Blown Away

By September 28, 2012 Sustainable Landscaping 4 Comments

Article reprinted from Sept. 25th 2012 edition of Good Times.

Local landscaper leads anti-leaf blower task force
A brief jaunt of Googling “leaf blower” invariably finds you product promotions, bureaucratic jargon, and flaming forums where users challenge to blow “California hippies” off their property and where non-users share stories about how their grandmother almost out-raked a gas-powered leaf blower.


Locally, however, the leaf blower discussion is headed in a more environmentally minded direction. The discussion started when Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping owner Ken Foster wrote an open letter in the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Feb. 12 issue, calling on landscapers to reconsider their reliance on the blower. A few weeks earlier, Foster had published a manifesto of sorts on the souring aspects of leaf blowers to his company’s blog.

In his letter, Foster challenged landscapers to dramatically reduce their use of gas-powered, two-stroke leaf blowers and instead supply their debris-clearing arsenal with rakes, brooms, and, as a last resort, electric blowers. Listing air pollution first and noise pollution third in a list of five reasons, Foster evidently drew the focus away from typical neighborhood complaints about blowers’ high-pitched whining noise and challenged landscapers to go a step further in their overseeing the health of the landscape.

Foster says that he got “a lot of response” from that letter, as several thank you cards and calls rolled in. In response, Foster mounted a call-to-task-force, inviting a dozen homeowners, professional landscapers and community activists to research and represent the woes of the device. The goal of the task force (called Leaf Blower Task Force Santa Cruz) is not to reinvent the rake, but to find dogmatic solutions to technology’s side effects.

However much his 2,768-word blog post attempts to discredit the common landscaping appliance, Foster’s sunset standpoint is more moderate. “An all-out ban is the wrong idea … we really just need to educate people,” Foster explains. “Since I’m a landscape contractor, I understand what contractors have to do to stay in business. At the same time, I just feel like we could be more careful about the community and the people we work with.”

With more than 300 cities across the nation—two dozen of them in California—which currently ban or restrict leaf blower use, Santa Cruz is not new to the issue: A proposed ban failed in the City of Santa Cruz in 1998.

Foster, who is also a permaculture instructor at Cabrillo College, wrote his own personal manifesto, titled “My escape from the land of the two-stroke backpack blowers,” in the 1990s.

“We have this attitude that we need power in the landscape,” says Foster, “and I think that a lot of people that are doing the [machine-assisted] work could easily be doing high-quality work with a little bit of training.”

The Environmental Protection Agency, American Lung Association, California Air Resources board and UC Riverside have published preliminary findings about leaf blower pollution, but further information, clearly and cleanly obtained, may help the dust settle.

The lure of irresistibly sardonic nicknames like “polluting noise bazooka,” “Lucifer’s trumpet,” and “death metal sur l’herbe,” have yet to convince Santa Cruz to abandon the device. But Leaf Blower Task Force Santa Cruz is nearing a “critical threshold,” as Foster puts it, and they hope to research, document and present their findings to the city council soon. Stay tuned. | KellyAnn Kelso

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