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Joseph Fearn

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  • Club/Course/Company
    Drury University
  • Location
    Springfield, Missouri
  • Interests
    Reconciliation landscaping, ecological restoration, innovative landscape design, beautiful turf, healthy soil. Drury Panthers Athletics.

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    http://www.drury.edu/
  1. Joseph Fearn

    Put a Little Love in It...

    I love my job. I don’t love it the way I love my wife and kids, or even my dog, nor do I love it all the time, but on a whole, I love it. Being able to say this puts me in a significant minority in the workplace. A 2017 Gallup poll found that 70% of workers in the U.S. hate their job (hate may have a spectrum of intensity, but I am splitting hairs). There are many strategies we all know to combat job-hate, and any job-hating individual must shoulder some responsibility, yet job-hate continues. Love is an antidote to job-hate. I can’t say if love makes the job, or vice-versa. I can say unequivocally that putting some love into your job produces some great side-effects. Your Community Will See It Our jobs in the green industry are all inherently visible and bring us into contact with people (customers/clients) regularly. This means all of us frequently have the chance to share love with the people who are influencers to our success (or failure). Regardless of the specific circumstances, most normal people prefer to be served by people who share their happiness in that service. One can get service which is acceptable, but when you receive something extra in that service, it impacts you. You remember, and value, the interaction a little more. If the little extra is authentic rather than merely duty, than even more so. Exhibiting honest enthusiasm in performing our jobs is felt by those we work for, and that is a valuable contribution. Putting passion into your work is a marketable contribution and will be recognized by your community Your Team Can Feel It Many organizations state that passion is usually an indicator of a top-flight team. I believe this is true. Having an enthusiasm for your work can help provide the drive necessary for achievement. If someone doesn’t have that excitement about their profession, then what? Even if someone isn’t in their dream job, love can help them find the motivation to excel. If most team members feel some sort of love in their work, it becomes infectious. Our crew exhibits love by sharing camaraderie and a sense of accomplishment with their coworkers when performing the task at hand. This team energy frequently becomes a feedback loop. Success brings success and even though setbacks break our momentum, it becomes easier the next time to restart a positive cycle. When your crew works with love, they are eager to share it with coworkers and the community Love Is Infinite Our jobs are both physically and mentally demanding. Trying to perform consistently without love leaves me depleted and defeated. My moods get dark and nothing is easy. The truth however is that these moods are fleeting because they require a lot of (negative) energy to keep them going. The simple truth we all recognize is that no one wants to be around an unhappy person. Fortunately, love is infinite. Think about it. No one gets tired of being happy. When things are going well, conversations are easier, people forgive minor issues, and team members willingly help others carry the load. None of this work requires momentous action, long winded speeches, or threats of punishment. Workers work because it makes them feel good, a lot. Plants Sense the Energy To this point, nothing in this blog is likely new to you. But here is where you may think I’ve left planet Earth. The plants (and yes, turfgrass is a plant) at your site will feel the energy and respond in kind. Plants can communicate in many ways. Some stressed trees release chemicals that signal insects to attack them rather than healthy trees. Some plants can communicate via roots. I believe that the plants at my campus pick up on our crews love and enthusiasm and grow just a little nicer for it. Our crew always knows when one of us is in a bad mood, so maybe plants can sense moods too. Bad energy comes off and can’t be disguised. If one’s mood is good, the plants get bathed in it. And a plant love-bathing is a happy healthy plant. (For further discussion please read… https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/12/23/the-intelligent-plant) This Blue Fescue never drew attention until this year. It was divided last fall. Coincidence, sound horticulture, or the love of a Groundskeeper? Get Love into YOUR job. NOW. Performing your job with love is worth it. The benefit to your spirit, performance, and satisfaction will far outweigh the cost of doing it. As a matter of fact, the energy required to perform your work with love actually doesn’t feel a burden at all. It flows naturally from a well spring within. Be mindful though that love in a workplace setting should be a two-way transaction. Your organization must return love within an equitable ratio. This ratio will fluctuate in that sometimes either will be giving more. Putting love into your work must be authentic also. I’ve never seen anyone be able to pretend to like their work for very long. And not being able to put some modicum of spirit into your efforts will eventually cause frustration or resentment. So, do yourself a favor, and find some way to put a little love into your work. Your team's loving work will create positive energy for your organization. But flowers never hurt too.
  2. If any TurfNet reader were asked what is the most important aspect of your job, I imagine there would be a wide variety of responses. This variety would stand to reason because although TurfNet followers gravitate towards Golf Course Management, they actually represent a variety of green industry segments. I am a Groundskeeper for a university which is different than a golf course superintendent, which is different again from a landscape contractor (I won’t even get into irrigation people who are different altogether). But, one thing that unites us all to some extent is grass mowing. As a hopeful blogger some years back, I submitted the following blog (in somewhat different form) as a test run. In a wise move, TurfNet Guru Peter McCormick said it wasn’t quite what he was looking for and asked for a different submittal to introduce myself to readers. I complied, and this particular article was relegated to the dustbin for a while. I have returned to it time and again usually trying to prove to my crew my vast knowledge on the subject (joking!). I’m not kidding, though, when I say I am serious about mowing. I believe cutting greens to be the pinnacle of mowing (apologies to my sports field brethren) yet I am very proud of all my experience. So, see if any of these experiences evoke a memory of your own, and of course, happy mowing. First Mower That Made Me Feel Like I Wasn’t Mowing a Yard: Yazoo 26” Big Wheel mower circa 1988, built by Yazoo Manufacturing of Jackson, Mississippi. First mower I used as a part-time Groundsman at George Mason University. Bigger than a 21” and was self-propelled by a friction gear against the pneumatic large tires. Boy, I felt cool. First Mower That Made Me Feel Like A Professional: John Deere 52” Commercial Walk behind, belt drive, circa 1989, pistol grips, squeeze to turn. I had moved up to a mower with THREE blades! Man could that thing cut some grass. Such an old mower it didn’t even have operator presence control handles on the grips. I’d love to get one to restore. Just imagine the custom paint job I’d put on it. Favorite Mower of All Time: John Deere 755 w/60-inch belly deck, circa 1990. Again, I felt like a professional. ZTRs weren’t even on the scene. When I left GMU for my first supervisory job at Alexandria Hospital, a 755 was my first purchase. Nice mow quality and very productive if mowing big areas (straight lines only). Deck took about 20-30 minutes on/off to add a range of implements to tractor. What a beauty! Most Impressive Mower (Pros Only!) Toro Groundsmaster 3500-D Sidewinder, circa 2004. Surely anyone who has driven a Sidewinder can speak to what a joy it is to mow with. Quality cut even with rotary blades, great traction, the sliding front decks, smooth diesel power and of course the unbelievable comfort. When I say pros only, there are lots of homeowners now that have experience with fairly nice ZTRs, but only professional turf people know about the Sidewinder. On the Job Today… Now in my job at Drury University we have a John Deere ZTR and a Grasshopper ZTR, both with 60” decks. We mow 35 acres a week, but have lots of smaller areas and obstacles, so the smaller deck is really nice. Both of these were someone else’s choice though. If I had to pick on my own I would definitely go Exmark or Scag. I think you can’t beat them for durability and quality for ZTRs in utility turf. But as my boss says, what are the best mowers you currently have? Given some of the mowers I have used in the past, these two are wonderful. Some of the runners-up from my career have to be given their due: Best Cut Quality with a Walk Behind: Toro 52” with floating deck. The suction on the deck had great lift and the floating configuration managed uneven areas beautifully. I have not seen this quality (close, but no cigar) in any other configuration. However I never really liked the “T” handle steering on my particular mower. Definitely prefer pistol grip. Looks Good Even Sitting Still: Any Scag Tiger, especially 72”. With Brickman Group in Nashville, we used these to cut 4MM sq. ft. of turf every week. Power, spectacular engineering, production. Be sure you can handle a mower before you use one of these. Not for the faint of heart. If you want to mow for real. Got Leaves on the Course: Toro Groundsmaster 4000. I had to mow rough that had several inches of leaves. This mower ate them up and mulched as good as anything I’ve ever used. Being able to lift decks independently allowed impressive maneuverability. Mow over an area two times and it looks more like spring than fall. Mowing at a Whole Different Level: Greens mowing. Enough said. No matter the specific mower, walk behind or triplex, mowing greens is in a class by its own. Seeing your diamond pattern when double cutting, headlights on for an early start, correcting a banana pass, and of course the teardrop turn without stopping the drive mechanism. Nothing else in mowing can compare. A good greens mowing by the best crew member is something to see and requires unique talent. The Hall of Fame of the mowing world. Mower Manufacturers Used: Billy Goat, Bobcat, Bolens, Bunton, Dynamow, Exmark, Grasshopper, Gravely, Honda, Hustler, Jacobsen, John Deere, Kubota, Lawn Boy, MTD, Scag, Snapper, Toro, Yazoo. Some I liked, some I hated. Same can be said of cut quality. I imagine there are some others I can’t remember. What Is Your History? I know better than to think this history is unique. I’d love to hear some of the stories from our valued readers. What was your favorite mower? What stories do you have to share? Please respond and share some of your recollections. Thanks, JF.
  3. Joseph Fearn

