Sustainable and Edible: The Friendly Way to Landscape
While many landscaping companies can make your yard look beautiful, Meghan Giroux, the owner and co-director of Vermont Edible Landscapes in Richmond, Vermont, has made it possible for people in the greater Burlington area to beautify their outdoor spaces while also helping the Earth. Individuals and families that want to grow their own food or create a sustainable landscape while adding charm and beauty to their properties can turn to Vermont Edible Landscapes to help them do so.
A vast expanse of green grass is idyllic for picnicking and playing, but it’s not very productive. Alternative landscaping helps to save water, reduce fuel spills and pollution from mowers, and decrease the widespread use of fertilizers. It also allows individuals, families, and business owners in the community to become more self-sustaining when it comes to their food supply.
What exactly is an edible landscape? As defined by Oregon State University, edible landscaping is the use of food producing plants in the residential landscape. It combines fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and other ornamental plants into aesthetically pleasing designs.
“Instead of planting ornamental species, we are focused on planting edible fruit trees and shrubs,” said Meghan. “We want our landscapes to be multifunctional in the sense that people can eat what’s growing on their property.”
It was so great. They were so willing to take the time to talk with me about different options for financing my business.
Vermont Edible Landscapes likes to think about all of the functions that plants in a garden or landscape can have.
“We like to think of ecological landscapes as those that require little inputs but produce large outputs, in ways that don’t utilize chemical fertilizers,” Meghan explained.
Meghan has always loved being in nature and growing plants. Years ago, she lived on Maple Wind Farm in Huntington. Now, she operates her business in Richmond and serves clients of all sizes.
Vermont Edible Landscapes started as a very small business focused on helping community members develop vegetable gardens. Gardens turned into small orchards. As the projects grew, Meghan had to keep up by digging into all of the resources that she could. She became more educated, and more people called on her to help their gardens grow.
“It was a pretty organic process, no pun intended,” laughed Meghan when she described the way the business got off the ground.
She eventually needed more space on which to grow her plants, so she reached out to Beth Whiting and Bruce Hennessey, the owners of Maple Wind Farm. They were accommodating and provided Meghan with several acres of land.
In 2013, Vermont Edible Landscapes opened a nursery and an experimental orchard on the property. It’s the perfect setting; Meghan thinks of the business as a diversified farm. Vermont Edible Landscape, LLC is a land planning business focused on the development of agro-ecosystems. Meghan works with clients to design, install, and establish ecologically regenerative landscapes.
She approaches land management through an agrarian lens utilizing a variety of diverse biological disciplines. Her services include: Site evaluation, planning, and development. As an extension of the land planning business Meghan operates a small nursery that offers a wide range of planting materials to help support both residential and agricultural projects. She is solely focused on growing perennial plants that sequester carbon, produce food, fodder or medicine.
As for whether there is a great need for this type of business, Meghan thinks so. She believes that people should take ownership of what they eat and focus some of their energy and resources on producing their own food.
In fact, a few years ago, she noticed that some of her best clients weren’t eating the food that grew in their garden, but she knew that other people in the community would greatly benefit from growing their own sustenance. Along with Vermont Community Garden Network, the company raised more than $10,000 to develop an edible landscaping toolkit of knowledge, education, and resources to provide to homeowners, conservation groups, and housing managers.
The inherently experimental aspect of the business made it challenging to secure funding, however. Meghan says that Vermont Edible Landscapes would not have qualified for a traditional bank loan or business line of credit. She inquired at the bank that held her checking account, but she was denied.
Then, she remembered Opportunities Credit Union. The interest rates at Opportunities had appealed to Meghan when she had taken out her first auto loan. That’s when she had discovered the Credit Union’s mission to reinvest in the community. At the time, that was enough to make her choose Opportunities over any other financial institution. She felt as though Opportunities took small leaps of faith with every member of the community in order to help them become financially stable and improve their quality of life.
It was these same values that brought her back to Opportunities Credit Union when it was time to finance her small business. Her first point of contact was Greg Huysman, Senior Business Development Manager, who supported her throughout the process.
“Greg’s amazing,” said Meghan. “Greg just makes things happen. He’s awesome. He’s quite an asset to the Credit Union.”
Meghan also applauded Opportunities on their customer service. ”It was so great,” said Meghan. “They were so willing to take the time to talk with me about different options for financing my business. The fact that they were reinvesting their money in the community, were really good with customer service, and had the ability to take a risk on helping a small business grow led me to work with them.”
Meghan’s commitment to helping her community doesn’t stop with her business. She is also opening a savings account with Opportunities so that she can give back to the financial institution that believed in her and her company. In much the same way as Vermont Edible Landscapes places an importance on getting resources for food sustainability out to the community, Opportunities makes an effort to educate its customers on the best ways to sustain a growing business.
“I think that’s what was so appealing to me,” said Meghan. “The fact that they were totally committed to underserved populations of people. Opportunities helps them become financially stable and in some cases, grow businesses. It’s just an amazing institution.”
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