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MICRO-COURSE: Why the Grower Program?

What's in this course.

The modern landscaping paradigm & landscapers.

America is covered in lawns. So much so that there are almost 50 million acres of turf from sea to shining sea. Since the 1970’s, the landscaping and lawn care industry has grown into a $128.8b behemoth, with over 600k companies vying to mow and blow all 50 million acres of American lawn. It employs millions of people and has become as ubiquitous in the US as its culinary counterpart, the fast food joint. Landscaping and lawn care is a juggernaut, chugging across America’s golf courses, apartment buildings, corporate developments, and yards and leaving a growing, but hidden suite of ecological and societal problems in its wake.

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Landscaping trends are shifting.

After decades of mow and blow, people are starting to catch on to the detrimental effects of existing landscaping practices.

Multiple news sources, The Washington Post, Yahoo! News, and The New York Times, to name a few, are releasing articles about the negative effects of lawns. Drought-stricken states out west are creating programs to financially reimburse those that reimagine their landscapes to minimize their water consumption. The pandemic skyrocketed demand for ecological landscaping as more and more Americans took up gardening and became more climate conscious. These evolving trends are leading to a larger landscaping market shift. People are beginning to realize they can achieve net zero emissions, conserve water, reduce air pollution, and grow food by simply changing their landscaping practices. All without increasing their existing landscaping budget.

While the demand for ecological landscapes, or Productive Urban Landscapes as we like to call them, is high, the pool of landscapers and landscaping companies that can meet this demand is less than 3%. As proven previously, this gap in the industry is not for lack of consumer demand but rather for lack of educational tools and knowledge available for landscapers to implement desired ecological solutions.

How modern landscaping affects workers.

Since the 1600s, American landscapes have evolved from no-nonsense productive home gardens to carefully manicured lawns and decoratively trimmed hedges. Modern landscaping takes on a more aesthetic approach, where the focus is on cleanliness, simplicity, and complimenting shapes, rather than on productivity. However, this “cleanliness” of modern landscapes is a driving force for America’s alarming destruction of biodiversity, soil erosion, environmental pollution, and greenhouse gasses. And who is looking after all these mowed lawns and trimmed hedges? You guessed it - landscape workers. Maintaining these “mow and blow” environmentally degrading lots is not only extremely labor-intensive, but it also puts workers in harms’ way as they encounter a variety of hazards in a typical days’ work.

Tools and machinery.

The gas-powered equipment used in modern landscaping are not only extremely detrimental to wildlife, biodiversity, and soil health, but they also cause significant noise and air pollution, thus posing a major threat to workers themselves. Blowers can put out as much as 100 decibels of noise and produce harmful fumes made up of formaldehyde, benzene, and particulate matter.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), gas powered lawn mowers produce as much volatile gas emissions in one hour as 11 new cars being driven for an hour. It was also found that gas powered lawn machinery makes up for five percent (and even more in urban areas) of America’s total air pollution. And if that wasn’t bad enough, microscopic, ultra-fine particles have also been found in the fumes of gas powered landscape machinery, which can lead to serious health problems such as lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and asthma. It’s easy to see how alarming it is for landscape workers to be inhaling these toxic fumes day in and day out.

Chemical exposure.

Modern landscapes rely heavily on herbicides and pesticides to maintain their weed and pest-free aesthetic. Overexposure to these toxic chemicals can lead to mild, moderate, or even severe poisoning. Mild symptoms include a variety of ailments including headache, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. These symptoms can worsen to moderate levels including vomiting, rapid heart rate, blurred vision, or even more severe symptoms such as the inability to breathe, loss of reflexes, or even death. In response to the obvious dangers of these chemicals, Roots Down promotes the installation of Productive Urban Landscapes, which use no synthetic chemicals and promote biodiversity as low-input food forests and pollinator gardens.

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The Grower Program.

In order to ensure that government landscapers, or third-party vendors, have the knowledge and resources necessary to design, build, and maintain Productive Urban Landscapes, we’ve developed a certification criteria called the Grower Program. Ranging from multi-day seminars, to ongoing training courses, certifications, and hands-on experiences, the Grower Program provides the landscaping industry with an important new standard for all public landscaping professionals.

