Chair of OLC Education Committee Frank Crandall Comes Full Circle

By Kathy Litchfield

RHODE ISLAND - For 38 years, Frank H. Crandall III ran Wood River Evergreens based in Hope Valley, a successful company that won 24 landscape awards and at its peak grossed in excess of $3 million annually with 30 employees.

Crandall had begun landscaping in high school, worked through college at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, and founded a lawn mowing company in Weekapaug in 1972. Gradually, he expanded the business to include mowing, maintenance, construction and design services. By the mid-90s Wood River Evergreens had expanded to include masonry, carpentry, landscape lighting, nursery and educational services.

Crandall had always tried to minimize chemicals in his landscape operations - inspired by his grandfather, Westerly, R.I. farmer Frank Crandall Sr.'s careful approach to land care principles - and made a commitment in the early '90s not to use any restricted pesticides. By 2005, he was using only bio-rational choices (horticultural oil, insecticidal soaps, Bt and other organically approved chemicals.

In January of 2005, Crandall earned his NOFA accreditation in Wellesley, Mass. and still maintains that the NOFA course "is the best educational course I have ever taken."

"I immediately made a plan to convert my landscape business into a completely organic company over three years, including on-site compost production, extracting compost tea, using only chemicals, materials and methods allowed in the NOFA Standards, further implement recycling at my business site, purchase a hybrid pickup, and over the long term, incorporate solar and wind power, biodiesel and additional hybrid vehicles in my fleet," he said, aiming to have his business and farm serve as a model for successful organically based businesses.

"Although I made progress in the conversion, it was not easy or smooth," he said. "Personnel issues, difficulty in producing quality tea, reluctance of some of our long-term clients to embrace organics and the substantial costs to convert ultimately slowed the process."

Then came the summer of 2010, when Crandall experienced "a perfect storm" of financial setbacks -- $100,000 of severe flood damage to his properties, no finalized projects from July-September, the exhaustion of his personal and company savings, a high debt load, and falling property values.

"This left me no choice but to close my 38 year old business, on Oct. 1, 2010. This was an extremely emotional and difficult step to take and experience, but I soon began to realize that businesses go through cycles, WRE had a wonderful run, and we left landscapes in Southern RI and Southeast CT in better shape than when we had started in 1972," he said.

Today, Crandall sees himself as having come full circle, working by himself again (with the occasional helper) as Frank Crandall, Horticultural Services, assisting landscape clients in Southern RI with design, plantings, maintenance and specialty pruning.

He also is a guest lecturer in horticultural courses at URI, the Landscape Institute in Boston, Mass., and North Shore Community College in Danvers. He conducts annual horticultural business seminars called GEM (Growth, Effectiveness, Management - the next seminar is Jan. Jan. 18-19, 2012 at the Kettle Pond Visitor's Center, Charlestown, RI), teaches in the NOFA 5-day courses (since 2006), writes books and chairs the OLC Education Committee, which works to maintain the high standards of NOFA OLC courses.

Crandall has published two books: "Lessons from the Landscape" in 2005 and "The Essential Horticultural Business Handbook," in 2011, the latter of which has become a textbook at North Shore Community College.

A compilation of his experience operating an award-winning landscape firm, in his second book Crandall shares advice, techniques, forms and recommendations which will assist in starting up a small business or help your existing business grow and prosper, he said.

"I want to make a difference using methods and choices that would improve the environment, create healthy landscapes for children, pets and applicators working in clients' yards," he said. "I realize that 'organics' is not a fad ... it is here to stay. I feel a personal responsibility to not only apply organic principles but to promulgate the Organic Land Care mission through teaching, assisting in running the NOFA 5-day course, serving on NOFA committees and writing articles and books."

Crandall believes the universe had guided him in the direction he now finds himself and he is embracing the opportunity to share the many lessons he has learned with fellow horticulturists.

"I am transitioning from running a major landscape business ... to working in a small but busy landscape business with a select few, wonderful, clients. Scheduling all my activities is still challenging, but nothing like running my previous company," he smiled. "I want to keep my business small, low overhead and complete only projects I can handle. I do schedule time each week for Tai Chi, yoga/meditation, bike riding, health club ... and a couple of beers on Friday night! It is very important for me to have time to spend with my family, especially my three grandchildren!”

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