition of some step, or equipment, or something. For a long time, I pursued sustainability by adhering to this approach of altering my operation to achieve sustainability objectives. I am now coming to believe that sustainability is more about a dynamic atmosphere surrounding and pervading the

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

From Concrete to Conservation: Difficulties in Landscape (Soils) Restoration

Landscape restoration is a situation us Groundskeepers regularly find ourselves in. While some may hear this term and think native prairie or landfill recovery, it also applies to much of our everyday work too. Landscape restoration is about big ticket projects, but it is also about fostering the multitude of natural processes that take place in the living environments we manage every day. For the last 18 months I have been participating in two restoration projects. One is seeking to transform a

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Good AND Fast...

Recently while making the rounds to check on my crew’s progress I came upon a groundskeeper who was clearly working but wasn’t making the progress necessary. This situation presented me with a dilemma. Critiquing a worker who is clearly trying but not achieving adequate results (quality, scope, pace, etc.) can be awkward. I wanted to correct this teammate without discouraging him. I gave him some tips like understand what you want accomplished when the job is done and consider the steps necessar

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Spring Will Be Online This Year...

A Note on COVID19 The Coronavirus is impacting all of us in different ways and on a massive scale. Our deepest condolences go out to any and all that are struggling with this virus and the heart wrenching consequences of it. We appreciate the incredible dedication of the healthcare workers and others doing their best to provide for our communities. As members of the Facilities Department at Drury University the Grounds Crew qualifies as essential personnel. We will continue to work during this

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Feathered Friends...

Organism diversity is a hallmark of a healthy landscape. Microorganisms, fungi, plants, animals, etc. all relate together to create an ecosystem. Diversity creates the stability that allows the ecosystem to be a self-sufficient loop, where all parts mesh together for the benefit of all parts. While there are fluctuations due to a variety of factors (weather, disease, pollution, etc.) adjustments to the system are always sought to bring back balance. Monitoring the indicator species (species that

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Appreciate the Winter Landscape...

For many of us in the green industry, our landscapes experience four seasons every year. The flush of spring gives way to the deep lushness of summer, which gives way to the fall colors as the seasons follow their inexorable progression. Yet as fall slips into winter we are presented with the starkest of seasons we face for our grounds. Winter weather and cold temps challenge grounds people while performing cool season duties such as dormant pruning, snow removal, and even construction projects.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Let’s Get to Work

It should go without saying that accomplishing work is why our teams have jobs. It should also go without saying that while at work we should all be working. In this post some of the atmospheric factors that may encourage more work will be discussed. I say some because improving the desire to work is not cookie cutter. Every team is unique and comes with their own dynamics, motivations and deterrents for work. And, even when everything seems to be coming together, it is challenging to maintain t

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Aren’t We Supposed to Be Working?

While working as branch manager for a large landscape contracting company one of the maxims I heard was “re-work kills us”.  I agree with this completely, but also know there are other production related issues that kill (diminish) my team’s ability to successfully complete our work. For this blog post I am not focusing on equipment failures, budgetary shortfalls, non-professional meddling, or even the weather. I want to start a discussion around how my team stops itself. For some actions, or la

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn


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