    Sustainability Reluctance 

    I believe wholeheartedly in sustainable landscaping. Despite the definition of sustainable landscaping being subject to many interpretations, for me it simply rests on several key premises. Does the management of the landscape seek to decrease resource consumption? Will the landscape continue to grow as we (the organization) need if we decrease intervention? Lastly, does the particular iteration of grounds management meet the long-term goals/needs of the parent entity? If these questions are answered positively, I am at a loss as to why a person or organization would not want to pursue sustainable landscaping. In an effort to see this issue from another perspective, I would like to put forth some reasons I believe cause sustainability reluctance. Sustainable Landscapes are Messy This may be the biggest misconception about sustainable landscapes. Most people will equate sustainable with wild and this is not always so. Sustainable landscapes need not be rambling plantings run amok. I suggest this misconception arises due to a confusion of objectives. Often when seeking to restore or support an ecosystem, gardeners will utilize native plants which co-exist well within a given ecosystem. In these habitat and organism-focused applications, “wild” plants provide shelter, food, and ecosystem services when left to grow “naturally”. Many restorative plantings are sustainable when left alone, but not all sustainable landscapes need be maintained in this manner. Landscapes exhibiting traditional design/maintenance attributes can be sustainable as long as they seek to meet the aforementioned criteria. Sustainable Landscapes can adhere to traditional design and are not necessarily "wild". Sustainable Landscapes are for Eco-Crazies Evaluation of anything new or different frequently results in assumptions and stereotyping. A conclusion is reached about an idea before it is even given a hearing of objective evaluation. This can be the case with sustainable landscaping. People may conjure up images of long hair, Birkenstock wearing grounds people sabotaging mowers and growing corn in the front yard. This isn’t the case. Nor is it accurate to think that all the landscape will look like tallgrass prairie, or if a tree falls, it will be left lay to decompose to enrich the spirit of the earth. Sustainable landscaping is a management philosophy that draws on the same organizational and operational imperatives as any other landscaping. Funny I rarely (never?) hear people question the underlying assumptions about the dominant unsustainable landscaping methods. Some sustainable landscapes follow the stereotype, but may still accomplish organizational goals. Sustainable Landscape Changes Everything If an organization chooses to pursue sustainable landscaping, it should be the overarching principle determining grounds management, but not necessarily in a prescriptive manner. Sustainability is about seeking to diminish resources consumption (time, money, materials, etc.) but this aspiration will not result in identical results for every organization. Consider chemical use in the landscape. One organization may seek to diminish chemical use as a way to contain costs, and market an environmentally conscious landscape approach. Another may choose to continue utilizing chemical interventions but explore ways to decrease frequency. A third may need to hold the line on current chemical use, knowing there is not organizational support for a changed approach, but seek to slowly introduce alternative groundcovers/designs that will not need chemical intervention. Being appropriate in how and where you pursue or initiate a more sustainable approach sustains progress. Everything need not change to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Sustainable Landscaping Doesn’t Matter to Our Organization If you have, or are an organization, sustainable landscaping should matter to you. Sustainable landscapes contribute many benefits more than just a pretty, environmentally focused campus. Consider these questions when evaluating sustainability. Do I want my organization to sustain? Do I want my assets/resources to sustain? Do I want my position/livelihood to sustain? Do I want my company’s reputation to sustain? Likely, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. Sustainable landscaping has a positive effect on all facets of an organization. In addition, taking a cue from natural ecosystems, a sustainable Grounds Manager balances the individual needs against the collective, always understating that the success of the whole is paramount. Sustainability Is the Way of the Future Rarely does sustainability reluctance debate on the science and vocational merits of sustainable landscaping. Prejudices and stereotypes come to the fore when naysayer’s pushback against a sustainable landscape. This does our organization’s a great disservice. Evaluation of the value of landscaping should weigh the positives it brings to its parent, and at what ROI. This is a harsh truth, but a good grounds operation does not flinch from close inspection. Delivering expectations while staying within resource limits is the bottom line premise of sustainability. Drawing a straight line between these two aspects requires accurately defining, and agreement of, what constitutes a sustainable landscape. Sustainable landscaping can be adapted to any application and is greatly beneficial when it is. Truly sustainable landscapes blend organizational goals and landscaping while also seeking to decrease resource consumption.
  4. Joseph Fearn

    The 3 Rs of Sustainability

    Most people will recognize the title of this blog as a cornerstone approach to pursuing sustainability. Reduce, reuse, or recycle represents three different approaches for resource management that if instituted wisely diminish resource consumption in an operation or household. In my experience, recycle is the step that seems to get the most attention and is also practiced (considered) more frequently than the other practices. But these “3 Rs” are not just arbitrarily ordered so they roll off the tongue. The ordering represents a hierarchy of benefit whereby reducing resource consumption is most beneficial, reusing resources is next, and recycling is the benefit offering the lowest ranking return when seeking to decrease resource consumption. Recycling is important, but only one piece of the 3Rs approach. Drury Reduces & Recycles Reducing our resource consumption upfront will be our greatest step towards sustainability. In the past several years we have taken the same steps many operations have by reducing water consumption for irrigation and decreasing the amount of chemicals we apply to the landscape. A step that is a little more painful is reducing the frequency of purchasing major new equipment (trucks, mowers, UTVs). We also have changed our maintenance practices and zone expectations to diminish the intensity of operations without decreasing takeaway quality. Here at Drury University we have a fair recycling operation. In 2006 I was in an Environmental Science class with a fellow student that was single-handedly pushing recycling for our campus. Through her efforts, each building received several receptacles for the recycling of paper, aluminum, and plastic. Until recently Drury partnered with a number of organizations to host a recycling center for the use of the downtown Springfield area. In addition to many single stream dumpsters on campus, Drury also takes recyclables to an enhanced City of Springfield recycling center nearby our campus. We are in the process of evaluating our recycling, so we can increase participation and waste diversion. A Drury student uses the 3 bin composting near Smith Hall. Photo credit Taylor Stanton, DU student. Drury Reuses Reusing materials is another leg of the 3 Rs that Drury University incorporates into our maintenance. Drury Grounds has several composting bins throughout campus that are used by us and students. These three-bin systems are not only effective for household and yard gleanings but are also good looking enough to place unobtrusively on campus. I have blogged elsewhere about how we use obsolete architectural stone from razed buildings in our gardens. One other way that Drury reuses materials is by using our limb chip as mulch on campus. Because large trees are the signature of our campus grounds, we generate large amounts of chip in just normal tree care operations, not to mention during removals. This limb chip allows us to close our organic waste stream, but also provides “heritage mulch” for us. Tree Failure Results in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Opportunity In July 2018, Drury lost a large oak tree from the heart of our campus. This tree was blown over in a thunderstorm having peak straight-line winds of 74 MPH. In an interesting aside, a post failure autopsy revealed the likely cause of failure was due to damage sustained by the tree during the 2007 Ozarks ice storm. A large wound (see photo below) allowed a column of decay to travel into the root flare where it impacted enough of the buttress roots resulting in instability. Tree physics requires all forces acted upon the tree to ultimately travel to the roots where they are dispersed into the ground. In this case, the torque on the tree caused root failure and the tree toppled. Despite being greatly saddened by the loss of this tree, we immediately realized we had an opportunity to sustainability efforts into practice. First, we would reduce (to zero) the amount of tree refuse that would leave our campus. All tree branches and major branches would be passed through a chipper to create mulch. Next, we contacted a saw-milling business we had used before to take the large trunk sections and mill them into lumber that we could reuse/recycle. This is a very sustainable step and also generated nearly 1200 board feet of excellent oak lumber. The trunk base/root flare was placed in a native area on campus where it will be allowed to fulfill its life cycle through decomposition. Instead of being hauled off, large logs from fallen tree were milled and will be reused on campus. Sustainability Pays Reduce/reuse/recycle doesn’t solve all our grounds management problems. But it does provide an additional avenue for pursuing a more environmentally compatible operation. It also demonstrates to Drury University associates we take our sustainability charge seriously and are constantly seeking ways to deepen our resource conservation practices. The 3 R’s are a well-known approach to conservation and waste diversion. By practicing these steps in our campus landscape management, Drury Grounds provides leadership and hope to our community and hopefully spur others to greater 3 Rs commitment.
  5. Joseph Fearn

    Turning Over a New Leaf

    My official title here at Drury University is Assistant Director of Facilities – Grounds. I much prefer to call myself the Head Groundskeeper. I believe this job title says something about my philosophy of grounds management. Including 'Groundskeeper' in my title reminds me, and more importantly my crew, that I am to some extent like my team. We are all focused on “keeping the grounds”. Unfortunately, sometimes a rift can develop between us. The crew and I can have differing opinions on how well we are functioning in our role. This rift usually stems from a communication breakdown resulting in different concepts of where we are, and where we are headed. Getting to the bottom of it. At the end of last year, our rift was why we were not being effective (we all agreed we could be better, the question was how). To find out why we had this gap in understanding, we undertook a meeting to have some discussion. I like to hear from my team because it gives them a voice and a stake in how we operate. Rather than ask why we weren’t effective, though, I chose to ask why we would accept mediocre performance? The answers were very interesting. Lack of recognition – hard work is taken for granted by organization Serious days result in more of the same – maximum exertion just gets us more maximum exertion No finish line – perpetually behind No consistency – emergencies prevent a plan Appreciation not shown with meaningful currency – put it in the paycheck, take us to lunch, get good gloves, etc. Little cognizance of how hard the work is – This isn’t a chain gang, but we do work hard We tolerate it – self-explanatory Complacency – we are in a rut Putting thoughts on a board makes sure everyone is seeing the same thing. We’d Gotten Soft Every crew I’ve been in has had these issues at some point. But the best crews always find a way to overcome, or at least to manage and get by. My final summary of our situation was we were soft. I mean we lacked the toughness to put our heads down and perform. We didn’t lack knowledge, tools, or even the capability to work hard. We simply lacked the conviction to do what we knew needed to be done. We were at the point where mole hills became mountains, and small obstacles weren’t being overcome. Of course, no crew wants to be called soft. If I was going to help us overcome, I needed to figure a way to get them to see this issue from a different perspective rather than just “being soft”. Finding a way out Communication within the team has many benefits. One positive is misunderstandings can be presented for open discussion. Instead of asking how our team could overcome “being soft”, I asked how we could improve our effectiveness. The team came up with several answers. What I think is remarkable about nearly every team I have worked with is we all know how to do a good job. By teasing out the thoughts of the crew, they answered the question of improvement on their own, with their own language. Acting as facilitator, all I had to do was summarize concisely what they said. Helping the team craft answers creates an attitude of shared commitment to problem solving. Seeing something in writing adds significance to what is shared. Our Key Response Overall, our crew performs pretty well on all these expectations. What we lacked most, at least in my opinion, was discipline. It is not that we had no discipline; it is just that we were demonstrating it inconsistently. Discipline allows a team to set a goal and pursue it to completion. Discipline also allows a team to manage problems that are potentially disruptive and overcome them. Discipline is the framework that underpins all other aspects of crew performance. At the end of last year, I told the crew we would set expectations and meet them. This commitment to discipline, first on my part, then on all our parts was to be the difference maker. A Very Good Start Crew dynamics fluctuate, but hopefully evolve. What seems to work for a period of time, sometimes does not work perpetually. This is to be expected. What must be sustained though is the discipline to set standards and goals, and then meet them. If the crew is committed to meeting high standards, those standards having been well explained and unanimously adopted, discipline becomes the catalyst for success. Apathy and inconsistency are the opposite of discipline. A lack of discipline becomes a consistent drag on all efforts to improve. So far this year our team has responded to the call to discipline and even they agree we are better for it. A disciplined crew is appreciated by the entire organization. You may even get cupcakes as a thank you.
  6. Most grounds managers (including golf course superintendents) understand the important role that trees play in a landscape. Trees supply beautification, shade, pollution mitigation, etc. and on a golf course can add to the challenge of play. Show me a landscape devoid of trees and I will show you a landscape that is not even close to fulfilling its potential. The culture and maintenance of trees is a critical skill for a grounds crew and the amount of money spent on arboriculture emphasizes this importance. However, the life cycle of a tree continues long after it dies, and it can continue to play a significant role during decline, and even when dead in the landscape. Habitat trees are a reasonable part of a sustainable grounds management plan. How We View Death in the Landscape The modern landscape is devoid of dying or dead plants. As soon as any plant begins to decline, or is out and out dead, it is immediately removed from the landscape and replaced ASAP. Nothing dead can be tolerated in our gardens. This exclusion of dead tissue is actually counterproductive to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. By not allowing the life/death cycle to follow its course to fulfillment, we lop off a segment of this cycle even as the benefits of this process are starting to be released. Decline and Death is Only the Beginning All living organisms follow an arc as they go through their lives. Decline (senescence, if you will) is a stage that is marked by slower growth, isolated or widespread tissue death, and increased susceptibility to pests and disease. In trees, this decline corresponds with a marked increase of the tree to provide habitat. Nesting increases in newly appearing cavities. Insects begin to feed on wood and leaves that are no longer able to fend them-off (production of defensive compounds is slowed in stressed plants). In turn, birds feed on the insects that are hastening decline further. The truth is, there is far more wildlife and ecosystem benefit living in the cycle of dead trees than living ones. The importance of dead in a living landscape Our landscapes are comprised of a multitude of organisms and cycles. Removing, or diminishing the diversity of organisms can damage the ecosystem and disrupt the continuation of cycles supporting our landscapes. The landscape carbon cycle requires dead plant material to return nutrients to the soil for turf and plants to use again. The organisms (micro and macro) that enhance the breakdown of organic material into carbon (and other essential nutrients) also require dead organic matter for survival. If we diminish the quantity of one, we diminish the quantity of the other. For this reason, our insistence on removing anything dead could be detrimental. Pests frequently invade trees that are stressed and declining. This attraction to these trees may draw pests away from other healthier trees, almost acting as trap plants. Regardless, dead plants are essential for any ecosystem. Wildlife trees support and enhance the ecology of a landscape. Incorporating Habitat Trees on Campus Our campus has about 20% crown cover based on iTree Canopy assessment. This means we have many trees to grow and manage. Our tree demographics reflect a tree age span range of 1-100+ years. This is a good thing. But it means that every year trees die. Big dead trees are obvious in the landscape. In Victorian Europe, dead trees were considered beautiful. Dead trees were frequently left in the landscape to accentuate, draw attention, and provide contrast. But I digress. Our grounds crew usually removes these trees promptly, but occasionally the circumstances around the tree allow us to suggest the creation of a habitat tree. However, creating habitat trees is not appropriate in all cases, but can be a vital part of a sustainable grounds management program. When and How Habitat Trees Make Sense Habitat tree candidates (dead/dying), especially large trees, can be left untouched (if in wooded setting), or in our case, cut back to form posts or reduced trees. Since our entire campus is exposed to foot or vehicle traffic in some extent, any dead trees must first be mitigated for stability and safety. We do not want dead limbs dropping constantly. As a Certified Arborist, and in consultation with our tree Contractor, we determine if the location, species, stability, existing landscape context, etc. is right for a habitat tree. Next, we will cut the tree back to stable and durable structure that should remain intact for 5-10 years. Because the prime directive of dead trees is decomposition, habitat trees are regularly monitored to assess their safety and to screen for the time when complete removal is justified. After a thorough assessment, this dead black walnut tree will be trimmed to form a wildlife tree. Dead/Dying Trees Are Alive Dead and dying trees ARE actually full of life. Large dead/dying trees especially, provide shelter, food, and even beauty in the landscape. Habitat trees can be used to highlight the science of landscape management, embody ecologic cycles, and demonstrate a sustainable maintenance approach. Managing habitat trees is not about simply leaving a dead tree to save money or time. It is about guiding the landscape by letting nature run its full course, because it pays benefits to our landscapes and organizations. Wildlife trees can take on many different shapes and sizes. More information on wildlife snags.
  7. Joseph Fearn

