01 Mar 2017
natures pathwayas

The strength of our character

  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • March 2017

Written by 

The strength of our character

“Doing the right thing” is often a phrase tossed around without giving much thought to what it means or how it’s accomplished. Even writing about what it means to do the right thing has proven to be difficult, but it’s worth the effort.

Winston Churchill once wrote, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing after they’ve tried everything else.” While I disagree with his generalization, I do agree that we are in a time when we are more willing to sacrifice the benefits of the greater good for the benefits of ourselves. Is that doing the right thing?

Are we doing the right thing if it only benefits us or our family? Are we doing the right thing if we increased business by providing inferior products and/or services? Are we doing the right thing only when we think others are noticing?

I believe doing the right thing is much like a muscle training exercise that requires a routine that develops a habit that creates strength. Occasionally or often we will run into situations that test the strength of that muscle and force us to make a choice, and it’s our integrity that will take us down the right path. If we recognize the need to do the right thing and remain conscious of always trying to do the right thing, our integrity becomes the strength of our character. These moments happen often and continuously throughout each and every day, and some people are paying attention.

As the father of a 7 year old and an observer of human habits, I often see both the positive and negative effects parents have over children. If we as parents are not doing the right thing or are making choices without integrity, what are we teaching the next generation? I recently recalled a brief conversation I had with my parents as a child. It was a simple conversation but one I remember vividly and one that impacted many of my adult choices. Certainly many of us can recall simple moments like this with big lessons. Children hear and see everything, far more than our myopic adult eyes can focus on. We need to consider what we want them to learn from us — as parents, as neighbors, as community members. When we see our children interacting with other children, do we not want to see them sharing? When we hear our children expressing frustration, do we not want them to speak with honesty and respect? When we watch our children interacting with the earth, do we not want them to treat all of nature’s creatures with gentleness and awe?

This impact doesn’t need to end when the training wheels come off. I’d like to think we can positively impact and guide young people as long as they’re willing to listen. In fact, I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of environmental studies students about my business in general, but more so about finding passion and purpose in what we do. Sharing some of my unique personal and professional life experiences and my regrets about not finding purpose earlier informed the perspective I offered these young people. Impressively, I found that the students were eager to hear how doing the right thing can work in their professional and personal life. Ultimately, these experiences teach me far more than my guidance probably offers them, but I’d like to think all of us are better for these chances to reflect, consider and teach.

Because I deal with natural ecosystems, my business has taught me that perhaps the answer to what it means to do the right thing might be found in nature itself. Nothing can survive on its own. Plants require an entire ecosystem to survive, and we require a village to raise a family. Until we recognize that doing the right thing means doing what’s right for the greater good, we will all struggle with finding our purpose and determining the “right” path to take.

Maybe it’s as simple as the answer my daughter gave me when asked, “What does it mean to do the right thing?” to which she replied “be nice.” It’s certainly a great start.

Todd Rockweit

Todd and Tara Rockweit are owners of Backyard Organics, LLC, Wisconsin’s first organic land care business accredited by NOFA, one of two organizations in the country that accredit Organic Land Care Professionals (AOLCPs). Since 2004, Backyard Organics has been supplying natural and organic products and services for people, pets and property, including a complete do-it-yourself program. To read more about our products and services, or if you would like to submit a question, please visit us at http://backyardorganics.net, email info@backyardorganics.net or call 920-730-3253/888-200-0446.

Website: backyardorganics.net

09 Feb 2017
natures pathwayas

Building a purposeful life from the ground up

Building a purposeful life from the ground up

Todd Rockweit betters his community and the earth through Backyard Organics

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous. —Aristotle

As they shine between the leaves of a nearby maple tree, the sun’s rays gently warm your skin. The smell of flowering lilacs drifts upon a light breeze. Soft, plush grass cradles your bare feet as you close your eyes and listen to the birds singing from the nearby shrubs and trees.

