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On Saturday, November 28, 2015, start your holiday season off right by scheduling installation of Christmas decorations by A Yard & A Half Landscaping Cooperative.

We can prepare your home or business for holiday festivities with indoor and outdoor arrangements of evergreens, berries, and branches; roping, wreathes, and kissing balls; holiday landscape lighting; poinsettias; and even Christmas tree delivery.

As a thank you for supporting small and locally-owned businesses, if you contact us on Small Business Saturday for your holiday decorating, we will include a free 20″ mixed evergreen wreath with your installation.

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Why Support Us on Small Business Saturday and Every Day?

A Yard & A Half Landscaping Cooperative is a 28-person, 100% worker-owned business. When you spend money with us, it stays in the Boston-area economy, as we pay workers from East Boston and Lynn, a floral shop in South Boston, a Sudbury nursery, a hardware store in Waltham. On average, coops source three times as many of their products locally than conventional corporations, and we’re no exception.

Profits stay local, too, supporting our pro bono work with local charities, creating more jobs, and making better lives for our families and neighborhoods. And because we live and work here just like you, we make sure that we’re making the best business decisions to benefit the local community, from avoiding synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to recycling all of our plant pots and organic waste.

If this sounds like an approach you want to support, contact us via our webform or call 781-788-8855.

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On Tues Oct 27, 2015, the Brookline Board of Selectmen took a vote of no action on Warranty Article 10, which would place a year-round ban all gas-powered blowers. The article was amended to exempt Town crews, the country club and golf course, but still was not recommended by the board. (Update: on 11/18/15, the Town Meeting voted to refer the question to a moderator’s committee. More details and background here.)

As a company concerned with the environment and with the health of both workers and community members, we agree that blowers are overused by both groundskeepers and homeowners. However, we are also concerned about the unintended consequences of a 100% ban on blowers, which we believe would disproportionately impact small businesses, workers, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. Here are our responses to some major points of the blower ban proponents:

1. Contractors don’t care.” There will always be contractors who break the rules. It’s up to Brookline to figure out how to enforce them. But a complete ban would primarily hurt those small, locally-owned businesses who do follow the rules. We even go our of our way voluntarily to try to do the right thing:
– We signed on to Quiet Communities and asked to be listed by Newton Safe & Sound as contractors who will perform hand-raking
– We spent the extra money to invest in blowers that meet the 67 decibel regulations, including electric ones.
– We pay living wages and benefits to our workers to create a stable, well-trained workforce. Our workers are not disposable; they want the company to be perceived as a good neighbor and community member.
2. “Banning blowers protects workers.”
If the blower ban is passed, we will be out-competed by irresponsible companies who hire day laborers as a cheap, short term source of manual labor to do hand-raking. These workers will not get basic protections of employment law like minimum wages, overtime, or workers compensation in case of injury. This blower ban will primarily hurt the very workers who are making Brookline a nice place to live. Landscaping workers may work 60 hours a week for 6 weeks removing leaves. They will face an increase in repetitive strain injuries from use of rakes or handheld electric blowers. If they’re not covered as employees under workers comp, they will likely be sent packing if they’re injured.
3. “Just rake your own leaves, already! Or pay someone else to do it.” The exemption for Town crews will save Brookline taxpayers some money, but the ban will raise costs for those homeowners who can least afford it: senior citizens & those with disabilities might not be able to do their own hand-raking, and will be hard hit by increases in costs to have someone else do their leaf removal. Alternately, they may not clean up leaves. That’s great for the soil, but neighbors might not like the messy look, and leaves in storm drains will increase street flooding problems.
4. “But blowers are so noisy…” At 80-100 decibels, walk-behind lawn mowers are actually louder than the 67 decibel blowers required under Brookline’s existing regulations. And that’s not to mention chainsaws, wood chippers, or excavators. Blowers have been targeted because often several are running at a time. Rather than an outright ban, Brookline might consider regulations similar to Cambridge and Arlington, which limit the number of blowers that can be used at any one time, based on the size of the property.
5. “What about the effect of blowers on allergies, asthma, and blood pressure?” We aren’t epidemiologists, but Alan Balsam, Brookline’s health director, has said that the Advisory Council on Public Health “found no compelling health threat” from the use of blowers in accordance with Brookline’s current regulations. Even the American Lung Association has recently acknowledged that the primary concern for pollution from 2-stroke engines comes from machines manufactured before 2012 EPA guidelines went into effect.

To learn more about what local landscapers are doing to be responsible blower users, go to BrooklineLeaves.org

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cooperative word cloud

In the month of April, Future Boston is running a series of guest posts about the Cooperative sector and how we are transforming the Boston economy. We appreciated the opportunity to share our perspective, along with our friends at Restoring Roots Permaculture Co-Op.