    Talking to The Crew

    Recently our crew got together for what is a regular but somewhat infrequent occurrence. We came together to discuss how we might improve our operation, and foster an atmosphere where the crew can freely speak their minds. As I am sure most Grounds Managers can attest to, the crew loves to talk and express their ideas. Groundskeepers are rarely shrinking violets with their opinions. What is difficult is not getting them to talk, but channeling that talk first into positive contribution, and then into concrete/measurable plan of action. What I do know beyond a doubt is that for all the ideas we come up with, the ones that are most likely to stick are the ones the crew come up with themselves. It’s About Having a Voice I have yet to meet a person in groundskeeping that is hesitant to share their opinion. However, this does not mean that all the talk we hear or participate in is always beneficial. Beyond the daily chatter, important talk sometimes reaches a point where the crew needs to share their voice to gain some beneficial result. It goes without saying, but is also worth repeating, that talk can’t initiate change without getting to the ears of someone who can influence the situation. Having a voice means providing feedback and viewpoints to decision makers in your organization. Don’t let good discussions end at the crew level. However, it is vital to remember that in some capacity we are all decision makers, and that we must all share our thoughts. Inviting the crew to regular campus meetings makes them feel included, thereby more likely to speak out. No One Has a Voice if No One Listens On the surface, this seems obvious. Listening (more accurately hearing) is the essential step necessary to create a voice. “If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?” truly does apply here. When my crew expresses thoughts on any subject affecting them, it is imperative to understand what they are really getting at. It may be exactly what they say, or there may be some other message wrapped up in it. When I listen to hear (more accurately understand), I share in giving my crew a voice. We cannot stop here though. The crew must listen and give you a voice. Managers must be sure that the crews voice be heard, and understood, by our bosses too. Our bosses play a significant role in creating the world Grounds Crews work in and pushing the words of the crew up the chain of command adds to their voice. More Than Venting Talking with the crew is about much more than just giving them a safe space to blow off steam. Yes, letting team members get thoughts off their chests is valuable, but effective team communication provides more. If it sounds like a crew is just complaining, who wants to listen to that? Grousing and griping gets the organization nowhere because it isn’t meant to build up or generate useful discussion. Far too often, complaining is just negative noise, and sometimes is intended to hurt or create negative outcomes. I heard a good phrase the other day, “complaining with a purpose”. Making the team aware of undesirable circumstances to shine light on them thereby promoting analysis of these conditions is very useful. The negativity of complaining can become a habit and should be discouraged. Presentation style speaking is good for sharing information, but not for fostering dialogue. Change Requires Speaking Out All too often team members are dissatisfied with something that is occurring in their job but feel they are powerless to do anything about it. This sense of resignation may be an understandable conclusion based on the organization. On the other hand, feeling powerless may be more about the individuals own predisposition. Making improvements rarely happens without energized and willing participants. Change for changes sake is not smart, but perpetually doing things the same is not always smart either. When I talk with my crew, I am always impressed with the good ideas that they share. Even their bad ideas (there is usually a few of those too) reflect an energy and intention of trying to improve our work process and atmosphere. Creating an environment where ideas can be shared openly without fear of negative consequences is essential to a high functioning grounds operation. Keep Talking It Out I define myself as a “long-talker”. This means I can take a seemingly long time to say something. My reason is I have a crystal-clear image of what is in my head, and it is challenging to use just a few words to be sure to convey my thought accurately to another. Fortunately, not all conversations require deep thoughts of great importance. We are all familiar with tailgate meetings comprising just a few sentences to refresh awareness on a topic. Listening to new voices is also a good way to generate conversation. Regardless of how you structure your talks, keep talking to the crew. It will pay off, and all of you will appreciate the conversation. If this is how your crew responds to your meetings, it's time to try a new approach.
  8. Joseph Fearn