It’s a perfect, serene, picturesque backyard. But what makes it all the more beautiful is it was made that way by a man who takes doing right by the environment, his community, his clients and his family to heart.

Todd Rockweit provides organic and sustainable land and lawn care to Northeast Wisconsin through his business, Backyard Organics. The Oshkosh-based Backyard Organics is much more than a typical landscaping company. It serves residential customers, as well as businesses, gardens, orchards, farms and even small vineyards — and it does so by recognizing the flaws in conventional and often harmful chemical-based methods, and instead using an educated and individualized approach to each client’s needs.

Rockweit is easily able to relate to his customers’ needs — perhaps because he himself was one just a few years ago. He and his wife, Tara, both nature lovers to begin with, knew they wanted not only an attractive and inviting yard, but a safe environment. Their main motivation for this came in a tiny, adorable package: their new daughter, Emmaxia.

The Rockweits looked into the services Backyard Organics offered and Todd found himself gravitating to the company’s sustainable, continuous-improvement process. Thanks to this organic and thoughtful approach to their own lawn care, the Rockweits now have peace of mind knowing that their daughter, dogs and even chickens can explore their backyard without encountering harmful chemicals.

A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Five years ago, Rockweit had just sold his custom software distribution company. At age 43, he wasn’t in a position to retire, yet he was comfortable enough to choose what he wanted to do next in life. He and his wife sat down with a whiteboard in their living room and outlined a roadmap for the future. Not surprisingly, family played a major role in the Rockweits’ decision to purchase and operate Backyard Organics.

“Until you actually have one, you don’t know. It’s unreal how much they can change your life,” Rockweit says of having children. Todd and Tara had a bit of a preview through watching friends and family parent before their own daughter entered the picture. “We saw the good and bad,” Todd recalls. “We knew that if we didn’t take best approach to raising our child that we could, that wouldn’t be right. We wanted a better balance personally and professionally.”

Backyard Organics certainly seemed to fit the bill. Tara, a local high school teacher, has more free time to spend with Emmaxia in the summer months than during the school year. The opposite, seasonal nature of lawn care would allow Todd to compliment Tara’s schedule.

“It’s a good fit,” Todd says. “It helps us to always be with our daughter whenever we can.”

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. —Henry David Thoreau

Another item at the top of Rockweit’s whiteboard list for the future was his goal to enjoy a more meaningful existence.

In the past, Rockweit tried to be as good of a person as possible, though this wasn’t the driving force in his professional life. He focused mainly on making money to support his family as best he could.

But Rockweit was able to shift his priorities, and he recognized that Backyard Organics would allow him to feed his soul, rather than just the bank account. Now, as owner and operator of the company, Todd recognizes that doing the right thing is part of who he is.

“The driving force behind this business or really anything that I do is to be more purposeful,” he explains. “Every time I make a decision, I ask, ‘Is it the right thing to do? Is it the best product I can utilize? Is it the best service I can provide?’ This can be difficult if the majority of your professional life was more profit-driven. It can be difficult, but it is absolutely the driving force behind this business.”

Rockweit’s focus on living a purposeful life has lead him and Backyard Organics to deep community involvement. Through participation in local committees and organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, Rockweit is able to help individuals and groups better understand the environment.

“To me, what’s most important is groundwater understanding,” he explains. “Water is a limited resource, and we really need to do whatever we can to preserve it.” Rockweit hopes that by connecting with community organizations, he will be able to help people build their understanding of how land-care decisions can impact the watershed, as well as the environment as a whole. This will lead individuals and businesses to consider alternatives to synthetic land-care chemicals, Rockweit hopes.

Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher. —William Wordsworth

Since taking on Backyard Organics, Rockweit has done more than his fair share of research. Thanks in part to his prior career in engineering, he takes a “left-brained” approach to lawn and land care. The business owner finds himself naturally craving to understand “how things work,” to identify root causes of problems and to search out the best solutions — strengths he uses to his customers’ advantage.

