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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

Share your story, trumpet your accomplishments...

Telling your work story is an important part of a successful operation. Bringing attention to the ways your team performs its work or the benefit you bring to your organization is just smart business. Far too often we are so busy working that we forget to share our accomplishments. And the people that depend on us are too busy to notice. Putting your head down is sometimes necessary but opening your mouth is sometimes important too. Being vocal on behalf of your team can be powerful, but when so

Sustainable Organic Material Management

Organic matter (OM) is everywhere in the landscape. Given that OM is a key component of nutrient cycling and soil structure, it only makes sense we treat it as a valuable commodity. In any landscape OM is generated when we intervene mechanically (think mowing, pruning), when we clean the landscape (think leaf removal). OM is also utilized/handled (think mulching or soil amendment). Every time we “manage” OM we incur a cost whether financially or in ecological disruption. Added to this cost is th

My Hope for 2024 ...

Planning is the linchpin to success. You may be successful with planning, but the odds are longer. In grounds management having a good plan will help the manager communicate direction to the team, help build excitement toward an outcome, alleviate problems before they arise, and build the organizational support essential to fulfilling the plan. Last blog I looked backwards in order to understand where our operation is and how we got here. This blog I look forward to 2024 and share some of the bi

Looking Backward at 2023...

Ah, the New Year. The annually recurring time when we reflect on our previous 365 days and take stock. It is a time for looking back and grading out what we accomplished, but also what we struggled with. I get caught up in this time as much as anyone. In this blog I’ll stay in my professional realm and give, at least from my perspective, a clear-eyed assessment of where I took my work, and where my work took me. This assessment may not meet with agreement by all in my organization. It is my view

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn in Review

Managing Landscapes in a New Weather Paradigm...

As of writing today Kansas City is 6.49” below our average YTD rainfall of 27.42”. Additionally, over the last 6 weeks our average temperature has been 3F over average. In the last 28 days we have had 12 days over 80, 7 days over 90, and 9 days over 100. One of those days the high was 112F. Most people don’t dig into climate numbers to this extent, and it is important to know this isn’t just my opinion. But rainfall this summer is not the focus of this writing. Rather I want to share my sense of

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn in Sustainability

Pruning on a Commercial Scale

Pruning is an essential horticultural task in all grounds management operations. We prune to control growth, promote flowering, improve aesthetics, and remove dead/dying plant parts, etc. Pruning on a small scale is relatively easy and will not usually be disruptive to the overall maintenance operation. But what happens when you are on a 1000+ acre campus and the magnitude of pruning exceeds the labor resources you can throw at it?  Poor plant selection and years of poor pruning

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn in Technique

The Case for a “Strong” Groundskeeper...

Local governments are managed by different types of relationships between elected representatives and appointed/hired staff. There are several types that basically take the place of executive/legislative branches and divide power amongst these various parties. One variation of this government is known as the “strong mayor” system where the mayor has almost total administrative authority with discretion to set priorities, establish budgets and decide most personnel decisions. While the city counc

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn in Operations

Investing in the Landscape...

Our grounds management efforts, no matter the purpose or location, require funding to carry out the goals we are expected to perform. Some fortunate grounds managers amongst us may have ample budgets that readily support these expectations. My personal experience, and that of many peers I have heard from, reflects a different financial reality. Usually, we are expected to make dollars stretch, or simply forgo some of the grounds improvements we propose. Here at the University of Kansas, I am, fo

It’s Been a Year...

Hard to believe that I have now been at the University of Kansas for a full calendar year. Regardless of anyone’s tenure at their current job, every one of us was new at some point. We can all relate, albeit to different extents, to the dynamics accompanying completing one year at a job. It is a significant milestone. The title of this blog addresses this significance in two ways. First is the passage of one years’ time. Groundskeeping is affected by the annual seasons, requiring us to experienc

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn in Operations

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn in Restoration

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn in Motivation

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


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