    Sustainability Tectonics

    For any geologists reading this blog, I am not speaking about tectonics from the geology standpoint. I am not going to discuss whether the continents derived from the supercontinent Pangaea, or how plates thrust together to form mountains. For my purposes here, tectonics refers to the widespread impact of something and speaks to the pervasive influence of some factor or affect. Sustainability tectonics (my term) are those inescapable factors that influence an operation or landscape and its ability to achieve sustainability. Note: I am not attempting to define sustainability here. Suffice that we all have a generally similar idea of what it is. If you want more clarification, please peruse some previous TWG blogs. Speaking About Geology I suggest that the main geologic factor influencing sustainability is bedrock. Any grounds professional will attest to the importance of soil towards supporting a healthy and functional landscape. But what makes soil? The bedrock of an area creates the soil we work in. Here in Springfield, MO, our bedrock is Burlington limestone. As a result, our default pH is alkaline. If I want to create a landscape that prefers an acidic environment, I must undertake significant interventions. And those interventions will necessarily be temporary, requiring repeated amendments to be sustainable. It is much easier to take cues from the indigenous flora and plant a landscape that can tolerate higher pH, or plant adapted plants if a nonnative palette is suitable. The limestone for this church on Drury Campus was cut from local bedrock. Climate Springfield, MO. can be a volatile climate. In this respect, we are no different from most places. Our historic extremes are -29F and 113F. However, our average temperatures range from 22F to 90F. Based on these numbers our normal weather is stable, but we can get fluctuations. I tell people that the droughty periods we experience (2012, 2018) and the heat (May 2018 hottest on record) is unusual, but not unheard of. Fortunately, our plants, animals and insects are wonderfully adapted to the Missouri climate. Growing the plants that are adapted to a region doesn’t mean plant it and forget it. Planting with an eye to sustainability means that the plants we grow will require less intervention (resources) based on the prevailing climate of our site. It doesn’t mean that everything will always grow. Nor should we seek to overcome too many impediments to accommodate a landscape. Hydrology The water cycle is yet another monolithic influence on sustainability. Water is one of the essential requirements for plant growth. It is also essential for human life. The aspects of water that are the most challenging to cope with is regularity and scarcity. Regularity means can we obtain water when we need it. Scarcity is asking is there enough water supply to meet all our demands for it. We could start discussing water priority (drinking versus irrigation) but I digress. The main obstacle facing a sustainable water situation is living, or should I say growing, within the natural water budget. Every time an operation uses water that does not fall from the sky or generated on site (springs, catchments, etc.) the goal of sustainability recedes. The sustainable landscape should not receive non-natural water. Succession and Change In nature, every niche is exploited, and change is constant. No matter what condition a landscape is in at a given moment, that landscape is transitioning (growing) something else. Turf must be mowed to maintain it within a narrow tolerance because if eft unmaintained tall fescue will grow to 12 or so inches and then go to seed. Planting beds must be pruned, mulched, weeded and replanted otherwise they become unruly, escape boundaries or change their planting mix. Maintenance all takes place to prevent the landscape from growing into something that is deemed unacceptable. In Springfield, over the course of history, our landscapes were an Oak/Hickory forest dappled by savannah. This matrix of plants and animals is what our ecosystem strives for. If left alone, succession will drive towards this destination despite the disturbed aspect of the urban setting. If left undisturbed, Springfield might revert to savannah like the Union Ridge Conservation Area. Pic credit: nature.mdc.mo.gov Implications Sustainability in the landscape is about aligning what the landscape is, with our maintenance regimes. To the extent that these two objectives differ, is the extent to which we have to invest resources to overcome macro-influences. On a golf course or sports field, the distinct purpose of the field is largely unnatural. Thus, it will be harder to align sustainable operations with the objective of the landscape (many golf courses/sports fields, etc. are successfully pursuing sustainable operations despite the inherent challenge of doing so). On a college campus however, the landscape has more variability in what is expected of it. In this setting the sustainable management of the landscape can be furthered by designing, installing, and maintaining a more natural landscape. The key will be a landscape that pays homage to sustainability tectonics, not persists in opposition to it. Naturalizing plantings unify function and sustainability, but are not suitable to all locations.
  9. For all the years I have been the head Groundskeeper at Drury University there has been a honeybee hive in one hollow Mulberry tree in a section of our campus called College Park. The tree happens to be right along a main sidewalk, one that is used by essentially all the 200 or so students that live in those dorms. Several times over the years, the Facilities Department has fielded calls about the bees being a nuisance, or even a safety concern. However, once we have educated the caller, they usually are accepting of staying a little farther from the tree, and once again the beehive becomes inconspicuous. Bee Coexistence Any Groundskeeper knows that honeybees are about as harmless as any insect can be. Drury University has added hundreds/thousands of native trees, shrubs and flowers over the last 6 years. Despite this density of bee-friendly plants, I can’t think of the last time any of the grounds crew was stung by a bee, and we are constantly IN the plants. The one adjustment we configured on the “Bee Tree” was to cover the original entry point with heavy mesh and drill a hole higher up in the hollow. This arrangement has suited the bees fine. Their entry/exit is about 10’ off the ground. Most of their traffic is now high above the walkway. Drury Grounds also uses its social media to share info about Bees (pollinators in general) and educate people about their benefits plus how to be safe around them. Honeybees are harmless and generally do not sting unless provoked. Entering a New Phase I have always thought about having a functional bee hive on campus, but it never seemed to gain traction. There are so many projects and tasks that are higher priority which meant that beekeeping was low on the list of priorities. That changed about a year ago when Drury’s newest Groundskeeper came to the job as a real-world beekeeper in his own time. Groundsman Leroy has about 10 hives at his house and is able to harvest and sell some delicious honey. Finally, his knowledge, the will of our Grounds Crew, and a donation of bee boxes from a faculty member (DU economist Steve Mullins) came together this spring. Capturing a Swarm Obtaining bees is not easy. Apparently native bees, caught naturally, are more durable and are more likely to be successful as a hive. This is because they have proven tough and adaptable in the environments they live in. Bees are also available for purchase, but our fledgling effort did not have funding. Therefore, we set out to capture a swarm. This April, the Bee Tree split a swarm. We were able to catch the basketball size ball o’ bees and tried several times to settle them into our bee box. Initially, the queen left the hive and settled nearby. It was only later that evening that we found the box empty and the bee-basketball under a nearby bench. Before sunrise the next morning we recaptured the swarm (AND the queen). This time we sealed the hive for 24 hours and used old frames with wax residue on them. Apparently, this helped make the bees feel more inclined to make this box their new home. Finding a natural swarm of honeybees is very exciting for any beekeeper. Despite our best efforts, this swarm resisted going into our new box. Eventually they were relocated. Quite a Success Story The Drury beehive is a little over 2 months old now. In early July we opened the hive to assess its status and see how things were progressing. We found a healthy, vibrant colony that was doing just what we (and they) wanted. The Queen was laying eggs and filling frames with brood. Some of the brood frames had an arch of honey over them which is exactly what we want to see. The honey super was almost full too. In fact, the honey storage was going so well, we could harvest our first 3 frames of honey. The full frames were replaced with empty ones which will spur the bees to get busy again. The afore-mentioned Dr. Mullins has recently donated another brood box and honey super which we plan to install soon. The health of #DUbees is obvious through the hive itself, and the HONEY! Plans for the Future Our goal for the bee program at Drury University is still being developed. For us on the Grounds Crew our plan is to build the size of this colony this year, and hopefully have enough of a population that we can split the colony next spring. Of course, if the colony naturally sends out a swarm, we will be prepared and hopefully catch it to add to our program. Grounds will also be watching the “bee tree” to see if it will swarm again also. We also plan on having several capture boxes placed around campus in the hope we will catch a random swarm from nearby. Drury Administration has signed off on the bee program and has given preliminary approval to Drury pursuing “Bee Campus” certification. This program is sponsored by BeeCityUSA organization. The BEE Campus program seeks partner universities to raise awareness of pollinators, enhance habitat, and share success stories. Drury is “Bee”-eautiful Drury University has been pushing habitat improvement for several years to increase species diversity (birds, plants, insects, etc.) and improve the ecologic services our campus can provide (stormwater management, carbon sequestration, air quality improvement, soil protection, etc.). We have pursed these goals through diversification of the planting regime, repopulating the urban forest, managing water use, and decreasing chemical interventions. Our efforts have resulted in improved habitat for a range of organisms both small and large. The humble honeybee is just one of many organisms that are thriving on our campus. Creating a campus that is appealing to bees will ensure that Drury will be appealing to our human visitors as well. Hopefully Drury will be a “sweet” destination also.
  10. Joseph Fearn

    Diversity Abounds...