“In this industry, a passion for understanding how soils work is very unique. Landscapers in general don’t spend a great deal of time understanding soil. Instead, they use products to make grass ‘look’ greener,” Rockweit explains.

Rockweit, on the other hand, has been truly immersed in soil science for the past five years. A regular attendee at organic farm and land-care classes and conferences, he takes time each off-season to further educate himself. Rockweit has primarily attended educational opportunities on the east coast, where the Northeast Organic Farming Association, or NOFA, regulates organic land care.

While the east and west coasts have organizations like NOFA that set standards and guidelines related to organic land care, the Midwest does not. Rockweit explains that because of this lack of oversight, a Midwest company could say they are using organic products and approaches, but there is no way to verify this.

Backyard Organics is different. As a NOFA-accredited land care professional, Rockweit has the credentials and knowledge to back up his words. And Backyard Organics, with its purely organic approach to land care, is unique not only in Wisconsin, but the entire Midwest.

Backyard Organics customers know what they’re getting: Todd Rockweit — a man who believes in doing the best thing for his family, his customers, his community and his planet.

 

Each Backyard Organics customer benefits the environment. By contacting Todd Rockweit, clients can rest assured knowing that they are making the world a better and more purposeful place. Contact Backyard Organics at 920-730-3253 or email info@backyardorganics.net. To learn more, visit backyardorganics.net or stop by the shop at 5171 Green Valley Road, Oshkosh.]

Backyard Organics is actively involved in the following programs and committees:

  • Sustainable Neenah
  • Sustainable Fox Valley
  • Gardens of the Fox Cities
  • Master Gardeners of the Fox Valley
  • Community Gardens of the Fox Valley and Oshkosh
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Fox Valley Adopt a Garden
  • Neenah Historical Society

land care article

08 Feb 2017
Natures Pathways 2012

Good Steward of the Earth

“ Doing well is the result of doing good. That’s what capitalism is all about.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

last year, when Todd Rockweit found himself retired from his career as an engineer and business owner, and a new father to a precious 1-year-old daughter, he had an oppor­tunity to do something many of us never get a chance to do; take a step back and assess his future.

At this stage in life, what he was really looking for personally and professionally boiled down to three main concerns: balance, purpose and prac­ticality. Much like Emerson’s belief above, Rockweit wanted to devote his time to something more purposeful and for the greater good.

During the time he was evaluating available businesses, he happened to call on Backyard Organics, an organic lawn care service for residential and commercial properties, because he had concerns about the safety of his family, pets and the planet when it came to treating his yard with chemicals.

Rockweit’s interest was piqued when the owner explained the process and the science behind the organic approach. Shortly there­after, his entrepreneurial spirit moved him to make an offer for the business; which was accepted.

Backyard Organics began operations in 2004 and incorporated in 2006 – the first company of its kind in Wisconsin. It was also the first organic lawn care business to become accredited by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), one of only two organiza­tions in the country that accredit organic land care professionals. Similar to Rockweit, the couple who started the business desired a safe and healthy lawn for their family.

Upon taking the reigns, Rock­weit learned to have a better understanding of the complexities of natural ecology and soil biology. One of his main resources: Jim Beard, lead horticulture instructor at FVTC. In fact, Rockweit and Beard are two of only four individuals in Wisconsin certified in organic land care by NOFA. The two have monthly discussions about current topics, research and, most importantly, the science behind organics.

As Beard explains, “Before the 1940s, there was no issue with organics, as everything was chemical free; but after that point in time we started to get into synthetics. Today, there is information available that things we are putting in our planet are unhealthy.” Not only is there a health issue for humans and animals, but there is also a negative effect on soil biology. “Since chemistry kills the biology in the soil, the application of these synthetics on our lawns and fields disrupts the natural process at work there,” says Beard.

