Green Scene Blog: Bikeable business?


Hey folks. Tonight’s post is by Sky Blue, who helps run Cville Foodscapes and gets around mostly by bike.

When we moved to Charlottesville, one of our goals was to make a livelihood in a way that is personally satisfying and in alignment with our values. Accepting that challenge was part of why we helped create Cville Foodscapes. Cville Foodscapes, now entering its third year, designs, installs, and maintains vegetable gardens for people at their home or business. Our primary mission is to help people grow their own food, but making a decent dollar per hour is also essential.

When we started the business our hope was to do a lot of the work by bike. Foodscapes is a very eco-focused business. Growing your own food reduces your need to drive, reduces the number of miles your food is shipped, reduces the use of petrol-based synthetic chemicals, and likely results in making other ecologically-minded lifestyle choices. As a business, we want the way we operate to be in alignment with the service we are providing.

To start, we decided to limit how far we would travel. We generally won’t do jobs that are further than 15 miles from the center of town. When we do our free initial consultations for prospective clients, we almost always ride our bikes if they’re in town. Basic garden maintenance for clients in town is also doable by bike.

The challenge comes when a lot of tools or materials are involved. I’ve thought about strapping the tiller to our bike trailer, but it just doesn’t seem safe. And when someone wants a wooden-framed raised bed, it means trucking in lumber and a cubic yard of soil-compost mix. Even doing an in-ground garden without the tiller usually requires a significant load of compost, in addition to the various tools. The one time we did try to transport a large load of compost by bike, I almost ended up with a busted bike and compost all over the road.

Usually it’s a time/money trade off. By using cover crop, leaves from your yard or neighborhood, and a home composting system, you can have rich soil and a productive garden in a year or two without the need to truck in new soil and/or compost. Materials cost and energy usage goes down, but labor goes up. The cost to the client would be about the same, but it would take longer before they had a productive garden.

The silver lining is the world we’re working towards. We’re going to have to continue burning gas for a while—there’s no way around that. But our hope is that this business is burning gas in an effort to create a more sustainable society.