    Several years ago, when I started as the Head Groundskeeper at Drury University, I came into a campus that was one dimensional and lacked meaningful diversity in any terms. The campus was comprised mostly of shade trees and turfgrass. Having recently worked at a municipal Springfield park that was abundantly planted and had been growing in for seven years (post installation), I was taken aback by the stark appearance of the campus. This is not to say it didn't look well-tended or thoughtfully laid out. It just looked plain. While I did note that there was a dearth of flowers and smaller trees, I didn't think of it in terms of diversity. Now, after several years of hard work, I see how beneficial the pursuit of increasing diversity is to a landscape. Diversity Stabilizes the landscape Diversity (biodiversity, design diversity, management diversity) is an important objective for the landscape. Increasing biodiversity improves the ability of the landscape to respond to environmental changes. If our landscape consists of only one plant, and we get an unusual weather event, an entire population could be wiped out. Biodiversity also prevents one organism from dominating the landscape to the detriment of others. If a pest outbreak occurs, the susceptible target could be decimated, but unsusceptible organisms will not be. Design and maintenance diversity also prevents our landscapes from becoming monotonous. Design diversity could be as simple as adding native plants to a landscape. Maintenance variation could be changing mow patterns or employing FRAC codes to prevent resistance. Planting variety helps improve more than just plant biodiversity. Even in the relatively homogenous landscape (strategically homogenous, (think golf course or sports field) diversity is sought after. Turfgrass blends/mixes are SOP, and aesthetically designed roughs and landscaping amenities are common management principles. Stratified planting Here at Drury University a means to increasing both biodiversity and design diversity is through stratified planting. Stratified planting means blending large trees, small trees, shrubs, perennial plants/flowers and turf. Within these plant types a mix of deciduous/evergreen is also beneficial. This increase in plant diversity adds habitat for organisms. There are birds that nest closer to the ground and there are others that prefer elevated tree cavities. Stratified plantings also help to provide a variety of food sources for animals and birds. Providing a range of foods promotes biodiversity. Stratified plant arrangements also capture rainfall which benefits the environment by decreasing runoff and cleaning pollutants. Stratified planting provides layered habitats for different animals and insects. Plants, plants, and more plants A wide variety of plant diversity is important for maximizing the health and benefits of the landscape. An obvious benefit of plant diversity is a rotation of bloom. The aesthetics of a rotation of bloom is a highly desirable aesthetic feature in the landscape. Perennial plants have lower maintenance impact because they are planted once, and can potentially be divided in the future to be planted elsewhere. Early blooming plants are vital forage when insects and animals are coming out of the winter period to replace spent reserves. Some native plants also have a mutualistic relationship with other organisms (Milkweed/Monarchs is one such widely known relationship). Some plants can also be used to help restore the ecosystem (legumes fix Nitrogen) and a matrix of plants can help decrease water runoff and soil erosion. Dandelions are an important early-season food source for bees. Birds and Beasts An indicator of ecosystem health is the prevalence of birds and animals in the landscapes we manage. This is not to say that every landscape must strive to have a menagerie of animals roaming the grounds, but some diversity of animal residents shows you have a healthy ecosystem. On our campus we have groundhogs, skunks, squirrels and rabbits (nothing extraordinary here). We also have a healthy range of birds including a nesting pair of Red-Tail Hawks, nesting Eastern Bluebirds, Kingbirds, Killdeers and Scissortail Flycatchers (again the usual suspects). What is remarkable, though, is that none of these animals and birds were present six years ago. If they were seen on campus, they were only passing through, not calling it home. This is strong diversity for an urban setting. Just this year I saw my first Black Snake on campus and I couldn't be happier. The Next Steps Improving the ecological health of the Drury University campus is a worthy goal. A landscape that demonstrates diversity in different forms is pleasing to patrons, plus can help support the organizational goal of demonstrating sustainability and environmental commitment. As green-space dwindles, and development changes the appearance of the landscape, managing our grounds as refuge for plants, animals, birds and insects is increasingly vital. Biodiversity is a key component of nature, and should be a key component for Grounds Managers also. Diversity is essential in the landscape. Who can really say what is the most important species?
  11. Joseph Fearn

