As a landscaper, Webber believes her profession plays an important role in society. “We do more than cut grass,” she said. “Behind every park, backyard, recreational path, or other outdoor green space is a landscaper. We build beautiful places.”
As president of Christy Webber Landscapes in Chicago, Webber and her nearly 500 employees are responsible for many outdoor spaces. The company is one of the most highly regarded in the area, providing residential and commercial landscaping, maintenance, design/build, and snow removal services.
One of Webber’s closely held beliefs is the importance of giving back to the community. She does it the best way she knows how: by helping create and protect spaces that encourage people to get outside.
One organization that Webber supports is NeighborSpace, a nonprofit urban land trust that preserves and sustains gardens on behalf of dedicated community groups. NeighborSpace has created more than 90 community gardens in Chicago neighborhoods.
Webber does more than attend NeighborSpace board meetings; she uses her company’s people, equipment, and resources to help create and maintain the gardens. Her crews prepare the sites and deliver soil to get the gardens started. And, when budget cuts forced the city to stop supplying water, Webber started delivering that, too.
The most gratifying part of Webber’s work with NeighborSpace is being able to share her love of the outdoors with the communities and children. “It’s exciting to build these gardens and watch kids come out and volunteer,” she said. “Some of these kids have never planted or touched dirt in their lives. It’s just cool.”
The benefits of green spaces and outdoor play are many. According to a Harvard Medical School study cited by Come Alive Outside, children are more than twice as active when they spend time outside, preventing the development of obesity.
Come Alive Outside is an organization dedicated to engaging the professional landscape industry more directly in the broader movement to encourage people to spend time outside. Webber is one of the founding board members or the organization.
The importance of outdoor play points to an obvious need for more and better green spaces, and Webber believes the landscaping industry needs to play a larger role in that mission. “We need to be a part of the movement across this country of (encouraging) play, to try to get people outside,” she noted. “Why aren’t we a part of that as landscapers?”
A Landscaper Did That
It was a love of the outdoors that drove Webber to the landscaping business almost 30 years ago. She began her career as a teacher, but was never happy and knew she was meant to do something different.
At age 26, after spending several summers mowing lawns to earn extra money, she started her business. It was a modest start. “I had a truck that was a piece of junk, and a line of credit for equipment,” she explained. But she knew she was on the right path. “I love the land, I love the work, I love being outdoors.”
While a decrepit pickup was enough to get Webber started, it took a tremendous amount of hard work and a willingness to learn to become successful.
Webber’s first jobs were for the City of Chicago, cleaning up parks and medians. She did whatever it took to get work, often under-bidding competitors by as much as 25%. While she didn’t make a profit, she did gain valuable experience. “We took on more contracts, and got smarter,” she said. “The first 10 years I was just breaking even and trying to make a name for myself.”
Webber gives back to the community the best way she knows how: by creating and protecting outdoor spaces.
As a small operation, Webber subcontracted for large landscapers, and saw those jobs as an opportunity to acquire more knowledge. While other subcontractors did their work and collected their pay, Webber asked questions. She said, “I paid attention and learned a lot from them. Before long I started bidding against them.”
Today, as one of the city’s premier landscaping companies, Christy Webber Landscapes serves homes, businesses, and municipalities throughout the Chicagoland area. The company is also involved in some high-profile projects, notably The 606, just completed in June 2015.
The 606 is a green space and recreational trail built on 2 1/2 miles of decommissioned elevated rail lines. The project is part of a larger effort to add more parks and green space to Chicago, encouraging citizens to enjoy the outdoors.
To Webber, it’s another example of the influence landscapers can have. She wants people to know who is responsible for beautiful outdoor spaces like Chicago’s 606 or Millennium Park. “That was a landscaper that did that,” she said. “It’s time to be very proud of the things we do.”
But as proud as she is of The 606 and other projects her company has completed, her greatest pleasure still comes from seeing kids enjoy the spaces she creates.
She recalled giving a garden tour to a group of first-graders recently. “It was fabulous to see was how much fun they had, screaming, running around, not playing with their moms’ cell phones,” she said. “It was a blast to watch them be free outside.”