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Joseph Fearn

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  • Club/Course/Company
    Mississippi State University
  • Location
    Starkville, MS
  • Interests
    Using the landscape to help promote human and organizational health. Reconciliation landscaping, ecological restoration, innovative landscape design, beautiful turf, healthy soil, native habitat and ecosystem revitalization.

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  1. 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 University Campus Landscape my team would participate in some winter tree planting. What was a surprise to me was how many trees we would install. And, while we are still in the midst of this effort, I know at the culmination we will look back with pride and accomplishment at our endeavor. Why Plant Trees? Our landscapes are installed and maintained to provide some sort of service. For most landscapes we are usually trying to provide beautification and promote recreation (think sports, hiking, relaxation, etc.). Fortunately planting trees comes with side helpings of environmental benefit, increasing property value, improving a sense of wellness and even decreasing crime. Mississippi State University is well known for its campus landscape. Of course the trees and campus forest contribute significantly to the overall landscape atmosphere. MSU is also a Tree Campus USA through the National Arbor Day Foundation. Planting trees is an essential component of this program. Tree planting efforts demonstrate a commitment to our campus that reflects not only a present day effort but also a commitment to the future of the university. In my opinion, trees demonstrate clear evidence of dedication to a community and a sense of responsibility to that community. Trees benefit our landscapes in many ways. Arbor Day celebrations are a great way to celebrate trees. Let's Talk Numbers... So if someone wants to plant trees, how many should they plant? One way of course is to simply count the number of trees in your landscape and increase the number of trees to add each season/year/planting etc. Another way is to measure canopy cover. Regardless of the method your organization chooses, increasing tree inventory allows for a feel good story which improves organizational pride and team spirit. I suggest that deciding on a number reflects a rational formula reflecting some arboricultural goal and is dependent on factors such as climax ecotypes and carrying capacity, not to mention maintenance dollars. At a previous site I worked at our crew planted over 300 trees on 100 acres (m/l) over 7 years. This was based on our estimates of declining trees heading for imminent removal, and the goal of increasing canopy cover (our canopy increased 14%-19% in 7 years). This winter we will plant nearly 300 at MSU in this round alone. Remember though, no matter the numbers, planting any is better than planting none. Planting Trees Never Gets Old I love planting trees. Truth be told, I love most of the tasks I perform in my job, but the tree stuff is special. There are so many wondrous aspects to trees that amaze me. The mass and scale a tree creates from soil, water and air is remarkable. The variety and complexity of plant structures ranging from bark, to lignin, buds, flowers and nuts, etc. reflects adaptations based on thousands of years of evolution. Another aspect of trees is the potential longevity. Trees can last decades and even longer if sited and cared for properly. Trees can be used as historical artifacts. By overlapping tree rings an unbroken timeline (dendrochronology) lasting millenium can be created. Tree longevity leads me to hope I might be participating in a landscaping process as long lasting as an Oak tree. Trees are also a critical component of the ecosystem. Many animals and insects live in and amongst trees, not the least of which is humans. Truly, where would we be without all the benefits of trees? Well Worth It This tree planting project at Mississippi State has been hard work. But the opportunity to make a significant impact on the MSU campus is all worth it. The trees we planted this round varied from 3-4" caliper and had root balls 4 foot around. Planting trees this size is challenging whether staging, transporting, or installing. The results have been obvious and outstanding. I call it instant landscape and it is. Our Drill Field is an iconic part of campus and has now been improved via a 44 tree install. On February 12 this year MSU celebrated Arbor Day on campus. None less than MSU President Keenum was in attendance amongst many others representing all parts of our campus family, especially students. Several speakers talked of the importance of trees to the financial health of our communities in addition to the other benefits they provide. The “State” trees we celebrated are now part of our campus forest and our MSU Campus Landscape team is very glad to have been a part of it.
  2. Thank you for writing and posting this. Momentarily felt some regret for not reading it when it was posted, but when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Great Friday read, to make a better Monday attitude. I think I'll smell some roses today. Thanks again.
