Consider doing this as a business?

greatlakesmower(5)April 11, 2007

Has anyone considered doing organic lawn care as a business? Not necessarily mowing, but applying fertilizer, pre-em, etc. much like ChemLawn or Scotts, but done organically. I live in what could be considered a "blue" market with interest in all things organic, but I am not sure it would be lucrative.

Any thoughts?


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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I used to be the moderator for the Organic forum of a lawn professionals group on the Internet. I believe you can do an organic lawn care business, but there are certain things you are not allowed to do by most state licensing bodies. The big one is the materials you use need to be labeled for their intended purpose and applied strictly according to the directions on the bag. Now I understand the concept behind such a rule. Anyone with a truck could drive up with a bag of vacuum cleaner dust and call it fertilizer (which, by the way, wouldn't be a bad idea), but you get the idea. The problem as I see it is you become limited to commercially available organic fertilizer. That stuff costs 6x more than, say, corn meal.

Another way to approach the business, and I'm not sure it would fly, but you could sell yourself as a handyman who would apply any of several various organic materials SELECTED BY THE HOMEOWNER. Oh by the way, you happen to sell those materials out of the back of your truck. So they could buy a plain brown bag of corn meal from you for twice what you paid for it, and you would apply it for $60/hour. You could carry a bunch of explanatory pamphlets to help the homeowner in selecting from the materials you sell. But the second you open your mouth to recommend something that isn't labeled for a specific purpose, you're in violation of some rule. One way of phrasing the benefits of certain materials that seems to fly around here is to carefully use the following words, "I use vinegar at my house to kill weeds," or, "Other people like to use corn meal to kill fungal disease," or, "Compost tea is popular on the Internet forums." In any case you cannot make a definitive claim that vinegar kills weeds because it has never been tested by any state approved organization. Your clients need to be absolutely clear on that. You might even have terms and conditions on a form they sign before you apply.

If you get into this business, good luck. There are people out to trap you. I would be very leery of anyone who acted a little hinky about signing, or who really pressed you to commit to the benefit to plants or even to the soil of anything you might sell or apply.

A couple keys to making money are
1. Don't sell anything for less than twice what you paid for it, and
2. Perform your services for the going rate of a local plumber. I picked $60 per hour, but if plumbers cost more or less in your area, you charge what they charge. That's what people expect to pay.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2007 at 5:54PM
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greenjeans_il(zone5 IL)

Could repackaging and labeling be a way around the laws you mentioned? Why couldn't someone buy a pallet of soybean meal, corn meal and alfalfa meal; mix it, bag it and print a label off their computer? The ingredient list would be fairly simple. I could even reuse the bags the meal came in as the only label on them is a small paper tag. The bags themselves aren't printed or anything. Quantities of said ingredients could be manipulated to address certain issues similar to what the synthetic companies do. "Grow your own" so to speak.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2007 at 10:14AM
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subywu(z5 neOH KBG)

There is already at least one company in my area that does this. I don't know how their business will do if the cost of grains keeps going up like it has been though--I would bet that a lot of customers will balk at the difference in cost before too long.

Here is a link that might be useful: Good Nature

    Bookmark   April 12, 2007 at 1:34PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I'm pretty sure lawn care products have to be registered in each state. If a product makes a claim about fertility, it has to have the NPK te$ted. Unfortunately for the organic fertilizers, they don't have to have the complete list of necessary plant nutrients. Clearly this industry favors the big chemical companies.

A homeowner can put most anything he wants to on his own lawn, except for certain herbicides, and, of course, nerve gas.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 1:51AM
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