Another sunny day in Rosendale. The Earth Designs vans pull up in the shared parking lot behind Country Wisdom News. I peek through the window as the landscapers pile out of the van. They are bright eyed, tanned and rosy-cheeked, strong, and, most noticeably, smiling. This is the team that Earth Designs founder Aja Hudson has assembled—nine happy, grounded, and nature loving folks who thrive under the sun (and her capable management).
|The Earth Designs team. Photo by Marie Doyon.|
Aja officially founded the company in 2000, but it was more of a natural evolution than a clear-cut business launch. Aja shares, “I fell into the business because my family farmed. We grew gourmet fruits and vegetables for restaurants in the city.” A native of Accord, Aja was out working and playing in the fields from the wee age of five. She spent her early teen years working with her friend’s mother, Deb Gray, who owns Gardenmakers. Aja recalls, “Her house and gardens are super magical to me.” As Aja worked and grew, Deb’s crew of women taught Aja all about the plants in this area.
Now Earth Designs focuses on the design, installation, and maintenance of ornamental and vegetable gardens, using eco friendly and organic methods. Aja says, “What we do is create art for people.” A graduate of design at the New York Botanical Gardens, this language of art is always implicit when Aja speaks of garden creation. She actively cultivates a work environment where even the acts of cleanup and maintenance are approached as art.
Aja uses a sensitive balance of practicality, aesthetic, and intuition when designing gardens. She admits, “I can sort of feel what my clients need.” This perceptiveness is complemented by factors such as light, soil type, fencing, and intended use for the space. She also always plans for the whole year. “When they are established, after about three years, gardens are meant to have something going on always, even in winter. Perennials and shrubs are the backbone.”
With over 70 clients, Earth Designs is firmly established and well braced for their next big evolution: converting to a cooperative model. Essentially this means that Aja’s employees are becoming worker-owners within the company. Everybody has one share in the company, which they are already working off, equalling one vote. Aja explains “I will probably play a similar role to what I do now, but some of the other responsibilities will be delegated. The company will run democratically; we’ll vote on major decisions.”
Aja has been working with the Cooperative Development Institute throughout the transition, which supports business owners in many ways from providing resources to offering workshops, and helping to write bylaws and make the legal transition.
Aside from the empowering and focusing impact of employee ownership, Earth Designs is planning to write some very cool bylaws. In the off-season, the worker-owners will allocate a certain amount of revenue and their own efforts to environmental projects around the world, such as disaster relief work. Aja admits that she was nervous about sharing this vision with her employees, but was touched and relieved when it was actually a selling point for several of them who were otherwise on the fence.
Along with these philanthropic goals, the cooperative also looks forward to planning a seedling CSA model for clients to learn about and grow their own food. “We would love to educate people about what to grow when and where, and how to rotate crops,” Aja says. They already install edible fruits and trees as part of many clients’ landscapes, so this is a logical next step.
With many positive changes in the works, there are great things to look forward to from Earth Designs. Aja has fully embraced the cooperative model, saying, “The difference that has happened already is tangible. The research [the team is] doing, the interest they are showing is pretty inspiring. Really more businesses should be run like this.”
She acknowledges that there will be challenges ahead, but is confident that the company will be better off in the long run. With any luck, Aja’s clarity and courage will set a precedent for cooperative business in the Hudson Valley.
363 Main Street
Rosendale, NY 12472