Like agriculture, nursery management and landscaping demand persistence. Dave Bell of Bellville, Ohio has made a living selling trees and plants, as well as taking care of them for other people. His hard work and dedication in the horticulture industry epitomizes what many landscape service entrepreneurs continuously go through on the way to success.
Dave lived in Mansfield for 27 years before he and his wife Jane bought their current property in Bellville in 1958. Dave selected this property because unlike other available tracts of land, this property was once a dairy farm – it was clean. Other properties were overgrown and not conducive to growing plants, so this property seemed to be the best fit for horticulture purposes. He mentioned that when the Bell’s accumulated extra money they continuously invested it into home additions. Original walnut beams from the old farm’s trees still reside in their living room and kitchen.
Dave Bell’s father bought the first 159 acres, one acre which was a cemetery dating back to 1843. Little by little tracts of land were available for sale around this property. So, Dave purchased more land until he eventually owned 230 acres.
The land was important to Dave because he intended to make a business out of his horticulture background. Dave wanted to raise Christmas and shade trees for a living; horticulture was the closest college major to what he wanted to do, at the time. He graduated from college in 1955 and received his sales tax license in 1956. After college, Dave bought a sprayer and sprayed an orchard for five years – using entomology knowledge gained from school. Dave believes that his love for plants and nature is hereditary, his father was always in the woods or outside at some point. Dave was determined to make it in the Northern Ohio nursery industry.
The Bell family was fortunate because they knew many local people. However, their first year of landscaping was hard; Dave and Jane talked to contractors and knocked on doors; they did whatever it took to get business. When asked about their reception among locals Dave explained, “Back in those days it was really good. We had a service that only a few other people were offering. We happened to be Johnny-on-the-spot, I guess.” Once landscaping jobs were contracted, as long as the Bell’s did a good job, they were re-hired. For at least ten years, the Bell’s put in 80-hour work-weeks. Gradually, the Bell family shifted from landscaping to nursery management by opening Bellwood Nursery in 1956.
Plant varieties in which the Bell’s offered were dependent on companies that supplied them. They were supplied with the latest genetic modifications of trees like maples and oaks, which they in turn sold to their customers. Dave also mentioned, “I would plan like three or four years ahead. What am I going to plant? How many am I going to plant? Where am I going to put them? . . . that is why we had little plots here and there with different stuff.” The Bell family chose planting ground based on soil types and prior success. He also eluded that it was important to have genetically modified species of plants; native plants had far too many growing disadvantages in a competitive market.
When Dave started his business very little equipment was available for those in landscaping. Some people even made their own equipment. Many of these people submitted their designs and early equipment manufacturers started producing landscape equipment. Dave, however, launched his business with a pickup truck, a wheel barrel and a shovel. As more and more jobs surfaced, Dave researched landscape equipment and purchased tractors, grading equipment and tree planters. Today, like farming, there are many types of landscape equipment available; however, it can be expensive. Dave commented that landscaping today is “Very difficult. You almost have to have an outside source of income to support you until you get going and you have to sacrifice until you get established.”
Because land management was so important to Dave, his conservation practices he employed over the years are evident. He manufactured grass strips in between rows of trees at the nursery and created buffer areas to help stop runoff containing fertilizers. Many nursery owners had to drain their runoff into a separate pond, but because Dave had buffer strips he did not. In addition, instead of spraying the whole field for pesticides, Dave sprayed individual plants; this technique also cut down on runoff pollution.
Charity and horticulture do not often go hand-in-hand; however to the Bell family, they do. Dave and Jan manage a greenhouse specifically for their garden. Today, they raise roughly 175 green pepper plants, 175 tomato plants, 3-4 pounds of sweet corn and 1,020 hills of potatoes. Dave admitted he does spray for bugs; having bugs in a garden is inevitable unless spraying is implemented. So, one can only be so organic before it is inefficient.
Dave and his friends, Dave Fleming and Dave Kracker, mainly give their produce to the local Catholic Charity and an Episcopal church; these organizations anticipate produce from them each year. Interestingly enough, all three Daves are left-handed and have the same body size, this is a joke among them. Last year, in 2014, they gave away nearly 1,200 pounds of potatoes. Another year, they provided a church with 50 pounds of redskin potatoes to go with their pork roast dinner; all of the church’s meal profits went to buy Bibles for natives in New Guinea. Dave’s produce has won numerous first prize awards at the Bellville Street Fair. On gardening and giving, Dave concluded, “It’s difficult, it’s rewarding, and it has a lot of satisfaction.”
The Bell’s no longer have any landscape employees. Instead, Dave subcontracts jobs to other businesses or offers advice to people regarding plant management. Now, Dave owns close to 50 acres, far lower than his previous 230. It was important to Dave that the buyers of his property wanted to keep the land in their family as one parcel and split it up. He mentioned that too many older farms were being split up, in order to provide children with starting ground. This idea of land stewardship is more important to Dave now than it ever was; he stated about his land, “I don’t need it to make money anymore and if you go back to my first real like of stuff it is wildlife and animals.”
Through long 80-hour work-weeks and grueling sweat the Bell family successfully created a nursery and landscaping business from the ground up. Their family business history is not only a testimony to their entrepreneurial persistence, but it is also an important story in Richland County conservation.