Green Landscaping Company Brings Sustainably Grown Food to Customers’ Doorsteps
December 14, 2011 | Jessica Vernabe
The owners of Revolution Landscape have more than just green thumbs—they have a green approach to landscaping that focuses on conserving water, maintaining native plants, reusing resources and sustainably growing organic fruits and vegetables.
Jeff Robbins and Ari Tenenbaum founded the San Diego-based company in 2008 with just a truck and some tools. The company has since grown from being just the two of them to employing a staff of eight—five of them being permanent employees. Revolution Landscape now has completed nearly 50 projects, which include the construction of edible gardens and native landscapes mostly in residential communities, Robbins said. There is now a waitlist building, and the entrepreneurs are looking to expand, particularly in the commercial and nonprofit sector.
Robbins said the company has evolved from handling simple landscaping jobs to more complex sustainable projects, such as one that included re-routing a client’s gutters so they transport rainwater to 200-gallon storage units that are connected to irrigation systems.
Revolution Landscape uses various tactics to make their projects sustainable. They have chickens and worms that produce manure and compost, which are used in place of synthetic fertilizers on customers’ gardens. (The worms feed on vegetable scraps that the company collects from the own clients.) They use native plants that don’t need supplemental irrigation and that can serve as natural habitats for birds and insects. They also use drip irrigation and focus on using as little water as possible. Robbins estimates that his business uses about 60 percent less water than the average landscaper.
“We think really hard about where we’re planting things,” he said. “If we have a hillside where we know that night dew condensation is going to collect and eventually make its way down the soil to the lower part of the hills, we’ll plant fruit trees at the bottom of the hill because we know there’s water available there.”
San Diego resident John Curington said Revolution Landscape did a xeriscape project—or type of landscape project specifically for dry environments—at his home about a year ago, which has helped him to conserve water.
“They did a fine job of installing a very ecologically friendly drip irrigation system,” Curington said. “With the system, a sprinkler system, a lot of that water goes into the atmosphere through evaporation. With this system, it just drips right into the ground.”
He also liked the fact that Revolution Landscape suggested plants that were appropriate for a dry landscape, he said.
Robbins said he and his business partner are also looking at making their transportation more sustainable. Within the next year, they hope to have their diesel truck running on recycled vegetable oil, he said.
Revolution Landscape is projecting its revenue this year we will be between $200,000 and $300,000, compared to the $65,000 it generated in its first year, according to Robbins.
Robbins and Tenenbaum were high school friends who went off to separate colleges—Robbins to the University of Michigan, where he got a business degree, and Tenenbaum to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he got a degree in plant science.
It wasn’t long after they graduated that they decided to team up and combine their two passions. (While Robbins studied business, his grandparents ran a farm in Iowa, and he always had an interest in nature, he said.)
Before forming the company, Robbins said he was making a lot of money working in a business consulting job. Wanting to pursue his passion for the outdoors, he saved enough money to purchase a landscaping truck and went into business with Tenenbaum in early 2008, he said.
The duo started small, completing their first job for a family friend who wanted to use less water and grow organic produce on his property. Robbins said they started out by doing the design and labor themselves and mainly just served residential communities the La Jolla area. In 2009, they started to expand to other San Diego communities and farther away—as far north as Carlsbad—for certain projects.
“We started getting jobs via word of mouth, so there were no marketing costs for us,” Robbins said, noting the money they made went right back into the business. “We bought another truck, and then eventually bought a large trailer and then jut grew organically.”
As the company grew, so did its workforce. Revolution Landscape reached a point where it could offer jobs to recent college graduates who studied in areas such as environmental science, ecology and urban farming. In 2010, Robbins and Tenenbaum started trying to expand into the commercial and nonprofit sector, and they landed a project with the San Diego Blood Bank, Robbins said.
Revolution Landscape is currently helping design and implement a sustainable landscape for a group home for developmentally disabled adults. The facility is operated by nonprofit group TERI, Inc. and is located in Vista, which is located in northern San Diego County.
TERI received a grant to turn the property’s quarter-acre backyard into an “urban farm” that is 80 percent edible and 20 percent decorative, said Bill Mara, TERI’s chief operating officer. It will include a sensory garden with different types of herbs and flowers, a butterfly garden, wide walkways and native California plants that require less water, Mora said.
Robbins said there will also be wheelchair-accessible vegetable beds, a variety of fruit trees and musical instruments, such as drums and rain sticks. He said one sustainable feature of the project is that the Revolution Landscape is reusing PVC pipes they pull out of the ground to make growing structures for gourd. Robbins said gourd plants, which can be used to make objects such as bowls.
“(We’re) figuring out what we can do with everything that we have here on site and reincorporating it into the landscape to build something new with the old and minimizing our waste and our environmental impact,” Robbins said.
Mara said the thing that makes Revolution Landscape stand out as a landscaper is the owners’ ability to think outside of the box.
“They came up with a fabulous plan for us and a design that really met all of our needs,” he said. “They listened to us, and they were very creative.”
Other future goals for Revolution Landscape include doing more projects with health care institutions, such as hospitals that need stimulating outdoor environments for patients, and eventually making their services more accessible to the low-income community.
“How do we get (to) the people who need access to local organic foods the most? How do we service them?” Robbins asked. “That’s going to be one of our initiatives over the next five years.”
The following is a video in which Jeff Robbins, co-founder of San Diego-based Revolution Landscape, discusses his background and his company’s approach to designing, building and maintaining sustainable “edible landscapes” for San Diego area residents and businesses.