The most exciting thing about becoming a worker-owned cooperative is seeing each member blossom as an owner, and seeing a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Two weeks after the purchase, we had a bobcat, truck, and trailer stolen from our yard. Even though it was winter and many people were off work, everyone jumped to action, retracing steps, looking for clues, filing insurance paperwork, spreading the word. What could have been our first opportunity for finger-pointing and defensiveness was instead our first successful test of solidarity, where our different strengths and ways of looking at a problem came together.

We’re naturally good with rocks, plants, soil, and rulers. Democratic business ownership comes with a whole set of new behaviors and skills: speaking up in meetings, asking questions, taking notes, finding more information, networking, reading financial statements, setting goals, evaluating success. It’s exciting to see that even those of us with 12, 15, 19 years with the company have more to learn. We’re grateful to be a part of the vibrant cooperative community in Boston and beyond, where the value of  “cooperation among cooperatives” has given us good partners on the journey.

Read the whole post here.

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In the process of funding our worker-cooperative, we found ourselves making the case again and again for the economic and social value of coops. This little infographic shares a little of what we learned about the cooperative difference:

Infographic on economic and social impact of cooperatives

Data from:

http://teamworks.coop/pdf/taking_root_june2012.pdf 

 

http://www.cooperativefund.org/sites/default/files/CFNE%20and%20the%20Cooperative%20Response%20to%20Economic%20Crisis.pdf

http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/how-cooperatives-are-driving-the-new-economy/just-the-facts-what-s-so-good-about-co-ops

http://www.esopinfo.org/infographics/economic-power-of-employee-ownership.php 

http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/10/are-baby-boomers-ready-to-exit-their-businesses

http://community-wealth.org/strategies/panel/coops/index.html

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Small Business Saturday

When you shop locally, 50% more of your money remains in the local economy, creating jobs and increasing wages for your neighbors. Skip the big box stores and national chains on Cyber Monday, and instead go local today for Small Business Saturday.

Here are links to Boston-area cities with LocalFirst initiatives:

 

Ironically, a large credit card processor has partnered with the Small Business Administration to promote “Shop Small,” even though processing fees an be a real challenge for small businesses trying to keep prices competitive while paying a living wage and providing good benefits to workers. Rather than going for the “Get 10% off when you use your AmEx card” deals, pay cash and participate in the local and independent “Shift Your Shopping for Good” initiative: shop participating local businesses and designate the charity of your choice to receive a percentage of your purchase!

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toddler picking and eating strawberries

Picking strawberries at “our” CSA farm

 

I usually listen to Chris Brogan‘s podcast because he has great stuff to say about being a human doing business with humans. But I have to share yesterday’s episode with you because he’s talking sustainability with John Blue of Truffle Media. Listen here.

The real juicy part for me was around minutes 18-26, where John goes into some background on the National Organic Program, and the increasingly meaningless use of words like “natural”, “sustainable”, “local”, and “family-owned”.  At least when it comes to food, “organic” still has a technical meaning as defined by the USDA & NOP. (As of now, there is no organic certification for landscaping — more on that here).  Those other buzz words are just as meaningless in the grocery store as at the garden center. Nonetheless, companies from Whole Foods to Walmart are responding to the consumer interest in organics, and to the extent that we continue to be smart consumers and vote with our wallets, that’s probably a change for the better.

You (if you’re like most of our clients) choose natural and organic because it’s good for your body, your family, and the earth. You choose sustainable and local because it’s good for the environment and community. But as Chris points out in his podcast, to really know what you’re feeding your kids, you have to go to the farm to see the happy hens scratching in the chicken tractor, getting the fallow fields ready for planting. And to know the impact of what you’re feeding your soil and plants, you have to know the folks who you are inviting into your yard.

As it often does with the Human Business Way podcast, it ultimately comes back to the human side of business: taking care of people (employees, clients, community-members, partner businesses) makes the business sustainable, strong, stable. We couldn’t provide custom maintenance plans tailored to each customer and property without investing in training each employee on soil conditions, hand-pruning of different types of shrubs, identification of pests and diseases. Without relationships with industry associations who keep us current on new codes and technical specifications, we would be foolish to provide our lifetime guarantee on the patios, driveways, and walls that we build. And most importantly, being responsive to feedback from clients and design partners drives us to constantly improve.

It’s our 25th year in business. We’ve got some cool stuff to share with you this year. But for now, let us know how we’re doing. Does this stuff matter to you? Reply in the comments, post on Facebook or drop me an email at carolyn (at) ayardandahalf (dot) com.

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