  3. 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 requires me to assist in building an operation largely from zero, so I'm in the midst of creating an organizational plan. I'd like to share some of my thoughts around this important topic and hopefully hear from some dear readers on the subject as well. Why Plan? Creating a plan achieves a number of benefits for an operation. The first benefit is that a plan lays out a road map for success. Creating a destination and a route for getting there provides efficiency and prevents missteps. Surely you can achieve an objective without a plan, but there will likely be fits and starts along the way. Next, a plan helps establish benchmarks. These metrics can help keep an operation on schedule. Demonstrating progress and achieving benchmarks is key to indicating/sustaining success. A clear and understandable plan also helps foster buy-in of stakeholders, allowing them to see the future. People outside your operation, but involved in it nonetheless, can help provide energy and resources. Sometimes they may even provide cover if unplanned glitches pop up in the plan. Keep it Real, and Achievable A key factor to any plan is to keep it reality-based. Only with accurate evaluations of your operation and avoidance of wishful thinking can your plan be achievable. Begin by completing an objective evaluation of where your operation currently is. Documenting the status quo can provide a quick start to your plan because even the most dysfunctional operation is achieving success somewhere. There is no need to start completely from scratch so thereby we avoid unnecessary work. Including the thoughts of current employees has the dual benefit of providing a different vantage point and also helps foster responsibility for successful implementation of the plan. Employees usually will get behind any effort they help craft rather than one they are ordered to follow. Make objectives that are realistic and measurable. Small achievements can provide momentum plus maintain and enhance continued plan support. Don’t Go It Alone Creating a good plan requires broad participation from all facets of your operation. Regardless whether you are tasked with creating a new plan like I am, or simply updating an old one, seeking input is essential. First, this takes the responsibility for the plan off your shoulders alone. While you likely don’t shirk being on the hook, getting feedback usually creates a stronger plan. Next, it helps to eliminate any prejudices or functional blind spots you may be subject to. People usually base a course of action on experiences they have had. While this isn’t entirely a bad thing, getting additional perspective can be invaluable. Lastly, getting someone else’s thoughts on your plan, especially from a boss, can give clarity as to expectations. What I believe we are pursuing may not be what my boss thinks. Seek feedback and be open to it. Be Flexible, Aim High, and Reevaluate Regularly Any plan should be like rubber rather than concrete. All plans should be precise and fact-based, but not so rigid as to ignore the specific realities of the operation and scenario it lives in. My situation has considerations that may be hugely different than other operations/locations. Your plan should be aspirational also. Set your sights high and create lofty goals. It is better to shoot for the stars and fall short rather than not go for broke from the get-go. Again, basing your plan in reality and fact will accommodate realistic and achievable goals even if those goals are aggressive. Lastly, plans must be reevaluated regularly. Reviewing progress and considering whether adjustments are needed prevents wasting time and effort. The goal of the plan is progress, not necessarily perfection. Plan for Success Planning for success is one of those statements that has two meanings depending on how you read it. But both are critical to your operation and both are necessary at any time. First, the preparation and pathways for charting your course are essential. Things we plan to do may or may not occur. But I guarantee if you don’t plan something it won’t happen. Next is planning to achieve your goals. That is to say believe in what you are doing and where you want your operation to go. You, and everyone around you, will draw energy from a resolute mindset. In my experience, very little happens when we don’t believe in our ability to make it happen. So, make a plan, stick to it, and enjoy the results.
  4. 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. 2020 ended up being a crazy, challenging, stressful year and truth be told, I’ll be very happy, and quite relieved, to see it in my rear view mirror. Changes, Changes, Changes In January 2020 I had heard of COVID-19 but wasn’t really concerned as it seemed a China-only issue. Unfortunately, as all of us know too well, coronavirus would end up spreading in the United States. In March, my previous employer shut most operations down. My team and I were deemed essential personnel so stayed working during the first “shutdown”. Over the next several months, and for the rest of the year, every aspect of my life would be touched by the COVID pandemic. In July my position was eliminated to save money. By years end, my immediate family had been COVID tested several times, had one scary but fortunately brief bout of the virus, and several episodes of quarantining. As a write this COVID-19 is still a significant, if not dominant feature in our daily lives. You Can't Know the Future So, 2020 took me for a ride. I am now in a new position, a new state, a new house. Looking back, I wouldn’t have thought all these occurrences could all possibly be positives. I have been fortunate to improve my lot in all this upheaval. Each step of the way during the past year, my path has taken me in a new direction I would rather not have travelled. I say this not because I regret where I am now, but because change, especially involuntary change, can be difficult and uncomfortable. However, what I realize now is I can’t fully judge my present circumstances because I don’t know my future. Hope for 2021 Surely things will be better in 2021. I say this not because of any specific effort or upcoming event, but because I believe that things are currently bad, yet probability dictates that things won't get worse. Mind you I’m not guaranteeing anything. There are likely to be unforeseen consequences ahead, and many difficulties are yet to be overcome. Fortunately, there are many, many people working hard to overcome our problems. Our everyday decisions matter also because not everyone can make momentous impacts. Little efforts add up. I suggest that even reading this blog illustrates that you are still plugging. These facts are why I have hope things will improve. Spring ALWAYS Follows Winter We are in winter both literally and figuratively. As all of us green industry types know, winter can feel challenging and interminable. But we know it isn't. Spring is coming. In the meantime, though, take care of yourself and those around you. Look out for your loved ones. While at work, or even at the store, look out for those you encounter. Remember what is important. The New Year harkens a time for honest assessment of where we are, but more importantly, where we might go. I am looking forward to trying to be better in 2021 and expect things will indeed get there. So goodbye 2020. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. It feels so small to wish the usual sentiments this year. What I hope for all is health, prosperity, and happiness in the New Year. Where there is loss, healing and warm memories. Where there is fear, comfort and faith. And in all, some rays of sunshine and love. Godspeed.
