Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on July 15th, 2008 at 3:11 pm
Portlanders love their gardens, their bikes, and their Mother Earth, so it’s no wonder that David Darby’s new business has taken off.
Darby is the man behind Fossil Fuel Free Lawn and Garden Care, a bike-powered business based in Southeast Portland that he started just four months ago. Darby provides lawn care services using only hand tools and he gets to all his jobs by bike.
Last week, I met up with Darby and his co-worker Prentiss Darden at a warehouse space he rents in the Sellwood neighborhood (just south of Powell Blvd.).
As we rolled out to the day’s job about a mile away, I admired Darby’s custom-made trailer, complete with holsters for the tools of his trade — a broom, a rake, a shovel, and several other gardening implements. I wasn’t surprised he’d made it himself, because Darby (who also goes by “Chops”) is also one of the founding members of the Dropout Bicycle Club, a local group of freak-bike builders.
As we rode through the neighborhood, Darby told me he was inspired to start his business by a friend who tried something similar a few years ago.
“I’d been thinking about it for a while,” he said, “and I noticed the neighborhood near my warehouse space. It’s pretty liberal and the people care about the environment.” Darby took the plunge and launched his business because he says, “It was the right thing to do at the right time.”
His move has paid off. According to Darby, the business is “way more” than he expected. He’s got several regular customers and word of mouth is spreading all the time. While I was interviewing him for this story, several passersby saw the trailer and yelled out things like, “That’s an awesome idea.”
Besides appealing to the locals’ eco-friendly sensitivities, Darby says his lower overhead means he can compete with larger companies on price:
“Landscaping companies that have a lot of power tools and the big trucks to carry them around in, their overhead is insane. Our overhead isn’t that much and we can charge less than them and still make the same and even more money than they do.”
Darby says using human-powered tools may take longer, but he also charges much less per hour than other companies.
“Most clients are concerned about the environment, they don’t want leaf-blowers out in front of their house.”
Homeowner Brett Bradley says he hired Darby to help transform his corner lot from head-high grass and weeds into a garden that would produce food. He said Darby’s company is perfect, “For people that don’t want to do it themselves, and want to do the right thing.”
Darby says for now, he tries to keep all clients within a bike-able distance of his shop (longer rides require a travel-time fee). He hopes someday to see other gas-free gardening businesses spring up all over the city.
So far, he’s relied on word-of-mouth and a few postcard ads delivered around the neighborhood. But Darby knows he onto something:
“I’ll see a landscaper with a big truck pull by while we’re working and sort of smile and chuckle, but I’m thinking, don’t you laugh man, you’ll be working for us soon.”
Hear more from Darby and see Fossil Fuel Free Lawn and Garden Care in action in the short video below: