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Meet Eric Saline of CommuniTree Gardens

Today we’d like to introduce you to Eric Saline.

Eric, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
This all started 12 years ago, during my freshman year of college. I fell in love with a girl who was heading a student-run organization at our school called the Baobab Initiative. The goal of the project was to promote education and establish food independence for a small village in eastern Zambia. In the spring of 2006, I accompanied Lauren to Zambia to visit the village and deliver school fees, uniforms, books, pens and… Chickens. This trip woke me up. I had never held a live chicken before and had no idea how difficult it was to grow anything for myself, but there I was trying to encourage a village to do it out in the middle of nowhere. I had arrived at school only four months earlier, hoping to learn what I needed from the world to become a journalist, but I left Africa that spring an aspiring farmer. I spent my remaining college years working with the Baobab Initiative (a story on its own) and reading everything I could about soil science, water management and growing food. I graduated with a degree in Communications.

After college, Lauren and I moved to San Diego (where I grew up) and began clawing for any job related to environmentalism and agriculture. We worked at Greenpeace together for a little over a year. I talked to thousands of people throughout the county with that job – our goal was to sign up as many people as possible for the organization, but I somehow always got into the unrelated topic of growing food.

I left Greenpeace in 2010 to take a job with Coastal Sage landscaping in Ocean Beach. I met Adam Nordhues on my first day and we hit it off. We immediately began talking about the prospect of starting our own landscape design business, geared toward producing edible ecosystems.

In 2011, I began working at Suzie’s Farm in Imperial Beach as a field hand. During my 3 years at the farm I took on every roll I was offered, hungry for any experience I could get. I learned to operate a tractor, brood chickens, manage egg production, etc… Adam and I kept in touch during those years and he eventually got a job at Suzie’s as well.

In 2013, we quit our jobs and started CommuniTree Gardens. Our third partner, Matt DeGiovanni, joined us last year. Our collective experience in education, activism, landscaping, and agriculture has made CommuniTree what it is now. We are excited to see where else we go!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
We are a small business, so balancing our personal lives with our work has always been a challenge. We each have many roles to play and sometimes it’s hard to know how to get it all done.

Getting people to think about landscaping in a different way has been difficult at times. Even though we are in a drought, our society has actually developed a strange fear of water. Many homeowners worry about flooding and want to divert water to the street and straight into the sewer system; it is our job to convince them to keep this water on site as long as possible.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about CommuniTree Gardens – what should we know?
The mission of CommuniTree Gardens is to go beyond sustainability and regenerate ecosystems that provide food, medicine and shelter for all living things. In short, we create highly productive landscapes for homes and businesses, but we also love to inspire the community! We have held classes at universities, elementary schools and businesses around the county.

We pride ourselves in having an attitude of abundance, rather than of scarcity. Though we are in a drought, San Diego actually gets a lot of water. When you do the math, the roof of a 1,000 square foot home can capture 6,600 gallons of water in our average 11 inches of rainfall per year. A family of four generally uses about 4,000 gallons of water on laundry each year (and even more for showers!). Our company works to harness this water to grow things that matter such as fruit trees and habitat plants that support local wildlife.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
We love what we do and we do our best to develop relationships with clients and colleagues that extend beyond the business of landscaping.

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