Growers: the next generation of land stewards.

The Grower Program opens up more business opportunities for landscaping companies and reimagines what it means to be a modern day earth steward. Gone are the days of long hours spent on eardrum shattering equipment, interacting with cancerous herbicides and pesticides, and breathing in toxic greenhouse gas emissions and dangerous particle pollution that can cause increased rates of asthma and other cardiovascular diseases. This new landscaping paradigm provides opportunities for Growers to spend their days weeding pollinator gardens, trimming bushes and trees, and harvesting fruit and nuts for the public. The maintenance of these spaces naturally creates a new category of semi-skilled employment that can pay better, eliminates many of the worst health effects of traditional landscaping, and is a slower and more thoughtful public role.

The Grower Program is a solution for a growing market demand, a catalyst for local climate action, an improvement for landscaper and community health, and brings landscapers into the 21st Century Green Job Revolution.



How to talk to your landscaper.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), gas-powered machines used in America’s 40 million acres of modern landscaping contribute to over 5% of America’s total air pollution and greenhouse gasses. The maintenance required to maintain these landscapes is contributing to climate change at an alarming rate. In addition to their contribution to climate change, gas powered machinery is incredibly destructive to the natural habitats of local biodiversity, for soil health, and for the health and well-being of the workers. Don’t even get us started on the harmful effects of herbicides and pesticides!

You might be asking yourself, “how can I help in the fight against climate change?”. We’ve got you covered – here are some tips on how you can become an earth steward in your own backyard by simply talking to your landscaper.

Ecologically-friendly landscaping.

First and foremost, determine what aspects of landscaping can be more ecologically friendly. Modern mow and blow landscaping practices are mainly concerned with looks. Regardless of whether their yard is "healthy" or not, most homeowners want it to look nice. If you love a neat, groomed appearance, switching to healthy yard practices does not require you to sacrifice a nice, clean look. Instead, there are several alternative, more ecologically friendly methods to removing debris. For example, leaves can be mulched (by chopping them up into smaller pieces with a lawnmower) or composted to feed your lawn and garden. Alternatively, more eco-friendly methods of using electric machinery and/or hand tools for smaller jobs is also always an option.

Additionally, installing Productive Urban Landscapes are a great alternative to applying harmful chemicals, where the habitats of beneficial predatory insects (these are the good guys) are preserved, allowing them to take care of your pests naturally.

Talk with Your Landscaper.

Start a conversation with your landscaper by first determining your goal, then explaining to them why you would like to achieve this goal, and finally, discussing potential options. For example, you can open the conversation by explaining that you would like to reduce or eliminate the use of gas-powered leaf blowers on your property due to the ecological damages that they cause then discuss potential solutions together.

Another great option would be to refer them to participate in Roots Down’s Grower Program, or even simply download the Roots Down app for more ecological education – which you yourself can do today!

The key thing to remember is to not be afraid to talk to your landscaper about implementing more ecologically friendly practices – they might even thank you for it! After all, they might learn a thing or two!


How you can help.

Looking for something you can do to help change the landscaping industry?


  1. Save the image below to your phone.

  2. Add it to your favorites.

  3. Get landscapers in your neighborhood to scan the QR code.


"Have you heard about the Grower Program? It's an inexpensive new course through Georgia Piedmont Technical College where you can learn how to save money and grow your business using more environmentally-friendly methods. Would you be interested in learning more?"

Additional notes.

  1. Productive Urban Landscapes: Dynamic landscapes that integrate some elements of traditional landscaping (like organized planting patterns and areas to sit, eat, and play), but bring in elements of the natural world (like biodiversity, pollinator habitats, etc.) and plants that provide us with food (like veggies, berries, and fruit trees)

  2. This is an estimation based on Georgia’s market. According to IBIS World there are 26,304 landscaping businesses in Georgia. 3% of 26,304 is roughly 790 businesses. When searching for ecological landscaping services in Georgia it is difficult to even find 100, much less 700. Therefore, we estimate there are less than 3% of ecological landscaping businesses in the US.

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