by David DeJohn, NHCLP
Forty years ago a group of guys in the landscape industry got together to form an Association for landscape contractors. Leon Pearson, Gary Hinz, Allen Anderson, Palmer Koelb, George Pellettieri, Andy Sherburn, Rick Simpson, Don Tordoff, Dave Sansom, and Mick Sheffield to name a few, hashed out the ideas and set in motion the formation of the New Hampshire Landscape Association. Today that vision is seen in the men and women who now make up the Association and our members are landscape contractors, designers, architects, growers, and educators.
Some of the objectives of the new Association back then, much as they are now, were to promote professional development for those in the landscape industry; to promote and advance ethical practices; to provide continual education and information to the members and to the general public; and to promote responsible environmental and ecological practices.
What strikes me is the amazing continuity and consistency over these last 40 years to achieve these goals and objectives. Sure, there have been changes and the emphasis on these goals have ebbed and flowed over the years, but the basic trajectory has pretty much remained the same. Somehow I inherited a box of old NHLA papers and newsletters dating back to the late ’80s and early ’90s and it’s from reading through these that you can really see the truth in the saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
In 1988 we had about 137 members. By 2006 we had as many as 250 and today we are at about 160. The recession back then was a constant topic of conversation and many members dropped out. As the economy improved so did membership enrollment and then of course there was the great recession of 2008 and membership dropped again and we are still coming back from that or at least we were until the pandemic hit.
Over the years the By-laws have been tweaked here and there, and of course the Board and presidents have changed, bringing with those changes in people a change in focus, tone, and direction of the Association. The Newsletter has had four editors since its inception. Peter Kidd, I believe, was the first editor and after him came Phil Caldwell, who after several years handed off to Chuck Simpson, and then in 1992 our current and amazing editor Carolyn Isaak took over. Each editor brought their own voice to the NHLA Newsletter and yet the continuity, the format and the quality have remained the same. Even some of the companies that were advertising in the early newsletters are still advertising today, which speaks volumes to the commitment to and integrity of the Association.
In 1989 Phil Caldwell wrote about the “Greenhouse Effect” and the American Forestry Association’s effort to plant 100 million trees to reduce the effect of climate change. Although efforts on many, many fronts are still going on to fight climate change, we as an industry and this Association really need to step up and be a bigger part of the solution. According to the recent UN Report we only have about 10 years before it’s too late.
In 1991 Dr. Dirt (aka John Hart) wrote about the labor shortage in our industry and how hard it was to find good “qualified help” as young people moved away from the horticultural industry.
Low pay, long hours, seasonal work, and physically demanding work are some of the reasons. Fast forward to today, sound familiar?
Reading through these issues of our newsletters has been fascinating as it traces the ups and downs of our industry, our Association, our country, and even the world. From the very beginning of NHLA the issues for the Association have remained the same. How to remain viable monetarily and otherwise. How to retain members and attract new ones. How do we explain and promote the value of being a member? What is the value of being a member for that matter? How do we educate the public as to who we are and why they should choose a member of NHLA for their project? How do we get members more involved, and why would they want to get more involved? And how do we tap into the talent and vast knowledge of our older members? Peter Kidd asked that question back in December of 1991 and it’s just as pertinent a question today.
All of this talk about continuity, the hows, and that as much as things change they do stay the same, leads me to this. We have started to have some very interesting conversations at our Board meetings lately about all of the issues I just mentioned: climate change, our role as an Association, labor and supply chain issues due to Covid, membership and the value of being a member. We have always emphasized the idea of educating and elevating our membership. That’s our goal, that’s our Mission Statement, but in this day and age of being able to “Google” just about anything you want to know about, how do we compete with or work with that? That’s certainly not one they were questioning back in the ’80s and ’’90s, but it’s a big one now. So, over the next few months members of the Board will be meeting, outside of our regular Board meetings, to discuss these very issues and, as in the past, we will be asking you, we will be calling on you, to help us answer these questions.
We need to bring NHLA into the 21st century but we need to hear from you, the members, as to what that is and what that means. We will be asking some of you to come to these meetings and talk about why you’re a member and what you view the value of that membership to be. As in the past we will be sending out a survey as to what you would like to see from NHLA, what sorts of classes, seminars, and topics you would like, and what you find valuable, or not, to being a member.
This is my third time as president of NHLA so I know you’ve heard me say this before: this is your Association and it can only be as good, it can only be of as much benefit to you and to the community as you help it to be. These are crazy times we’re in right now but also kind of an exciting time for NHLA as we look forward like we always have.
Have a great fall!