The Environmental Factor

 

By: Suzanne Elston

 

With the official opening of gardening season looming on the horizon, and municipalities passing by-laws to restrict the cosmetic use of pesticides, the beleaguered lawn care industry has gone on the offensive. The industry would have us believe that abandoning pesticides would leave us vulnerable to the ravages of dandelions, crabgrass and lawn grubs.

 

Fortunately, it isn't an either/or situation. Thanks to the innovative ideas of one Canada's greenest entrepreneur, it's possible to have a weed-free, healthy lawn, without having to resort to cancer-causing pesticides.

 

When Lorelei Hepburn abandoned her unfulfilling career in the insurance industry, she had no idea that she would eventually revolutionize lawn care. Combining her love for the planet and a desire to make a difference with her life, Hepburn started her own organic lawn care company, The Environmental Factor, in 1991.

 

Like many successful entrepreneurs, Hepburn gleefully admits that her first venture wasn't quite as successful as she'd hoped. An inventor by heart, one of her earliest experiments was to try and make square tomatoes. Rather than genetically modifying the plants, Hepburn built small Plexiglas boxes that she would place over the tomatoes as they grew. Hydroponics had always been a hobby and she thought it would be both fun and practical to create tomatoes that would fit better on a sandwich.

 

"The tomatoes would grow to a certain size and then split the boxes," she said wryly. "Not one of my better ideas."

 

Hepburn also soon discovered that there weren't any commercial organic products available on the market, so she decided to make her own. Coincidentally, at the time the city of Oshawa had been infested with white grubs. Working with scientists and researchers she experimented with nematodes, microscopic parasites found naturally in the soil. Juvenile nematodes use white grubs as a host when breeding. By increasing the concentrations of nematodes, Hepburn discovered that they could effectively eliminate grub infestations.

"The nice part was that we weren't introducing anything that wasn't already there; we just put more in," said Lorelei. "And once the nematodes' food source was used up, they died." Hepburn began fermenting the nematodes at her head office in Oshawa. Today she ships nematodes across North America.

 

Hepburn next turned her attention to developing an alternative to chemical fertilizers. Her research led her to the discovery of corn gluten as highly effective "weed and feed" pre-emergence product.

 

As Hepburn explains, corn gluten is an ideal alternative to chemical products, which as a rule require increasing applications to achieve the same result year after year. By contrast, corn gluten becomes increasingly effective at controlling crabgrass and dandelions with every application. Used in conjunction with healthy lawn practices, the product is 60 to 70 percent effective in the first year, 80 to 90 percent in the second year, and continues at this level of effectiveness for each subsequent year that it is applied.

 

Hepburn got her first order for her corn gluten product when word of mouth reached a garden centre in Windsor. Hepburn was still a one-woman operation at this point, so she loaded a ton of the product into the back of her pick-up and delivered the order herself.

 

Word of her products grew as she began attending industry trade shows. Hepburn's proudest moment came at exactly 3:18 pm on March 7, 2003. That's the moment that she received a fax from Health Canada officially confirming the registration of TurfMaizeȘ her corn gluten product, as Canada's first non-chemical weed control.

 

"The best thing about this product is that when you use it, you donŐt have to worry about having your children or dogs play on your lawn," said Hepburn, "Homeowners no longer have to choose between a weed-free lawn and the health of their families, neighbors and pets." TurfMaizeȘ has proven to be effective for home lawn applications, golf courses, gardens and public green spaces such as parks, athletic fields and waterways.

 

Despite the fact that Hepburn has received a number of substantial offers, she has thus far declined bids to sell the formulation for TurfMaizeȘ. Instead, she has focused on building the franchise operation of her business. To date, she has twelve franchises operating in Ontario, as well as one each in British Columbia and New Brunswick, making her operations coast to coast across Canada. With projected sales figures for 2006 expected to top $ 1 million,

Hepburn has proven that you can be both environmentally responsible and financially successful.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

For product or franchise information, visit The Environmental Factor

 

For more information on organic lawn care, visit The Organic Landscape Alliance