Jeanine Sturm, Sue Newman and Stacy Koberstein are landscapers with Jeanine Sturm Enterprises. They are such a close-knit bunch that the Tidings couldn't talk with just one of them.
Jeanine Sturm, Sue Newman and Stacy Koberstein are landscapers with Jeanine Sturm Enterprises. They are such a close-knit bunch that the Tidings couldn't talk with just one of them. The three women are hard workers who believe their gardening savvy, strong work ethic and friendship are the keys to their successful business.
"When you work with Jeanine and Sue, you want to work as hard as they do, and if you aren't, you feel like you're slacking," Koberstein says.
"You have to be tough to do this work and these ladies are tough," Sturm says. "They are willing to work in the cold and the rain. They are willing to adapt to anything."
Hailing from Vancouver, Wash., Sturm moved to Ashland in 1998 after falling in love and started at Eagle Mill Farms, helping create an education project that developed into the Farm to Schools program, she says. Newman came from Massachusetts about five years ago. And Koberstein was living in Idaho before her friends persuaded her to come to Oregon.
Sturm and her team spoke with the Daily Tidings about the beauty of gardening and the strength of women in a male-dominated field.
DT: What do you do in your spare time?
SK: I like to hike, hang out at Emigrant Lake with my dog or visit with friends. It's hard for me to sit still; I like to move and to do stuff. I love to be outdoors.
JS: I've been studying Tibetan, and I'd like to be a translator at some point. I also spend a lot of time studying plants and design at home.
SN: I study plants and design, too. I can't stand coming across something I don't know. I'm also a photographer. My husband and I have a website, with our work.
DT: How did you come to own your landscaping business, Jeanine?
JS: One day, my neighbor tells me that her gardener, Cheryl Garcia, wanted to change out of her job and that she was looking for someone to pass her business to. I called Cheryl and told her I'd never gardened before, but Cheryl said "No problem." She liked my work ethic. I don't know what my neighbor was thinking, but it turned out to be perfect. At first I did things wrong, I injured plants. There are probably some people who think it's nuts that I even still have a business, but I learned as I went. I did a lot of work by myself, some really hard labor. I'd hire guys here and there to help me out, but after a while, it just wasn't working. Then I met Sue, and it has been great.
DT: Sue, how did you meet Jeanine?
SN: I met Jeanine when I first moved here. I had a lot of plant experience. I'd been working in florist shops since I was 14. I was getting married the next day, but a friend suggested I call Jeanine since I was looking for work. Jeanine wanted me to work the day I called. I told her I was about to get married and I had family in town. And she said, "Well what about tomorrow?" and I said I'm getting married that day. I thought, what part of "married" don't you understand?
JS: I was so stoked because she worked in nurseries for years as a florist. Sue makes such awesome arrangements. And she had dreads like me, which wasn't common.
DT: Is it just a coincidence that you all have dreadlocks?
JS: When Stacy joined us, we actually had some clients ask us if people had to have dreads to work with us.
SK: It was a funny coincidence.
SN: There does seem to be a correlation. There's a comfortableness with others who have dreads.
DT: Stacy, how did you come to work for Jeanine?
SK: I was working at Ashland Greenhouses, and I asked Jeanine to let me know if she ever needed help.
JS: I said yes and stole her away. They are both awesome. Stacy is motivated and was willing to learn a new style of gardening, away from the mow and blow. But she learned fast, and she's a detail person.
DT: What are some favorite aspects of the job?
JS: For me, it is watching these yards develop. I love coming back and seeing how everything has grown and changed. We have yards that just look worlds different after we planted them.
SN: Being outside and working with people I get along with is one of my favorite things.
SK: Working outside, and the clients. We have some really nice clients.
DT: What are some challenges?
JS: I think it is when a client needs something on a tight deadline and the weather won't cooperate. Sometimes you need to prepare a garden for a wedding and you'll have to be out in the rain or snow. But that is rare, and usually we can handle that with clear communication and some planning.
DT: When you were hiring, were you deliberately looking for women?
JS: No, it sort of happened that way. The guys just never lasted. Though more recently, as we consider hiring a fourth person, we started thinking about another woman.
SN: Also, the guys don't feel comfortable taking orders from a woman.
JS: I've had some guys completely freak out on me when I've told them what to do. It's not so much I deliberately chose women, but the trial period seems to produce a woman. We'll always hire some muscle now and then for a few jobs, though.
DT: Do you find there are many women looking for this kind of work?
JS: It's hard to find people who are into this. Ladies don't usually like working outside. They will say things like, "Oh, I love working with flowers."
SN: But then you hand them a shovel and forget it.
SK: There's a work ethic involved. It's very particular and you have to get in shape, with all this digging and planting.
DT: Is it difficult to find work in the winter?
JS: This winter is busier, but we can handle more. Mostly, it gets slow because people don't realize there is stuff that they can do, bed development, hardscape, shrubs and trees, mulching. I like to tell people not to wait until the spring to garden.
DT: Is there someone who has strongly influenced you in life?
SK: My family, especially my mother. She never had a typically female occupation. She drove concrete trucks and paved roads. She showed me you can do what you love. I grew up on a farm. Everyone was up early, driving a tractor. I was taught to be a hard worker. You work hard and people respect you.
JS: My family, too. We were raised with a strong work ethic and that's important to me.
SN: I grew up knowing that when you are a teenager, you get a job. Also, everyone I have ever worked for has been a hard worker. It keeps you motivated to see your boss working hard.
DT: Any advice for someone wanting to start their own business?
JS: Move forward. Find out who you need to talk to and what you need to do to get it going, but always move forward. It's the saddest thing to me to hear how many people feel they can't start their own business. But I say learn what it takes and go for it.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.