When Ecology and Economy Meet in a Business an Oregon Entrepreneur Makes Garden Products Using Environmentally Friendly Materials
Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
JOBS versus the environment.
Is it possible to protect nature while creating employment and turning a profit? Or are economy and ecology - which have their root in the same Greek word meaning "house" - always to be in conflict?
The question is as old as the stripping of Mediterranean shores for timber to build ships or the Industrial Revolution, as new as the latest quarrel over saving endangered species in the Pacific Northwest or reauthorizing Superfund toxic-waste legislation.
For Gary Schrodt, part of the answer at least is found in bird feeders and other wildlife garden items made from recycled redwood and other environmentally friendly materials. Co-owner with his wife, Rosalind, of Schrodt Designs in Ashland, Ore., Mr. Schrodt has found a way to do good environmentally while doing well economically. And vice versa.
The story starts about 10 years ago in New Mexico, where the Schrodts were environmental activists and artists (Gary was a sculptor, Rosalind a dancer and dance teacher). Gary conducted workshops in ecology and ethno-botany (the use of plants by native Americans) at the University of New Mexico. As head of the Taos Environmental Association, he led a fight against the use of pesticides in national forests.
"A good portion of my work as an environmental activist was obstructionist by necessity," Gary recalls. "But I reached a point where I saw that if environmentalists didn't play a key role in building the economic structure globally, we could win battles but lose the war. And that's because as long as people have to make a living, they'll take from the environment."
The Schrodt family moved here to southern Oregon, where Gary gave himself a year to succeed as an artist. But in the back of his mind was a desire to merge his craft with business, his environmentalism with something that would benefit the community as an expression of "right livelihood."
"Something," as he says, "that would bring it together in one nice, sweet package." The Schrodts started making bird feeders and birdhouses, selling them at Saturday markets and crafts fairs. Gary engaged in what he calls "guerrilla marketing," driving to West Coast cities to peddle his wares to store owners and at trade shows.
Eventually, they bought a meat-packing plant at the edge of Ashland, and with loans from a local bank and the Small Business Administration turned it into a factory that now covers 30,000 square feet.
Today, with about 30 employees (50 during the busiest seasons) they turn out 500 and sometimes as many as 800 items a day: gracefully designed bird feeders and houses, birdbaths, hummingbird feeders, edible (to birds) baskets and wreaths, and garden fountains. Schrodt Designs Inc. now has about 5,000 accounts all over North America and some in Europe, Japan, and South America. "Ninety-five percent of them are mom-and-pop," Gary says.
Sales grew 100 percent the year the factory and attached Wildlife Gardens Gallery opened in 1991, 40 percent the next year, and another 16 percent in 1993. The products also are sold through such outlets as the Nature Company, Smithsonian (the designs are part of the permanent Smithsonian Collection), Natural Wonders, the National Wildlife Federation, and in about 40 catalogs including Harry and David and Plow and Hearth. …