  5. 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 Horticulturist Supervisor at Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS. Feel like I have been called up to the Bigs Mississippi State was one of several universities to contact me for an interview and I, being a fan of SEC sports, was very excited about that prospect. Throughout my career I had always sought to be part of a significant undertaking. While my previous positions weren't on a big stage, I approached them as if they were. Acting as if we were in the spotlight allowed my groundskeeping teams to perform at a high level even if our audience wasn’t large. Mississippi State is the big stage, nationally renowned as a leading university with an incredible campus landscape operation. Comparing my situation to sports, I am not the star on the team. I may not even be in the starting lineup, but see myself as a role player. I won't get the MVP trophy, but will get a championship ring when our team wins. That’s just fine with me. A role player on a big stage. A successful job search but a delayed start I lost my previous position July 28, 2020. I began my search for new employment immediately. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was very fortunate to have friends, colleagues and an existing network who assisted greatly in my job search. I was offered and accepted my position at MSU in mid-September and was scheduled to start October 1. Unfortunately, someone in my personal circle tested positive for COVID-19 and I had to quarantine for 14 days. In a strangely fortunate way, Coronavirus quarantine is not unusual and MSU was very accommodating. They simply pushed my start date to mid-October. The State of Missouri released me from quarantine and I happily headed south. The scale of the MSU campus will take some getting used to. Much to get used to Entering a new position means there is much to acclimate and orient to. The biggest aspect is that now, as a Team Supervisor, I am no longer over the entire grounds operation. I view this as a benefit because of the wide range of team expertise to draw from. I’ll have plenty of opportunity to make decisions within my sphere but don’t miss having to make all the big decisions. I am having to relearn and adapt to new processes. In Springfield I had long ago settled into many processes and had all my preferred tools. I am confident I’ll take some of the same steps I have in the past, but reevaluating routine anew is useful. Perhaps the biggest adjustment is simply the size of the Mississippi State campus. I started my career on a large campus at George Mason University, but I haven't worked on anything this big in a while. My sense of scale is off and has caused some minor glitches with time/manpower estimation. Fortunately, this is temporary issue and is dwarfed by the endless opportunity the campus size presents. So many possibilities and opportunities to learn When I looked into what MSU had to offer, even beyond the nuts and bolts of my job, I realized the great potential I have before me. Mississippi State University is a land-grant college. This means one focal point of its academics is agriculture, which MSU takes seriously. Some of the programs offered are multiple Agriculture degrees, Horticulture, Landscape Architecture and Landscape Contracting & Management. Within Forest Resources there is Conservation, Forestry and Sustainable Bioproducts. Another very intriguing school is the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Of the many degrees offered in this area, none is more exciting to me than Golf & Sports Turf Management. This program is sanctioned by the PGA and was founded in 1985. Clearly there is an amazing opportunity to integrate our applied work within these schools/programs and learn from industry leaders. Being able to ply my trade in the pursuit of excellence is a great opportunity. So very fortunate I am so happy to be resuming my career at Mississippi State University within Campus Landscape. I recognize very deeply how fortunate I am to have landed at such an organization in this role. There is a clear charge from this organization to strive to be the very best and I am so happy to feel that energy. This job offers me a new chapter in both my professional development and in the potential for new TurfNet blog content. To any of you still searching, have hope and faith. And of course, to the entire TurfNet family, stay safe and best wishes for the future.
  6. If anybody ever needs a lift, Randy Wilson is the source. Rockbottum is TOPS.
  7. Ronald, Sorry for the delay in responding. I am somewhat surprised when there are comments as it is (sadly) not the norm. I am glad that you liked this blog. Job loss and separation is quite a tricky situation. What struck you about this article. Curious about your situation. Let me know? Yours, JF
  8. 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 prepared and likely has planned the change in employment, but the other is not prepared. This can be much hard to manage for an individual and can cause some difficulties returning to productive employment. Having a plan to get back in the saddle can be beneficial and may decrease the amount of time in transition Get Your Head Right Leaving a job amicably to both employer and employee can be a very smooth and even happy occurrence. It is quite the opposite when a job is lost precipitously. Hard feelings can occur on behalf of whichever party was surprised. This sudden separation is particularly hard on a devoted employee. Losing a position without some preparation can feel comparable to losing a loved one. Like any other separation from a meaningful relationship, job loss may result in a grieving process. Symptoms of grieving such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance may occur and in no particular order. Regardless of how you deal with your emotions, be resolute you will get through this situation intact. Negative feelings toward your previous employer are understandable, but ultimately, they do not help you come to acceptance. Avoid falling into a spiral of bad-mouthing or hopelessness as these can delay getting your head right for recovery. To some extent many jobs are about compromise. Not the good compromise of mutual benefit, but the bad compromise of forgoing doing what you like or a paycheck and accepting something short of fulfilling work. Understandably, most people have to work to live and so the daily grind becomes kind of a routine. Losing your job stops that routine cold. Fortunately, now is the chance for freedom to think about what work you might really want to do. Passion is a key trait that accompanies success in many professions, so why not seek a job that matches your passion? Think about what makes you tic and see if there is a job to match. Evaluating your talents is another way to determine what job you should be performing. Combining your passion and talents could be called following your bliss. Take advantage of this juncture between employment to really think about what you’d like to do. The adage “if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life” is true. Assemble Your Info Performing a job search can be like full time work. A first step is to assemble the information needed to tell prospective employers who you are, what you have done, and how you will help them in the future. Your resume, references, and employment history should be collated, telling your career story. Getting professional support is preferable. Like any other profession, career development personnel are specialists. A professional resume and cover letter can set you apart, getting you to the next level of job seeking. Have several people review your documents to see if anything is missed or hard to understand. I also suggest going beyond the normal means of telling your story. Today, our professional lives are online to varying degrees. This is simply the way it is, and one’s online persona is going to become more important and will also become easier to uncover. By adding an online section to your resume, you may