Once your soil has been depleted of microbial activity, your plants then become dependent on the synthetic nutrients, which results in high costs, ecological side effects and unpredict­able outcomes. Dixie McLaughlin, a Town of Menasha resident and Backyard Organics customer concurs, “We don’t realize what we’re putting on and in the ground … we need to respect the Earth and let nature work for us.”

That’s exactly what organic lawn care specialists believe. The best defense for weeds, in their opinion, is a healthy plant, which can only happen with healthy soil. This should include growing live, active microbes in the soil, and good bacteria and fungi activity.

The approach Rockweit takes with Backyard Organics is all about the soil and building up the biology there. “We focus on improving your soil through an appropriate balance of biology and nutrients and improving the soil texture and structure,” he points out. “This takes time if your soil is out of balance; it’s not a quick fix.” However, once the soil is established, it can maintain itself, considering no further chemical application.

The process at Backyard Organics begins with an onsite consulta­tion. Rockweit, along with the help of Jim Bosanny, takes this oppor­tunity to get a feel for where you are at regarding organic land care and starts the educational process from that point forward – always respectful of the fact that people are in different places in the move to organics. During this visit, your yard is measured, you discuss your needs and concerns, and a soil sample is obtained.

Soil samples are thoroughly tested at a lab in Nebraska and results are e-mailed within five days. Ideally, soil is 25% water, 25% air, 40-45% sand, silt, clay and 5-10% organic material, according to Beard.

Next in the process, Rockweit considers the soil sample results and develops a plan specific to your property. An estimate is prepared and e-mailed to you. (Rockweit tries to keep his business as paper­less as possible.) You then have the option to make an environ­mentally friendly choice in maintaining your property.

Once the required nutrients are returned to the soil, “ … it rebuilds a soil food web, which reduces dependency on fertilizers and pesticides, improves plant growth, reduces diseases, water use and toxicity, and encourages the healthy establishment of healthy biology,” as Dr. Elaine Ingham, president and director of research at Soil Foodweb, Inc., explains.

The customized organic blend that is used for each property, based on soil test results, consists of various nutrients and compost tea. The formulation is able to be perfected through the use of an onsite biolog­ical microscope, which enables Rockweit to continuously quality control his products and service. He also recently purchased commer­cial brewing equipment (the same equipment used by Harvard University, the Brooklyn Bridge Park in N.Y. and Paul Newman’s Estate in Conn.), which gives him greater ability to formulate the tea extract for specific concerns he runs into. These help him offer the most diverse and active blend of microbial activity available.

Backyard Organics also offers some of its repellant products for sale. One of the outlets is Just Act Natural, the store that makes green living easy. According to owner, J.C. Paustian, “I offer the prod­ucts because they are inline with our mission. The best seller here is Weed-A-Tak, a Roundup® alternative. People keep coming back for it. I’ve had all positive feedback on their products. And, Todd is always so positive, always the optimist. ”

Whether you’re in the camp that believes we are in an ecologic crisis or the camp that feels we, as humans, have dominion over nature; we all must consider, with “careful understanding that Earth and its resources are for any generation a restricted gift held in trust for future generations,” as Dr. J. Patrick Dobel so eloquently puts it.

We have taken a step in the right direction, as states on the coasts of the United States have banned the use of pesticides and chemicals. It may not be long before this consciousness reaches the Midwest. So, it’s just a matter of time before we can say goodbye to chemical lawn care for good.

In the meantime, Rockweit does his best to learn and educate customers from Door County to Fond du Lac on organic land care practices. Customers like McLaughlin appreciate the information he shares and the positive, helpful person that he is. “He cares deeply about his community,” she says.

Another way he shows his commitment is through the various charities he’s involved with and donates services to. Last year, Rockweit donated 20% of sales back to the community, which included landscape work for Habitat for Humanity homes.

For his opportunity to make a differ­ence in our world, he credits his wife and her support. “I really enjoy this business and it feels like the most purposeful career I’ve had since college,” he says.

Natures Pathways 2012