With high elevation, low humidity, and intense sunlight, gardening in Colorado is not for the faint of heart. Despite these challenges, OrganaGardens has been providing custom landscaping services to the Pikes Peak Colorado Springs area since 1995.
While successfully navigating the Colorado landscape is an accomplishment in itself, OrganaGardens takes their work a step further by gardening in an innovative way. By practicing the principles of “permaculture design,” their home systems serve both the aesthetic and functional needs of their clients. These sustainable systems include rain gardens, erosion control, home food systems, and more, all while minimizing maintenance and water needs.
While gardening is their passion, so too was building an organization that would ultimately further benefit their employees.
OrganaGardens started as an LLC, where founders Becky Elder and Brian Fritz consistently worked alongside other gardeners who held their own LLCs. “This model is not like a typical business structure, so the founders started researching what other options look like,” said Rachel Ribich, Lead Gardener at OrganaGardens. “Luckily, the State of Colorado educates around employee ownership and cooperative structures, so the founders started moving in that direction.”
The founders recognized that their model, while not a traditional one, worked best for their needs and officially became a worker cooperative in May of 2021 with the support of the Employee Ownership Grant.
For OrganaGardens, a worker cooperative made sense. The opportunity to pool together resources, labor, tools, and skill sets made their operations sustainable and effective. Becoming one entity fostered and streamlined what they could do together - and helped the business grow, specialize their services, and keep up with demand long-term.
Having an owner mindset is imperative in any employee ownership model. For the gardeners at OrganaGardens, this mindset is a part of them already. In addition to being an employee-owner, each gardener also holds their own LLC. While the owners could operate individually, the cooperative model offers an impactful way for them to share resources and clients while leveraging one another - growing their own businesses, as well as the cooperative at large.
The gardeners also hold a specific leadership function for the business. Owners regularly come together weekly to share knowledge, meet on important topics, and vote on the direction of the organization.
Since becoming a cooperative, OrganaGardens has seen something outside their products and offerings (and plants!) grow - their wages.
“Our wages are significantly above minimum wage, and we were able to do that as a cooperative to come together and pool those resources,” said Rachel. “We’ve been able to raise our rate and our wages for our employees. One of our highest goals is to offer a fair and equitable livable wage…We are making enough money to truly support ourselves, and I think as an employee-owned cooperative, we've been able to focus on that.”
Since instilling the cooperative model, the organization has been refining their process and learning more about what it means to be an employee-owned company. They are navigating the nuances of taxes, refining their bylaws, and streamlining their approval and decision making processes. Rachel notes that they appreciate all of the education and support they received throughout their conversion - especially the organizations that helped them craft their bylaws, and the Employee Ownership Grant that helped cover the technical support necessary to become employee-owned.
Despite challenges along the way, Rachel expresses that the benefits of employee ownership are well worth the effort. To hear OrganaGarden’s journey first-hand, watch our video interview with Rachel.
OrganaGardens was an awardee of the Employee Ownership Office’s Employee Ownership Grant. If your business is considering making the conversion, learn more about how our grant and Tax Credit Program can help cover your transition costs.