Photos by Cathryn McCann
The Times recently sat down to speak with Zoe Shanor, Keith Crossland, and Kyle Crossland, the children of Mark Crossland, about their interest in the family business their father began 40 years ago.
MV Times: What’s your background?
Zoe Shanor: I’m from Oak Bluffs, born and raised. So are my brothers. My dad used to own Crossland’s Nursery, which is where Mahoney’s is today. I remember the greenhouses, and I remember driving around on the golf cart, things like that. My mom was a gardener, so she would bring me to gardens when I was a little girl and just have me sit while she did her work. But for the longest time I just wanted to have nothing to do with plants. Probably because both of my parents were involved, I was just totally against it. I went to school for journalism, but then I switched to horticulture in my second year and studied plant, soil, and insect sciences.
Keith Crossland: I studied landscape construction at UMass.
Kyle Crossland: I also studied at UMass Amherst. I got a degree in environmental design. I just kind of grew up with it and grew to love it. Then I went out to Arizona and studied ecological design at Ecosa Institute in Prescott, Ariz. In Arizona they have a lot more water conservation issues that are at the forefront there because of the nature of the climate and the droughts out West. I tried to take some of what I learned out there and apply it to water management strategies for the Vineyard.
MVT: How has the business changed in 40 years?
Zoe: It hasn’t, much. We have a lot of the same customers that we had 40 years ago. Things have changed in the green industry, and we’ve adapted to those, but the principles have stayed pretty much the same. Forty years ago, people were a little bit less aware about chemicals, sprays, things like that. We try to focus as much as we can on being sustainable and keeping these lawns looking perfect without spraying them heavily.
MVT: How do you split up the business responsibilities?
Zoe: I deal with the gardening and the overall property maintenance — pruning, fertilizing, deadheading, things like that — keeping the places looking really nice. Flower gardens, shrub planting, containers. Kyle takes care of the irrigation, watering the lawns, watering the shrubs, the trees, adjusting to certain conditions with erosion. He works with the land a lot; he knows how to make the topography most successful with the plants that you choose, and the water. And then Keith, he does the construction. He’s the machine guy. He knows how to drive the Bobcat. He also runs the excavator and digs big holes.
Kyle: On my end, if a client wants an irrigation system installed for their lawn area, or planting beds or something like that, they’ll call us up and I’ll come down there and we’ll lay out an irrigation system for them to maximize uniformity and efficiency. On all our systems we install rain sensors, so when it’s raining outside the rain sensors automatically click on and turn off the system. Another water conservation strategy that we employ is using drip irrigation, which is very efficient for planting beds and vegetable gardens and things like that.
MVT: Did your roles come naturally to you?
Zoe: I guess so. Kyle was doing maintenance for a long time, but then he went to school in Arizona where he learned about water conservation and just fell in love with it. And then he came back and said, ‘Hey, I’d really like to run the irrigation. This is what excites me.’ For me that sounds very boring — I’d prefer to work with the flowers and with the soil — but Kyle likes the water. Keith has got this artistic side that helps him with the stonework and the bluestone patios and things that he does.
MVT: What are the hard parts about this business?
Zoe: It’s seasonal. That’s tough. We work really hard through December, and then January and February we’re kind of itching to get back out there. It’s such physical work for 10 months out of the year, and then nothing. So what do you do? You go on vacation or you study. I try to spend my winters traveling and visiting botanical gardens and gardens elsewhere as much as possible.
Kyle: There’s certainly challenges working with family and that dynamic. We learn to work it out daily, we learn to communicate well, but that’s certainly a challenge. But it’s a close communication, because constantly we have eyes on all our properties. There’s no middle man, it goes right to the source. If there’s an issue, like a client talks to Zoe and says, ‘We’re having trouble with the irrigation, this area is kind of dry, the sprinkler head is broken,’ or something like that, she’ll call me up and I’ll handle it immediately, rather than taking the roundabout route where the client will have to call the irrigation company. We’re in close communication, and that makes things go a little smoother.
Keith: The hot summer months.
MVT: What do you foresee for the future of the business?
Kyle: I guess I foresee moving more toward ecological landscapes and environmentally organic landcare, switching more to that. Last winter the towns passed a fertilizer restriction, and so the towns are already trying to implement strategies to lessen the nitrogen load into our ponds, and as landscapers we’re on the frontline of that by being able to foster organic landcare strategies. And also controlling runoff and erosion, which also means nitrogen getting into the ponds. So I foresee getting into more strategies to handle those kind of concerns and water restrictions. That’s where I see the future of landscaping going, not only for us, but for the whole region.
Zoe: I see us continuing to run Crossland Landscape the way it has been run for 40 years, but with a whole new spin on things because we’re young, we’re fresh, we are excited, we are educated, we are go-getters, and we’re a team now. When Mark started it was just him, and now there’s three of us. I’m excited. It’s a great opportunity, and I just feel so grateful to have this business given to my brothers and me; there’s nothing better than that.