From the Ground Up
Gaia College student says course was invaluable to her business
Written by: Brenlee Brothers
After 30 years working in the film industry, Arlene Hazzan Green switched paths completely. She decided to turn her love for gardening and working with the earth into a vocation.
With the intention to ignite passion in people by helping them grow their own food and reconnecting them with nature, the Backyard Urban Farm Company (BUFCO) was born. The Toronto based organic vegetable landscaping company builds, installs, plants and helps maintain edible gardens for both residential and commercial clients in the greater Toronto area.
BUFCO actually sows seeds for urban folk who either don’t know how, or don’t have the time to do it themselves. Their garden team will lovingly care for each plot throughout the season; returning as often as needed to water, weed and harvest.
When Arlene and her husband Marc Green started the company in 2009, Arlene had already been a vegetable gardener for many years. “I was doing it as a hobby; just as fun and enjoyment and also as a way to get my young son connected with nature more than anything,” she said.
At the time, she was working in the film industry as a writer and director, something she had been doing for many years. “I was feeling less and less enthusiastic about the kind of work I was working on. The really good projects seemed very few and far between and television was going through a really big transition.”
Her writing became almost entirely focused on gardening, farming and sustainable practices, but the industry wouldn’t take the bite. “I just got less and less interested in that and more and more interested in my garden,” she said.
The seed was planted when Arlene and Marc decided to transform their urban backyard by installing raised garden beds. After seeing their neighbours express interest, they started to think, “Maybe we can do this as a business.”
What began as one client, turned into 10 the following year. Now BUFCO is spreading knowledge and creating beauty, as they graciously seed, plant and care to the organic edible gardens of 40 to 50 clients each year.
The Organic Master Gardener Course at Gaia College was a key component in helping Arlene’s knowledge evolve. “When I took the Organic Master Gardener course, it was the first time I felt like I had actually found my mentors and I was getting it from the ground up quite literally.” From learning about the health and texture of soil, to how water runs through it, to how grass grows and how to maintain it; every bit of content in the course is so important, she said.
It came at the right time as it helped take her practical and self-taught knowledge to the next level. “I already knew basic plant schedules and plant care, but to be able to really, knowledgeably diagnose problems when they come up... having that foundational knowledge enabled me to develop systems that we could count on.”
Taking the course was a really valuable asset for her business, she said. “It Increased my confidence and helped me make decisions about how to build a maintenance plan for the soil.”
The course structure allowed Arlene to take her own time and go as deep into the curriculum as she wanted. “I’m such a person-person that I didn't think I would enjoy an online course, but I actually found that when I did need to connect, I was able to do it through emails with a lot of different people from all over the country, so I got a really great cross-section of different types of growing environments and knowledge about those.”
After finishing the course in December 2018, she was able to take an exam through SOUL (Society of Organic Urban Landcare) to become an accredited landcare practitioner. SOUL provides a process of accrediting, legitimizing and identifying the specific skills of a knowledgeable organic landcare professional. “There’s a bunch of different things you can do to gain credentials, which weren’t around when we first started the company. We were kind of by ourselves in the wilderness it seemed like. But now there is so much more available to all of us, which is so great.”
Since BUFCO has continued to grow, Arlene and Marc were able to leave the film business completely. Now they have a total staff of 13 people; two of whom also have their Organic Master Gardener Certificates through Gaia College. It’s really beneficial to have their lead gardener and office manager, (who is also a gardener) all have the same vocabulary and educational experience. “We’re all working together to build greater knowledge and to spread the organic gardening and landcare word,” she said. “So now we are armed with a lot of information.”
Arlene’s passion for doing what she loves is truly inspiring. While running a successful business and having a family, she is slowly but surely working her way toward a Diploma in Organic Landcare. She will finish her second of five required courses in December 2019.