help employers find out more about you. Share Your Info Your number one objective must be getting your name/history/resume/application in front of prospective employers. Utilizing all your resources is essential. Think about other colleagues and professionals you have a relationship with. Let them know you are looking for work. Word of mouth can be an important resource for learning about job openings. Go online. LinkedIn, TurfNet, Indeed, and others post jobs. Most any employer will have an employment page to review. Many will let you submit a resume for future consideration of jobs not even posted. Volunteering is another way to stay engaged and could also get your foot in the door. Job hunting is not a time for timidity. Be assertive but remember there are protocols to cold calling about employment. Finding innovative yet acceptable ways to make meaningful contact can demonstrate capability to employers. Get out there and get after it. In It To Win It Being out of work is no fun. The strain and consequences of job loss can be severe and immediate. Most people do not have resources to weather unemployment for very long. It is essential that us unemployed workers do all we can to get back in the saddle because there are no easy answers or magic potions. Do not get down on yourself and do not let anyone else get down on you either. Being unemployed is not about how good a worker you might be. Use all your resources. Now is not the time for half measures as it will be challenging to get back to work. Doing the right things doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does build the odds toward your favor. I appreciate how difficult this time is for unemployed people everywhere. Please do not get defeated. Everyday may be the day the phone call comes with a job offer. * * * * * Further thought: I lost my job July 28th 2020. As soon as he heard, TurfNet Maestro Peter McCormick sent me his article “Fired”, which he had originally written almost 20 years ago from personal experience. From that I learned that my situation is not unusual for our profession. There are a host of potential pitfalls we managers face... all it takes is one to cost you employment. I also learned it is okay to be angry but to not let your resentment (even if justified) rule you. Several of the takeaways he discussed I had already arrived at myself, thus confirming I was still capable of appropriate situational analysis and had not lost my edge. But mostly what I felt was a supportive colleague and community that was rooting for me and could be a resource in pursuing employment and emotional support. It was just what I needed. Thanks so much TurfNet and PM and best wishes to any unemployed TurfNetters out there. JF
  9. 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, yet they happened to others. Now it has hit home. I regret several aspects of how situations like mine have been navigated by myself and others. I would like to present some thoughts on how we might better manage one frequently occurring part of this crisis. It was always just a number I am disappointed in myself for being somewhat cavalier about the suffering of so many during this pandemic. I followed the news as the situation grew and worsened but the consequences were abstract, something that happened to others. I actively followed the recommended precautions for myself, my family and my work. But I must admit that these actions always felt a little like an obligation or mandate. I went back and forth with my support or frustration about the actions taken by everyone (including my employer and government) around me. What I now realize is that too many of my actions and beliefs were based on what these steps meant solely for me. I didn’t take the situation to heart because they were just numbers, devoid of real meaning or personal impact. Be Open About What Is Happening Almost every organization has been stressed in some way by the pandemic. Shutdowns, work from home, workplace physical space and communications have been impacted. This in turn has caused upheaval and challenges to operations, no matter the industry. An employee can do their utmost to stay informed about what their organization is doing to manage the crisis, but unless the entire organization is intent on keeping the team up to speed there will be lapses. It is the lack of sharing accurate and timely information that causes trouble, rather than the specific information shared. If informed and engaged employees from every level are included in decision making, employees could source the ideas and energy to help a company stay afloat and even thrive. Reality surrounds us. Hiding from it will not help you manage it. Seek a Collective Response Early in the crisis, our immediate team sat down and shared our thoughts on our situation. As supervisor I shared what the organizational policy was at the time and my understanding of how the policy came about. I then shared my personal views and how I arrived at them. Next, all team members were asked for their thoughts. Some were eager to share, a couple not so much, and we certainly had a range of viewpoints. But when it came time to create consensus, we came together with a shared plan that everyone agreed to. It met all the requirements of the parent plan but was fleshed out in a way which met the street level application required for our work. Throughout the crisis we have regularly revisited and revised where necessary. Sharing input kept us all involved, created buy-in to our approach, and created a strong sense of team. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Soften the Blow In challenging times people lose their jobs. This is the truth of the matter. Regardless, parting ways with an employee, especially one with a successful work history, should be done with grace and consideration for both parties. Terminating a job is an inevitable part of employment. The question isn’t will an employee leave, it is how. In an organization with strong communication and teamwork, the need to downsize or terminate staff will be widely acknowledged. Preparations by both parties can take place, subtly and/or appropriately, to diminish the potential negative consequences to either party. The decision to eliminate an employee involves any number of metrics. The impact on both parties must be fully considered as well. Terminating an employee should be the last mutually successful task that the company and the employee perform for both each other. Provide Support and Follow Up A successful termination should put both parties in the best possible position to move on to a successful next step. This doesn’t have to be perfectly equitable. A downsized or eliminated employee is obviously faced with the financial, emotional, professional, and health (stress, insurance, etc.) consequences. The employer should provide appropriate documentation, records, pay info, job descriptions, etc. that can be used by the terminated employee to move on. Termination of a co-worker will affect the morale and performance of remaining employees, and a successful separation should be seen as a positive for the company. The employee should also seek to behave professionally and politely, and legally, to not sully their record and reputation. The more amicably a company and employee part ways the better for both parties. Animosity hurts both. Taking a last look at your old job can be less stressful if the separation is handled appropriately. Move On and Be Kind I lost my job, and it is a bitter pill. I now face the challenges, and they are daunting. I am heartbroken, scared, angry, disappointed and worried. But I have not been as impacted by this crisis as many others who face hardship that make mine pale in comparison. My situation is actually helping ;me put those of others in proper perspective. I hope to find a silver lining to this and be able to recover and rebuild my career. What might that be? I don't know. But I owe it to my family, my community, my profession, and of course myself to try to be better in response. I will move on, and God willing, be kind.