    It’s My Baby

    There is an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry takes his car to his mechanic for a knocking noise. After the mechanic determines the problem with the car, he tells Jerry the adjustments the car needs in order to operate at its maximum level. Jerry thinks these repairs are overkill and tells the mechanic that he will take the car elsewhere. At this point the mechanic steals the car rather than let it continue to be operated by an owner who does not value it adequately. He rebukes Jerry, "You don't even know your car!" While this isn't exactly the way I see myself regarding the property I care for, it does speak to the deep bond that many groundskeepers form with our landscapes. Professionally and Conscientiously Bound Groundskeeping is not a profession many of us got into because of the monetary compensation or the accolades. This in no way prevents us from performing with a deep commitment to excellence. Additionally, some of our professional certifications carry an ethical requirement to do what is best for the environment and our responsibilities. This is no trivial oath. Our self-respect and the respect of our peers requires we do our utmost. Many of us have found that groundskeeping provides us an opportunity to play a role that makes a difference. By being dedicated to our landscapes or golf courses, we are fulfilling a drive that seeks to give back to our organizations and communities. Whether we enhance the happiness of a golfer playing nine, an athlete on a pitch, or a student strolling a campus, we know the work we do is significant. Sweat Equity Another reason groundskeepers are so fervent about their grounds is we know the work that has gone into them. Landscaping a course or campus, and then maintaining it, is no small undertaking. Even at its most basic our work is physically demanding and takes place in frequently challenging environmental conditions. Grounds men know the work it takes to beautify the landscape. The tasks and projects we accomplish can be small or large. They may take minutes or weeks. Regardless of the intensity or the particulars of a job, our work builds over time through a continuum. Landscaping is never done, but is a journey that creates experiences either satisfying or stressful. The result is our grounds reflect the magnitude and quality of our investments of knowledge and effort. As groundskeepers we have shepherded our courses and fields over time and cannot help but see the massive determination we have invested. Travelling a Long Road Together I came to Drury University as a student in 2006. While working at another position, I happened to meet and talk with a DU professor (who has since moved on). While we were discussing sustainable landscaping and groundskeeping in general, I said working at Drury was exactly the type of job I hoped for. Well, in 2011 I started as the Head Groundskeeper at DU. This is the first tree i planted at Drury. We have travelled a long way together. In the years since, we have made many changes to our campus. We have planted hundreds of trees and shrubs, and thousands of flowers and bulbs. We have installed dozens of new flowerbeds through which we have articulated a native, low resource paradigm, even while continuing to maintain a high threshold for aesthetic design. I have now seen many students, faculty, and even groundskeepers come and go. When I think back to the campus that was, I am keenly aware of the long road the campus and I have travelled together. We Deal With Life One of the fundamental facets of groundskeeping is that we are managing living organisms and ecosystems. While this factor adds some stress to our work, it also is the source of much of our greatest satisfaction. Regardless of the life form that we tend to, seeing these entities thrive is rewarding. When you consider that grounds managers watch over soil (yes, it is alive), turf, flowers, shrubs, trees, etc. we have a lot to keep healthy. The life of the campus never ceases to amaze us... Since our landscapes are also parts of larger systems, we also have impact over animals, insects, streams and lakes. Our cultural management approaches can provide significant health benefits to the parts of the systems. But the greatest potential for satisfaction is the wellness and enjoyment the landscape can impart to our human patrons. Humans are hard-wired to connect with nature, and for many the landscape is a primary opportunity to engage with it. Thinking Beyond Myself Here at Drury, our landscape is shared by thousands of people. All of these people have a story, needs, and aspirations. Most often they do not center on the campus grounds (unlike the groundskeeper). But this does not mean that they don't care, or invest in some small way. When a visitor asks a gardening question, or a student relaxes in a shady spot, when anyone appreciates the landscape, they are getting a small taste of what us grounds managers experience nearly all the time. Because for most of the time we love our campuses and are thoroughly attached to them. They are our babies.
  12. Drury University is known to our community and visitors for our many large shade trees. We have been a Tree Campus since 2014 and take appropriate steps to maintain our campus canopy. This hasn't always been the case however. By assessing the appearance of the trees (cultural signs & symptoms) and evaluating tree age/diversity it is clear that for a period of time our precious trees were somewhat ignored -- and possibly impaired -- by less than optimal management. One of the most important means to help maintain tree health is by decreasing mechanical damage... But since 2011 Drury University and Drury Grounds have undertaken a significant effort to help our DU trees rebound. One of the most important means to help maintain tree health is by decreasing mechanical damage. If one looks closely at the root flare zone and surface roots of some of our trees, you can see the sign of repeated mechanical damage. Roots were scalped again and again by mowers set too low. Wounded bark calloused over only to be scalped again. This damage is still apparent on both roots and trunks. These pictures show repeated mower damage to surface roots and flare zone damage from mowers and/or string-trimmers. Now we are trying a novel approach. Our crew is using the surface roots to describe interpretative, flowing tree rings to cushion and shield the tree roots. Curves are gentle enough that we can mow with larger equipment. The convolutions help demonstrate how each tree is unique, and helps to highlight the roots, making them aesthetically appealing. The large size of the mulch area provides all the routine benefits of mulch rings (water conservation, soil improvement, weed suppression, and of course mechanical protection) without the boredom that can come from endless circles on campus (after all we have over 1500 trees, if not more). These rings have gotten a good reception, and I must say, we like them too. Letting each trees unique character dictate the shape of tree rings creates artwork rather than just geometry around some of our champion trees.
  13. Joseph Fearn

    How Grounds Makes a Difference

    In our green industry, the jobs we perform are very diverse. Some of us are Golf Course Superintendents; some are irrigationists, others Sports-Turf Managers, Landscape Designers, and even a Head Groundskeeper or two. Likewise, the organizations we participate in are diverse also. There are commercial and residential, public and private, profit or not-for-profit. Drilling down even deeper, our diverse organizations are comprised of sections or units that all have different specialties, united to create some service or product. Given this segmentation, creating camaraderie and a shared sense of purpose can be challenging. Fortunately, our organizational grounds are well suited to making a difference for all our stakeholders. Aesthetics I say it is obvious the way in which most of us make a difference for our organizations is aesthetically. Regardless of why we landscape, be it curb appeal, landscape contracting, or to maintain a playable golf course, the appearance of our work is on full display. The appearance of our landscapes says something about our organizations. A well-landscaped campus or course shows we take pride in our roles, and respect the people that will be visiting or playing in the landscape. However, the landscape reaches out also. Even if members of our communities just commute past our sites, our landscapes provide a gift to our neighbors and fellow citizens. A nice landscape can increase property values, decrease crime, and improve the visit-ability of an area. These are positive impacts that go beyond just the 'look' of a campus. Pollution Mitigation Drury University is in the urban center of Springfield, Missouri. What a visitor notices when coming to our campus is the way in which the larger landscape changes on our campus. What I mean is the amount of green space significantly increases compared to our neighboring areas. In addition, even for those of you whose landscapes are not in urban areas, I imagine many of your campuses/courses are now surrounded by increasing development of different kinds. Development in any area means that the environmental and ecological role our landscapes play is becoming more significant, and more important to our communities environmental health. Our landscapes decrease stormwater runoff, increase water infiltration and cleaning, remove pollution from the air and sequester CO2. The green space and plants (even expanses of turf) decrease heat island effects and generate oxygen. These are extremely valuable contributions and should be acknowledged and appreciated by our communities. Community Health The manner in which our sites improve community health is largely based around pollution mitigation attributes, but goes beyond this aspect also. Our sites and the green space they represent go a long way to improving the mental health and wellness of our communities. Green space (especially complex plantings and ecosystems) have a very positive effect on people's attitudes. Green space is soothing and calming and has been shown to decrease feelings of stress. Our sites and the green space they represent go a long way to improving the mental health and wellness of our communities... Another important way that our greenspaces can improve community health is by supporting physical activity. Many of our sites our publicly accessible to some degree and provide very nice environments for walking, jogging and other modes of exercise. Even private locations will frequently allow members to use the locations for recreation. Drury University has several walking courses and welcomes activity from our Drury community and our neighbors. This aspect is a welcome contribution given that other greenspaces may not be accessible. Strategic Alignment I suggest that Grounds is unique to any organization in the ability to support organizational strategy. Here at Drury University obviously our primary objective is to provide excellent education at an excellent value. Grounds helps this effort by providing a beautiful, safe, functional landscape within economic constraints. For any campus or course, grounds can align easily with any of the strategic imperatives an organization may have. Marketing, outreach, playability, value, environmentalism are easily supported by the landscapes at our sites. The only limitation that a campus or course has for aligning with strategic objectives is imagination. Grounds Supervisors and Managers will be well served to get to know other department staffs and seek to share their objectives. By supporting broad efforts from elsewhere in our organizations, we can become even more beneficial to our teams. The only limitation that a campus or course has for aligning with strategic objectives is imagination... #GroundsDoesItAll The truth is that an organization's Grounds Crew touches all aspects of the group. While most stakeholders know about our efforts to beautify our campuses, or improve playability of our courses, they do not always appreciate how diverse a crew can be in supporting our groups. By taking some time to improve communications between parts of our organizations we might all be surprised at where Grounds may pop up and what they might be able to do to support our mutual success.
  14. Joseph Fearn

    Orbiting the Giant Hairball...

