Growing up in Buffalo in the 70s was tough - the city was rundown, the economy was bleak, and jobs were scarce. My family struggled to make ends meet after my father's charter business failed due to economic downturns. At the age of 12, I started a small business taking care of lawns and landscapes for neighbors, learning the importance of delivering value over price. Throughout high school and college, I worked various minimum-wage jobs to supplement what my parents could provide like extra food and clothes. I attended SUNYAB because it was financially feasible, not because I was motivated to go there. Although we weren't homeless or in extreme poverty, these struggles had a lasting impact on me.
The 1970’s began with the US being in the Vietnam War and as a child it was difficult to understand how people could be so divided on their opinions toward it. I couldn’t understand how many people could treat the young men and women who went to serve so poorly even though many of them were drafted into service or how those who resisted and protested against the war were also so demonized. I struggled to form an opinion. As the decade
continued our President was impeached in a process that took a long time and played out on television in front of everyone in the country. There was a pervasive sense of shame over this. Later in that decade the recession hit hard with double digit inflation and interest rates. Also, during this time there was civil rights unrest as prejudice was pervasive and people of all races and backgrounds fought for what little work there was. In Buffalo I saw firsthand the impact of racism although at the time I didn’t think much about it because I wasn’t the target.
During my college summers, I worked to support myself and pay for school. In my first summer, I hitchhiked to Denver and worked in construction. Then, I hitchhiked to California and back to UB for the next semester. In the second summer, I rode a twelve-speed bicycle across the country and ended up in Torrance, California working at a Jack in the Box. In my last year of college, I discovered that Buffalo did not have sustainable growth in development or building trades, so I bought a $98 Greyhound bus ticket to Phoenix with $400 in my pocket and one duffle bag of my earthly possessions. I had no safety net.
Despite having a college education, finding work in Phoenix during a recession was tough. After a few months of unsuccessful job hunting and running out of money, I had to take minimum-wage jobs in restaurants and landscaping, which was demoralizing. It took me several years of working and going to school to finally gain ground. Looking back, I consider those years as my "lost years". If I had financial support, I could have achieved my goals in two years instead of eight. Nevertheless, I became knowledgeable and skilled in landscaping through these years of experience in the industry.
In Grad School, I worked for 3 different landscapers with specialized services, then interned at an international planning and engineering firm before starting my own landscape business with a partner. We struggled to come up with a name, but the name "Agave" came to me which I liked and became the company name. We wanted to offer more than just landscaping, so we added "Environmental Contracting" to our name. Our first few years were tough, but we got a big break with a project that became our flagship project. We pioneered new techniques for salvage and became the largest landscape construction and maintenance company in Phoenix until the great recession hit and our sales dropped drastically. Despite this setback, we remained committed to providing quality work and developing our systems and processes.
In 2006 and 2007, we attracted venture capitalists and thought we had sold 60% of Agave in a great offer, but the economy crashed, and the acquisition process took too long, and the deal fell through. We underestimate the impact of bad fiscal policy and corrupt banking practices, leading us to have many layoffs and a forced reduction of our overhead. I took up a triathlon to stay busy and keep negative feelings at bay. It made me realize the importance of the people I worked with and for, innovation, unique projects, and providing value. We lost $20 million in business and investments but paid everyone and avoided bankruptcy. By 2013, we were back to square one, I separated from my business partner who took our metal fabrication company, while I rebuilt Agave with a renewed focus on best practices. From the down cycle in the economy through today giving back to the community became very important. I started Agave Farms a 17-acre community garden in Central Phoenix which then led to starting a nonprofit Urban Farming Education which is focused on using my landscape and business skillset to build gardens locally and in Africa for schools, communities in need, and shelters. I also started Soil Seed and Water which is an organic soil manufacturing company with a mission to help climate-smart regenerative farmers grow higher-nutrition food using environmentally sound methods.
(Taken from an excerpt interview and article from "Green Living Magazine".)