  10. 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 entire organization. Actions or mindsets that promote efficient resource management promote the organizations endurance. Sustainability is not only a mechanism for affecting the organizations physical world but is also about finding ways to conserve/enhance resources. While improving recycling is a worthwhile program, sustainability must be thought of in a larger way. Sustainability is all about resources But what are our resources? A narrow definition likely is fuel, fertilizer, water, etc. Some will say money and manpower too. Still others will consider soil, plants, and animals to be resources. All of these are resources and can be depleted irrevocably if we do not manage them wisely. Perhaps the most important aspect of creating sustainability is assigning value to any resource. If something isn’t valued, then protecting it isn’t important. So being more inclusive about what we deem a valued resource is essential. Therefore, we must consider visual appeal, customer appreciation, and ecological benefit resources. Drilling down a bit, playability, marketability and membership (enrollment) are also resources. Our sustainability efforts must rope in all these and consider the relationships between them however loose they might seem. Defining 'Resource Value' How a particular resource is valued is essential to creating its importance, and thereby understanding how likely an organization will protect (conserve) it. An organizations’ principles play a determinant role in outlining the resources it values. What does the organization wish to sustain, and why? How does the organization wish to be viewed by its community? To further muddy the issue though, one needs metrics to determine value. Then, the metrics must be understood (appreciated) consistently throughout the organization. This is just one area where the trouble starts. Inconsistent organizational values diminish the likely success of any sustainability effort. I suggest trees are an irreplaceable and invaluable resource, but others may see them as a hindrance if development is an objective. A unifying clarification for valuing resources must occur before sustainability efforts can be successful. Beautiful and easily maintained, this garden is also valuable because it meets the objectives of its site and use. Defining 'Benefit' It is inescapable that our operations are a transactional equation. We do something, use this resource, and we get something. There is usually a transformation that takes place through commodity exchange. I mow and get a functional playing field. I repair an irrigation break and get water savings. I plant pretty flowers and my customers express satisfaction. When there is a less clear payback, or when one values a transaction differently, then support for that particular effort decreases. Support for sustainability breaks down. Only when the entire organization views sustainability as benefiting themselves will they support sustainability. Put another way, how do I get members of my organization who are apathetic about sustainability to see my trees as a benefit for their success? Money Talks There are many metrics that may be used to evaluate an organization's resource consumption. Some metrics may or may not overlap with the metrics held important to a grounds operation. As a Treehugger (smile when you say that) I feel ecologic benefit and time-cost replacement are powerful metrics regarding landscape benefit. But the golf pro or admissions counselor may not see them as valuable or may even see them as counterproductive. Seeking common metrics, or at the very least respecting another’s metrics lends importance to your own. I suggest that in all instances where we attempt to place value on a resource, money is the most universal metric for determining value. It seems obvious that the units of a business that are deemed most important by that business inevitably have the largest budgets. In my experience, a grounds department is never one of these departments. But, by being frugal and efficient with available resources, a grounds department can demonstrate the ability to maximize resources which certainly enhances the organizations sustainability. By evaluating any sustainability effort by how much it costs, or how much it saves, coupled with how it fulfills organizational goals, an organization can demonstrate to stakeholders if any effort will have cost-benefit and create payback. 'Sustainability' Means to Sustain Sustainability shouldn’t just be associated with environmentalism, recycling, or alternative energy sources. It is far bigger than that. Sustainability is about creating a project or process and then maintaining it successfully for as long as necessary to accomplish organizational goals. Sustainability can apply to staffing, equipment life cycle, strategic goals. In short, every aspect of your organization must be evaluated for how sustainable it is, and sustainability should be woven into all your organizations actions. True sustainability authentically meets the needs of the organization and its community through assessing value, benefit, and cost.
