Teacher takes stand for future with manual labor
For middle school teacher Steve Poss, summer vacation means the most manual of labors.
He spends his mornings eradicating weeds and mowing lawns. And he does it all without fossil fuel.
The weeds are tackled by hand and sling blade, and grass gets cut with an old-fashioned reel lawn mower. He calls his part-time business Truly Green Land Care.
“This is just the way we should all do lawns,” said Poss, 53, taking a break one morning from muscling his mower through knee-high grass in a Garden District alley. “I’d like to see us all do this. If I make a little money on the side, that’s great.”
Poss said he started his yard service to make an environmental statement in hopes of persuading others to stop using inefficient, gasoline-powered lawn care equipment.
“I’m not rich, and I actually don’t worry that much about becoming rich,” he said. “I just thought, ‘What could I do that would help in the long run, that would change the paradigm and make people see the world differently and lower our energy waste and use?’”
On a Tuesday morning, Poss and his 20-year-old college student assistant, Alex Bates, fill a small trailer with a push mower and a battery-powered weed eater — charged by solar panels at Poss’ home — and hook it to Bates’ touring bike. The weed eater is the only non-human powered tool the business uses.
Poss dons a floppy white hat, half-fingered bicycle gloves that double as work gloves and low-top hiking shoes.
He swings a leg over the bike he uses to commute the 3 miles to his regular job teaching social studies at Glasgow Middle School and rides a few blocks to a brick house in the Garden District. There, the yard is dense with grass fed by recent rains.
The pair work quickly. Bates moves at a running pace with one mower while Poss steadily pushes another mower across the side yard and the back alley. Usually they mow the yard twice to get every blade.
“People are so used to seeing the results of a power mower, which rips every blade of grass,” said Poss. “As long as I keep (the mower) tuned, I can get the most of it.”
To mow and weed the small Garden District yard, Poss charges $40, enough to pay his assistant $15 an hour. The price, he said, depends on the size of the yard and the amount of grass.
For Bates, who works in the kitchen at a Raising Cane’s restaurant, the yard care job brings in a little extra money and some cachet.
“When people ask me what my job is, I always tell them this because it’s way more interesting,” he said.
Environmental attorney Beaux Jones, at whose home Truly Green worked Tuesday, said he had tried mowing without using a gas-powered mower, but he became busy and fell behind on yard work. Jones knew Poss from the Baton Rouge Bike Club, where they are both members, and decided to hire him. He says his rates are competitive with traditional yard services without adding noise and pollution to his neighborhood.
“Air quality is an issue in this city,” Jones, 27, said. “And we’ve got the macro environment of Baton Rouge, but in my neighborhood it’s nice not to have a weed eater and a blower pushing fumes in my face when I ride my bike home or when I’m outside.”
Poss said he’s been interested in environmental issues since joining the Ozark Society at his Shreverport high school and attending The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. He moved to Baton Rouge to attend law school and worked as an attorney for 15 years. Disenchanted with the law profession, he became a teacher.
Living in south Louisiana, Poss said he became more aware of pollution and ozone issues. Lawns take up space that could be used for growing food, he said, and the tools used to groom them pollute.
Eventually Poss would like to expand his green efforts. He’d like to lease garage space in neighborhoods where homeowners can check out human-powered equipment to mow their own lawns.
For now, cutting grass without noisy, gas-powered machines is a positive step, he said.
“If we don’t make some major changes like this in many aspects of our lives, we’re not going to leave a decent planet for our kids,” Poss said. “That’s horrible, but it’s easy to imagine.”