    Several years ago at a previous job, I became mired in a funk. This funk had to do with the politics of my organization, and with how those politics frequently seemed to force me to work in ways that I did not support. This was not a new situation for me. Many people who strive for continual improvement are frustrated by business as usual, and the lack of a team being open to new ways of doing things. I talked this issue over with a mentor (my brother-in-law, Kevin), and he said he had just the thing I needed to help me see this situation with a fresh perspective. He suggested a book that had helped him over the years when dealing with just this issue. He recommended Orbiting the Giant Hairball; A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie. Gordon Mackenzie's Hairball Gordon MacKenzie, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball, worked in the creative department of Hallmark Cards for 30 years. He compares the organization and processes at Hallmark Cards to a giant hairball. When employees participate in this work environment, they become entangled in the hairball. The problem with a hairball is despite good ideas and excellent effort, any forward momentum is exhausted by the confusion and inertia of this indecipherable tangle ("Corporate Gravity", MacKenzie's term). The paradox of the hairball is despite your best efforts at untangling it; one far too often is stuck. This is especially true for people who do not fear change, as the hairball is like quicksand as well. The more you fight, the deeper you sink. Even if you do not fight, you are still stuck. One must escape the hairball. Orbit, Not Entanglement However, not all aspects of our organizations (hairballs) are detrimental. Our organizations can provide important benefits such as stability, resources, direction and camaraderie. The key, according to MacKenzie, is to stay close enough to the hairball so you can take advantage of these benefits, but not so close you succumb to its pull and become entangled. Hence the title, and main thrust of the book, Orbiting the Hairball. Creativity is a vital part of our work processes, but is frequently not valued in the finished product. Being in orbit is about balancing the pursuit for innovation and being open to change, yet honoring the practices and theories that got our team where we are in the first place. Orbit also has the unique benefit of being a form of sustainability. One can stay in orbit without using a lot of energy. Maintaining the proper orbit requires we resist going too far in either direction where we risk being pulled out of orbit. Why I Want to Orbit One of the main satisfactions of my work is the ability to put some of my identity into my job. In fact, one of the greatest motivators for employees in any role is the opportunity to contribute their talents to an effort. But these contributions are too frequently suppressed or hindered by workplaces that don't value ideas from all levels of the organization. ...one of the greatest motivators for employees in any role is the opportunity to contribute their talents to an effort. In one of the first chapters, MacKenzie visits a school and asks the kids who of them is an artist? The kindergarteners and first graders are all artists, but as the grade level increases, the number of self-professed artists decreases. It seems that our schools, organizations, and places of employment value conformity, rather than "Creative Genius" (Mackenzies term). Orbiting is about exercising enough creativity to stay in orbit, and to resist the pull of Corporate Gravity. My Favorite Chapter Chapter 21 in Orbiting is titled A Conference of Angels. In this story, MacKenzie recounts a sales team conference that he attended to help create a new approach. What he observed was a team going through the motions and arriving at the same tired results. After confronting the meeting coordinator, he got permission to intervene in a novel way. Using gongs and candles he had participants relax in a darkened room, centering themselves internally. Using meditative mantra, attendees cleared their minds and entered an open state with infinite possibility. When Mackenzie "awoke" them back into participation, the result was an outpouring of new and provocative ideas on how to improve sales efforts. His approach unlocked the creativity of the team because it displaced the preconceptions and "Corporate Normalcy" that consistently limits inventive consideration. The lesson learned? Looking at problems in new ways and with new parameters can create amazing possibilities. Who wouldn't like to attend A Conference of Angels? Takeaway Orbiting is not about flying beneath the radar, or about being in some netherworld of mediocrity, floating between anarchy and apathy. Orbiting is about finding a location in the organization that allows for maximum creativity and personal investment by team members while still honoring the organizational imperatives required of us as employees. When employees are allowed to contribute authentically, to the greatest extent possible, within particular circumstances, they are more satisfied and productive. We should all be Orbiting the Giant Hairball. Many of us see ourselves as a Rembrandt and simply need a canvas to paint on.
  15. Another year has come and almost gone, and like many of you I am taking stock of the past 12 months. Groundskeeping closely follows the clock and calendar, and our jobs are greatly influenced by both of these factors. December (or more broadly, winter) is a viewed by many who care for grounds or the landscape as the end of one period and the start of another. I realize that this is the end of the year for our whole society, but not in the same way as for us in the green industry. The solstice is behind us in North America (apologies to any international friends!), and days will begin lengthening. Our coldest average temps are still to come, but Spring is on its way. I want to look forward, but I also want to close out 2017. What was it all about for Drury Grounds? 2017 was a very good year for Drury Grounds. The Big Story The biggest change for Drury Grounds was the adoption of the Drury University Master Plan. When DU President Dr. Cloyd took over in 2016, he stated that a master plan was a top priority. After an appropriate search, DU hired Cooper-Robertson, a consulting group out of New York to oversee the effort. Many charrettes and interviews in summer, including stakeholders and concerned members of the DU community, helped chart the process. In November, the finished product was revealed on campus. While the main plan was rightly built around academic delivery, and the construction this would entail, the campus landscape did get a lot of attention. A framework for the grounds was established. Grounds likely will play a significant role in implementation and we are looking forward to completing our part. What We Accomplished Drury Grounds stayed busy in 2017, continuing to positively impact the campus in many ways. Our biggest visible impact on campus was the President's Plaza. This commemorative garden was conceived, designed and installed by the Drury Community and features plaques with all of Drurys presidents. Another significant event was the awarding of our 3rd annual Tree Campus USA certification from the National Arbor Day Foundation. This acknowledges that DU values its urban forest and is taking appropriate steps to maintain it. We are one of eight Tree Campuses in Missouri and DU is proud of this designation. Our biggest all-around impact of 2017 was our steady work. This is usually the case for any good grounds operation. Skilled grounds crews are expert at the steady, methodical work that builds over time to make a beautiful campus (or golf course). Drury Grounds installed a number of flower beds in specific areas, and performed two rounds of seasonal color change-outs (spring, fall). We planted at least 32 trees, innumerable shrubs and perennials, and as usual, 1000 spring flowering daffodil bulbs. A side note about daffodils: we have planted 6000 since 2012, and still have a lot of room to grow. Daffs are easy, and always a winner with our customers. Impacting Our Crew Two events took place for Drury Grounds in 2017 that will (hopefully) have lasting impact on our success. First, we became fully staffed for the first time in a long time. Our crew is back up to six groundsmen. One new hire in particular is very important. Leroy S. is a retired groundsman from a nearby university, and is a well-rounded student of the turf game. Being able to hire someone with his experience and trade education was a real win. The other two new groundskeepers are inexperienced but eager (as of now). Grounds maintenance is a very demanding profession. Add in the high expectations of Drury University and our position is not a fit for just anyone. A bigger impact resulted from a course I took on campus in pursuit of my Masters Degree (Leadership & Organizational Change). This class was Comm 605 Organizational Change. It focused on understanding your organizations culture and the role it plays in team success. I learned how to uncover the artifacts, stated beliefs, and unspoken assumptions that guide my team. But the most important thing I learned was that my own beliefs and biases can cloud my ability to see the true culture of my team. ...the most important thing I learned was that my own beliefs and biases can cloud my ability to see the true culture of my team. I am learning to try to remove my desired beliefs/hopes from my management, letting my team guide us more than previously. We are unifying behind a shared vision, creating more accountability and participation. I urge anyone to dig deeper into learning about organizational culture. I truly believe this will benefit us greatly going forward. ONE Great Year 2017 was a great year for Drury Grounds, and I hope it was for your organization as well. We accomplished much, had many successes, and overcame some challenges. But it was only one year. 2018 is our focus now and will bring who knows what. All of us hopefully can look back, build on 2017 and have great hope for the 2018 Thanks for your readership in 2017, and my most sincere wishes for Happy and Prosperous New Year to all the TurfNet family. Drury Grounds Crew at 2017 DU Holiday Meal
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