  11. 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 vacant lot (former downtown warehouse space) into a semblance of a native Missouri savannah/prairie edge. The other is attempting to cultivate a stand of turf on a very recently demolished building lot (100% concrete cover) after years under pavement. Trying to return these sites to a modicum of health whereby they can support a landscape has exposed several issues that can make restoration effective. It is easier to protect it than correct it. Site degradation during construction or renovation is largely unavoidable. If there is a building, parking lot, or similar on your site, heavy machinery will be required to perform the first phases of renovation in order to demolish and remove these structures/materials. If you happen to be building on a new site, or components of the site are to remain as is, this heavy disruption may not be as widespread. Regardless, heavy machinery frequently damages components of the site (especially soil) that are to remain and will form the foundation of what is to be rebuilt. Creating no drive zones, covering site with a heavy coating of mulch, or limiting what equipment can be employed on site can all prevent site damage. In addition, I suggest getting all members (grounds professionals or not) to consider site degradation is the approach with the greatest impact. In most cases the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies. Soils damaged during construction/renovation could take years to recover even with the best revitalization methods. Grounds Professionals Must Drive the Recovery Protocol Restoration at a degraded site must follow a reasonable protocol based in good science and grounds management cultural practices. Too frequently the recovery process is dictated by members of the construction team with expertise outside the necessary cultural sphere. “Good black dirt” likely means one thing to excavators and something completely different to Groundskeepers. Soil should be tested before it is approved for use to restore the site. Soil should have the attributes necessary to promote turf and plant growth. Just because a soil is workable doesn’t mean it is suitable for growing crops. Excavator seem to be primarily interested in the way a soil can be spread and levelled. Pulverized soil might work easily but it has no structure or organisms, both of which are essential to good landscape uses. I also believe that the excavator is too focused on the visible top layer of soil. Camouflaged stratification, buried trash and debris, massive compaction and soil inconsistencies all will retard positive results. By unifying the goals/methods of both contractor and Groundskeeper, better results are likely. The finished grading and soil must meet the Groundskeepers specs, not just the excavation contractors. Each Site is Unique For our native restoration, we performed a site analysis and made our initial decisions based on this assessment and our project objectives. Much of this site was formerly a gravel parking lot. It had a crop of weeds (black medic, clover, yellow sweet clover) but no plants from our target list. Our goal was to overseed with soybeans to provide a cover crop, but our seed germinated then perished due to drought. I thought this was a setback until I read up on Sweet Clover (Melilotus officinalis) and found it was very desirable cover crop with a host of restoration benefits. I let this crop grow last year but kept it mowed down regularly. Taking advantage of what the site is telling you has benefits. In our turf establishment project, our biggest obstacle is the soil structure and compaction. The soil that was brought in contained significant clay and silt. It had also been shredded to the consistency of talc. These 2 factors led to compaction over a 6-12” depth (depending on rough grading of site). Our turfgrass grew but stopped growing readily at about 3” top growth. I suggest that the compaction, and water holding capacity of clay, combine to create an anaerobic situation that prevents roots form penetrating deeper into soil. Unfortunately, until the soil forms some aggregate, core aeration won’t provide much relief (think core aerating sand). The lack of organisms that can break down organic matter also has a negative impact on soil structure and fertility. After our soybeans failed, we realized that the sweet clover readily growing on site was already performing the soil restoration. Healthy Landscapes will not appear overnight Healthy landscapes are highly complex systems. This complexity is disguised and sometimes overlooked because of the straight forwardness associated with their success as systems. Plants grow, landscapes survive, grass persists, so how difficult can it be to maintain a healthy landscape. Their success obscures the amazing chemical, biological, and physical interactions and inter-relationships that must occur constantly. Both of these landscapes were massively disrupted and degraded. The damage wrought on soil by development is catastrophic and long lasting. The turf project soil has no worms or ants, and therefore I expect very few soil organisms. The gravel lot in the prairie project is essentially concrete (it doesn’t percolate water despite being aggregate). You cannot quickly overcome sterility with cultural approaches. You can help to create the conditions that will promote recovery (top dressing with organic matter, mowing higher, limit harsh chemicals, etc.) but recovery and ecosystem restoration takes time. The demonstration plot at our Missouri Native plant project shows what we are hoping to achieve.
