We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessi Burg and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessi, how does your business help the community?
As a landscaping company, Pears to Perennials is focused on installing and maintaining sustainable landscapes for Colorado. We reduce water usage through ecologically appropriate plantings, as well as educating clients on watering methods and schedules.
Our past plantings have included habitat and pollinator gardens, edible landscapes, and building raised beds for clients wanting to increase food production. All of these things increase biodiversity in our urban and suburban landscapes, while simultaneously using our limited water wisely.
As a bonus, many of these plantings reduce our carbon footprints through both sequestration and reducing the distance from plant to plate. As an employer, I own a seasonal business with limited year round work. To help offset this burden on my employees, I set the starting salary above the MIT Living Wage for the area, and adjust it for inflation each year.
In 2020, the starting part-time hourly wage was $15.25. There is a clear path for advancement, and a set structure for wage increases. This ensures that we have equitable pay across our organization, and all employees are granted the same opportunities. As my company grows, I’m proving that you can treat employees well and still have a thriving company, even in an industry that is notorious for low wages, poor working conditions, and high staff turnover.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I graduated from college in 2007, in the middle of the last recession. The job market was terrible, and I ended up making boxes for $5/hour until I got a job teaching ecology at a camp in Connecticut. For a whopping $300/week, plus room and board, I worked 15 hour days teaching 6th graders about local flora and fauna.
As a seasonal worker in environmental education, the pay was low and there were no benefits. On the upside, every time I wanted to travel somewhere new, I applied for a job at a local education center and moved. In that field, having a different job every few months to a year is common, so I moved every 6-8 months until I came to Colorado in May of 2010.
I moved to Colorado for graduate school, where I studied Environmental Leadership and focused on teaching ecology and urban farming. My focus was to bridge the gap between a residential program (where students stay in a rural area and learn about environmental issues) and their day to day lives. Working outside and having plenty of off time between seasons was great. But as I passed 30, I wanted more upward career mobility, benefits, a savings account. Year round, steady jobs in Environmental Education are few and far between, and they’re especially competitive in Colorado. I took a year round job in an office managing field trips, and I found that I missed working seasonally.
In the fall of 2016, I decided to start my own landscaping company, with the goal of being able to take winters off while still making a livable wage. As a business owner, I want to provide a better experience for my staff that I often had as a seasonal worker. It turns out that creating jobs and supporting growth is my favorite thing about running a business. I’ve been able to grow my business from just me in 2017 to a staff of 11 in 2020. By structuring my pricing well, I can ensure cost of living raises every year, as well as benefits like a cell phone reimbursement.
Consequently, my staff turnover is extremely low. I’m proud of the fact that I value my staff and can create an open and transparent culture.
Through my business, I can directly impact both environmental and social issues. As a company, we install ecologically appropriate landscapes for Colorado. This reduces water use, increases pollinator habitat, and reconnects people with their home gardens. But it also provides a great venue for educating consumers about the value of manual labor positions, living wages, and struggles faced by seasonal workers. I strongly believe there’s no such thing as an unskilled worker, and running this business allows me to back that belief up with action.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Once, about ten years ago, my brother came to visit for a week. My goal for the week was to convince him to move to Colorado, since I was already living here. This was our itinerary, slightly adjusted for modern times.
Day 1: Pick up from the airport, and point out that the air is so clear, you can see the mountains from 50 miles away. Stop at Station 26 Brewing in Central Park (formerly Stapeton) for a beer and snacks. Take a drive through the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge in lieu of a hike (because altitude changes are tough.) Head home, unpack, have a mellow afternoon in the backyard.
Day 2: Brunch at Lucille’s in Denver. They don’t take reservations, so get there early or go on a weekday if you don’t want to wait. Absolutely eat some beignets and spread their rhubarb jam on top. Everything they make is delicious. Once you’re delightfully full, head to Cheeseman Park for some people watching. After you’re ready to move again, go to the Denver Botanic Gardens and spend the afternoon strolling around.
Day 3: The mountains! Pack a picnic lunch and head up for the day. My favorite is Mount Audubon in the Brainerd Lake Recreation Area, or if you’re looking for a free park, North Table Mountain in Golden is a delight. On the way home, stop at Colorado Plus 49 Cidery and Pub for some food and drink.
Day 4: Brunch at Jelly on 13th. They don’t take reservations, so put your name in and head over to Was Trax Records and Kilgore Books to entertain yourself until it’s your turn. After eating, take a tour of the Molly Brown House and learn about the Unsinkable Molly Brown (and her bid for congress!) For a late lunch or dinner, wander a few blocks west to Pint’s Pub for some excellent British Food and a great whisky selection.
Day 5: Museum day! The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is a great place to hang out. Their rotating exhibits are always engaging, and their permanent exhibits and dioramas are good for kids and adults. The most underrated thing at the museum is gem carvings by Kovelanko on the third floor. Snag an afternoon snack and a beer at Vine Street Pub, a local institution.
Day 6: Relax! Go for a short walk through the open space at Standley Lake, and then have a leisurely lunch on the back porch at Burns Pub. The food is amazing, and the view is even better.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
As a business owner, I am forever indebted to the Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute. Their sliding scale Business Boot Camp meant that I could afford to enroll in their program, speeding up my launch date by at least a year. After I started my business, they have been instrumental in helping me grow by connecting me with lawyers, HR and bookkeeping assistance and training, and ensuring that I have a community of entrepreneurs with experiences I can learn from. Their focus on entrepreneurship as a tool for class mobility meant that I had plenty of resources for bootstrapping my business. Starting a small business with no plans to seek venture capital or investors can be a tricky thing in Denver, where a lot of resources are tech-focused. RMMFI was and continues to be a spectacular support network, even four years after launch.
Headshot credit to Rebekah West Photography. All other photos property of Pears to Perennials, Inc.