Shay Lunseth created something because she needed it. After the Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture student and her husband had their first daughter, she grew increasingly uncomfortable about the amount of chemicals they were using on their lawn.
Lunseth had always been environmentally conscious and could see the potential in organics. She and her husband, who has his own commercial lawn care business, decided to get ahead of the curve, and in 2010 started Organic Lawns by Lunseth.
“The first year we had 10 customers, then 30, 60, 200, now around 600. We were in our garage, then a shop, an office, now a building,” Lunseth says. “People find us because there aren’t a lot of options in organic lawn care.”
Planting the Seed
Lunseth obtained an undergraduate degree focusing on the designed environment from the University of Minnesota. After working in property management, sales, and publishing, she realized what she really wanted to do was help develop the family business.
“I already had the job; I wanted the education to do it better."
“I was tired of asking my husband basic lawn care questions about why things were done a certain way.” How can we use products if we don’t know everything about them, she asked herself. Her husband encouraged her to start researching natural tools and approaches. She took it a step further and decided to go back to school.
“I wanted to know the science behind what we were doing and make sure we were doing it right,” she explains. “I already had the job; I wanted the education to do it better. And here I had the opportunity to study specifically what I was doing in my work.”
Lunseth talked to advisors and faculty about the best route for her degree. She was able to take courses and choose projects that were geared specifically toward organic lawn care and turf management.
“My first big project in school was organic weed control. Is it a possibility? It is! But there is no quick and easy method. You don’t get overnight results; you need to do it over time.”
Lunseth says that 90% percent of organic lawn care is just taking proper care of the species of grass you have. “If you water it too often or apply too many chemicals, the roots don’t have the tools to reach the nutrients in the soil on its own because it’s used to the synthetics that it’s getting close to the surface. Eventually, you’ll teach your roots to grow deep so they’re more drought resistant.”
The organic method her company recommends typically takes three years to reap the full benefits. “We don’t need to see your lawn before you start the process. It will work on any type of soil,” she says. “I wouldn’t be able to do this if I hadn’t taken all these turf courses and understood how it works.”
Today, Organic Lawns by Lunseth and Lunseth Lawn Care Professionals serves residents across the state beyond the Twin Cities, including Rochester, Ramsey, Andover, Corcoran, and Saint Michael. They combine traditional and organic techniques for many townhome and condo associations, but they refrain from using chemicals on private residential lawns.
“I think we’re at a tipping point,” Lunseth says. “Many people don’t know that there is an organic option. Or they don’t really care about their lawns but their neighbors do, so they’ll opt for an organic option.”
With both the commercial and the organic sides of the business successfully established, what’s next for Lunseth? She is eager to devote more time to outreach and attending public events to spread the word about organic options.
“I’d like to give talks that motivate people to do this themselves, not just to sell our products, but to encourage them to use fewer chemicals. We buy organic food, but we don’t think about it when it applies to our lawns. Chemicals will never go away, but we need to be smart about how we use them.”
Advice for Future Students
“Get advice from multiple people to figure out what your goal is and how you’re going to get there. Make it work for you; it’s a lot of time and money, so get every bit out of it.”