  12. 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 necessary to get there. Check your watch frequently to stay on schedule. Ask yourself at regular intervals if you are getting the results you want. Call for help if needed. These suggestions gave him practical tools to help him accomplish what we wanted to. I also wanted him to understand why I was coaching him, so I told him the following story. Constructive Contextual Critique While working in Northern Virginia back in the mid 1990’s, for several years I ran the annual Army Ten Miler road race. This race attracts thousands of runners from all over the U.S. and beyond. The field is mostly military, but many civilians run too. It is a truly a great event. One year in particular I ran a respectable (IMHO) 7-minute mile which, while nowhere near the leaders, allowed me to relax and watch the runners behind me work their way to the finish. While urging on my fellow participants, I began to hear a swell of cheers from down the course. As the commotion drew closer, I was able to discern a cadence being shouted. First a deep solitary voice, then a powerful unified response of multiple voices. Everyone around me craned to see what was going on. What came into view was about 30 or so soldiers in combat boots, fatigues, unit tee shirts AND packs. They were all following a leader (no rank distinguishable, but obviously the leader) shouting the cadence and carrying the unit guidon. Coordinated in unity they continued on, and all of us spectators knew they had run like this for ten miles. It was a wonderful display of dedication, unit pride and commitment. Like everyone else watching, I felt a mixture of pride and awe in this effort. As they went by me, my head turned to follow their progress and I noticed the runner standing right next to me. His haircut and US Army tee suggested he was a military man. He said to me “They really look good, don’t they?” To which I replied with respect “Yes, they sure do.” His next statement surprised me a bit: “But they are slow as sh*t.” The Moral of the Story Okay, at this point you may have mixed feelings about this story. Let me clarify my point. The aforementioned unit DID look great. They DID run in unison and demonstrate many of the best values of our US Military. But they were slow. The gentleman’s remarks expressed both pride and accurate acknowledgment of their pace. I like to think it emanated a bit from a sense of unit competition (common in the military AND in grounds crews pursuing excellence) and this man’s own sense of his efforts. I don’t think it was meant to be derogatory or demeaning, simply an objective and truthful assessment of their pace compared to others that had run. Maintaining a high quality landscape requires grounds crews to be good and fast at the same time. My telling this story to my teammate was to illustrate we need to be good and fast (I know fast is a relative term based on reasonable pace for a specific job). It is tricky to be both. The challenge is to improve quality and pace while not compromising either. It was also meant to express to my worker that I can appreciate his current efforts while also seeking to push him to even better performance. This is the nature of constructive criticism. And, sometimes telling an old story can illustrate that point. PS: Once again I want to send out my best wishes for safety and healing to all our nation, deep thanks to the many and diverse heroes on frontlines everywhere, and sincere condolences to those who are suffering loss and fear. #FlattenTheCurve #SlowTheSpread #StaySafeOutThere #Godspeed
  13. 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 crisis. We fully recognize our work doesn’t compare to so many other fields directly fighting COVID19. All we can do is strive to do our best in our role. We every day take very seriously the recommended precautions to prevent transmission and to help flatten the curve. Our DEEPEST THANKS and BEST WISHES to all on the frontlines of this crisis. Spring Will Be Online This Year Everybody looks good in spring. After several months of winter weather, everyone (at least in parts of the country that have cold/snow) is ready for blooms, butterflies, and mild temps. Daffodils emerge and the turf starts to green up. As another growing seasons starts, flowers and fresh growth is everywhere. Nature provides this time of year with all the benefits that bolster the landscape. We have early season bloom ;species, warming soil temps, plentiful rainfall and the stark winter season passing by to provide contrast. A pervasive sense of optimism and rejuvenation makes even us groundskeepers see the beauty of the season. Spring has a lot going for it and for these reasons “everybody looks good in spring.” Sharing the campus… virtually Our campus has cancelled all seated classes and our students have moved out of housing. As approximately 90% of our campus community is remote, I am struggling with how to share the beauty of campus. Fortunately for us Drury Grounds has a robust, albeit not large, social media presence. In addition to our overall numbers, we have a core following that is very much engaged with the message and content we push out. So to try to keep our campus community engaged we are trying to increase the content and frequency. In spring, there are ample opportunities for posting the eye-candy that is so prevalent. These provide a means to share the landscape. Reminding people of the beauty of campus hopefully helps people remember a simpler time, and may provide welcome distraction from this serious situation. Social media like Twitter, Instagram & Facebook can keep your community connected even while they are away. New Growth Is Everywhere All of us in the grounds industry frequently face a similar question. What do you do in the winter? I am not sure of the genesis of this question since no person I’ve ever known that “tills the earth” doesn’t spend the winter as busy as any other season. Maybe it just stems from the dormancy of plants in a temperate climate. Regardless, spring is a time for an amazing flush of new growth. Spring ephemerals and bulbs pop. Buds on trees and shrubs swell. The turf greens up and begins to elongate. After a winter spent waiting, everyone is eager for this spring bonanza. One of the best aspects of this time is the absolute prevalence of newness and rebirth. This flush of life isn’t just limited to plants and trees. The animals and insects that share our campus are awakening and their activity adds to the sense of restoration. While spring bulbs are blooming the next rotation of flowers are growing alongside. Spring Blooms Are Just the Start Here in our landscape, our goal is to have something blooming on our campus at all times. Through smart landscape design and sound plant selection we are continually extending the color rotation. This isn’t as easy as it sounds though. So many of our horticulturally important plants are spring bloomers. This is especially true for trees and shrubs (these plants need to have longer periods to form viable fruit/seeds and need to before the usual onset of summer stress). Nature has preloaded spring flowers because it makes the most sense from a plant-species continuation perspective. In order to differentiate from other landscapes (sometimes that’s what it is about) we seek to use more or different plants in spring. We plant spring bulbs in large drifts in the turf/tree-rings, we mass flowering trees for increased impact, and select natives which are not as prevalent in the landscape trade. A spring flower blitz sets the bar high for the season and leads right into our season-long show. A Spring Unlike Any Other It is a shame that our campus community is not physically present this spring. We feel bad for all the students (think Freshmen, Seniors) that didn’t get to finish their once in a lifetime experience. We feel bad for the Drury Lady Panthers (nationally ranked #1 all season in NCAA D2 WBB) and how they won’t get to compete for a national championship. And of course, we feel bad for our community (and the Grounds Crew) for not getting to appreciate the campus landscape. But these are minor compared to where the world is at this moment. This COVID19 pandemic puts things in perspective. Appreciating spring remotely is nothing compared to the difficulties many people are facing. Our earnest hope is for better springs to come for everyone. Massing trees, native plants, and less than common plants can help differentiate your spring.
  14. 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 can be used to indicate system health) of the system allows managers to evaluate system health. Indicator species exist in all components of the system, but some are more visible than others. For many systems, birds of prey are a very visible and valued indicator species. Redtail Hawks Make a Home We have always had birds on our campus. Several years back, the cast of characters was what you would expect. Robins, Mockingbirds, Cardinals, Sparrows etc. all made their homes at Drury University. Over recent years we have noticed a gradual but continual increase in the frequency and permanent residency of other birds. Eastern Bluebirds, Scissortail Flycatchers, and Killdeer are all now seen on a regular basis. What has proved to be most remarkable is when birds feeding or passing through become residents and rear young on campus. For the last two years, and by all indications this year too, a pair of Red-Tail Hawks is making Drury home. This pair of hawks has successfully raised chicks and hopefully will rear a third brood this year. Eastern Bluebird (above) and Brown Thrasher (below) are two of many bird species that started only recently being spotted on campus. Green Space Supports Adaptable Wildlife Drury University has always had a reasonable population of the birds as you would expect on a mixed-urban campus. Green space, even given low diversity (trees, turf predominant), will always draw and harbor whatever is most adapted to these areas. Squirrels and rabbits easily exist in these areas also, which in turn will attract predatory birds that feed on them. Nature abhors a vacuum, and every niche is exploited and sometimes expanded. Many of the predatory birds common to Missouri can exist in urban areas, adapting to areas that can provide a reasonable facsimile of their necessary habitat. What is more remarkable is when higher level animals change from utilizing an area for forage or rest, to using that area for rearing young. Increased Diversity Results of a Sustainable Strategy The method we used to increase diversity on our campus was a multi prong approach. First, we expanded our planting palette. By adding different plants along the whole plant type spectrum (trees, small trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials, predominantly native) we increased the variety of food, habitat, and cover that were available to animals on campus. This stratification of the landscaped environment coupled with intentional design increased the complexity of landscaped areas and also creates green corridors. By increasing the variety within planted areas, and considering the vertical expansion of these areas, we maximized the niches available for exploitation by a variety of organisms. We also decreased the use of chemicals both for pest management and for fertilization. Regardless of how targeted any pesticide is, there is the potential for off target impacts. Increasing planting complexity with trees, shrubs, and perennials (including natives) even in small doses increases habitat opportunity for many organisms, including birds. Popularity on Campus Birds are a popular aspect of the landscape for the community whether by intentional birders or just the casual passerby. Birds add to the community’s understanding of the landscape through watching them fly, feed, and hearing them sing. What has been the biggest surprise though is how our campus community has adopted the Red-Tail Hawks as a member of our community, essentially treating them as a pseudo-mascot. Red-Tails have a wing of about 4 feet and stand around 20-24”. This makes them a presence on our campus. I frequently hear stories from campus of these hawks flying right by someone’s head or feeding in a tree close by. It is quite a sight to see these birds in action. We (the Grounds Crew) have been active in promoting all birds through our social media but pay special attention to the hawks. Several people on campus share photos and comments regularly throughout the community. Birds Help Tell Your Story Our campus birds, especially the red-Tail hawks have been a shot in the arm for our campus and our Grounds Crew. They really are an illustration of all our success in maintaining the ecological and sustainable direction of our campus. Much like the bald eagle did for endangered species, and the Monarch Butterfly is doing for pollinators, these hawks have become a symbol and benchmark for the Drury University environment. They give a tangible ecological aspect to what the landscape can provide to an organization. Golf courses have long known the value of birds on a course. We have within the last several years learned how beneficial they are for our campus also. Reproducing birds on campus are sure signs that the campus landscape is healthy. This system health is clearly demonstrated by baby hawks fledging (above), baby Blue Jays (below) and Killdeer eggs (bottom). All pics taken in 2019.
  15. Dear TurfNet Readers, IMHO this article primarily addresses parts of the landscape aside from the golf course, but the same dynamic applies. I sincerely wish/hope that your golfers appreciate the winter course for all it has to offer during a season when growth factors conspire against you. Playable greens, tee-boxes, and fairways in the depth of winter throughout the country (Canada too!) is a remarkable horticultural feat. My limited experience with golf course maintenance is the seemingly counter intuitive capability to see play on a beautiful brown Zoysia fairway surrounded by beautiful green(ish) rough back into beautiful brown OOB. keep up the good work all! JF
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