For Downey gardener who refuses to use power tools, it’s easy being green

Last month, gardener Steve Perez used one gallon of gas.

His main fuel? Rice and beans and malt drinks served by his Cuban family.

That’s because Perez went green.

Perez travels his entire gardening route on a three-wheeled bicycle. He doesn’t use a leaf blower or even electric shears.

All his tools, such as a broom, a rake and a push mower,  are Steve-powered. He carries them in a trailer hitched to his bike.

His official title: The Green Gardener-Eco-Friendly-Landscaping-Odd Jobs & Knife Sharpening.

“Most gardeners are just blow and go. That’s what I call them,” he said. “Three guys  jump out of their truck with a bunch of power tools, chop up the yard, make a bunch of noise, and then jump back in their truck, all within about 15 minutes.”

He is celebrating one year in business this month.

A typical job for Perez lasts about 90 minutes, and he can’t get to more than five clients a day, he said.

“I usually burn out by No. 5,” he said on a rainy Tuesday morning.

Most of Perez’s customers are into ecology and native plants, and they are willing to pay a little more for a gardener who sees the world the way they do, Perez said.

“I don’t pollute,” he said. “The ones who pay me extra are really into the eco-friendly thing.”

Gas-powered lawn mowers are among the most inefficient machines when it comes to gas consumption and exhaust, according to air quality experts.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 5 percent of all air pollution comes from gas-powered  lawn mowers. That statistic doesn’t include blowers, edgers, shears or other gas-powered tools.

And gardeners spill about 17 million gallons of gas annually, which is more than the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez, according to EPA estimates.

Due to his environmentally friendly sales pitch, Perez’s clients typically plant drought-resistant native plants rather than traditional grass lawns. It’s a practice that has become common in the Pasadena area but hasn’t caught on southeast Los Angeles County, said Catherine Pannell Waters, a Downey resident and regional representative of the Los Angeles/Orange County Urban Forest Council.

She wonders if Perez will make it, but she hopes he does.

“I think that for whatever reason he may have chosen a very unrealistic business model, however he has very low expectations,” she said.  “As a result, I don’t think his expectations are higher than what he can do. I have seen people with pie in the sky ideas do very wonderfully. And since his expectations are as low as they are, this is  a model that may work for him.”

“He certainly is likeable,” said Waters, who considers Perez to be a friend.

As for getting rich, Perez said he tried it and didn’t like it.

“I had a real estate company that had control of 3,200 properties,” he said.

There were times when he grossed $40,000 a day.

His ego grew as fast as his bank account, and he ended up neglecting the business before it finally folded, Perez said.

“I didn’t like who I became,” he said.

He is now volunteering with several environmental groups in the city, and he hopes to work toward changing a city law that requires grass in the front lawn.

He’s learning about environmentally friendly plants, and he hopes to start educating the public on the benefits of native, drought-tolerant plant species.

Other than that, he’s content to work, he said.

“I’m busy, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s getting to the point where my schedule is pretty full.”






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