It's about 2 p.m. on a Friday and Ben Engebretson and his two-man crew of Hamid Daraby and Babak Goli are working on a lawn on the far northwest side of Oklahoma City. As Daraby and Goli trim the grass, Engebretson quickly tidies up the front yard's border with an edger. The trio stays focused, even as a competing lawn company's truck and long trailer full of gas-powered equipment lumber toward a stop sign near their workspace. All heads crane out of the truck's windows, with looks of utter amazement on the men's faces.
Engebretson said he's used to the reaction. After all, his lawn business, Greencut Lawn Care and Landscaping, is pretty unique. He uses reel mowers and battery-operated edge and hedge trimmers and also uses organic fertilizers and weed-control treatments.
"I'll have people come up and sometimes they give me weird looks because they don't know what they (reel mowers) are," he said. "I think people associate them with being old, and so maybe not as good, but it's definitely not true. They're better for the lawn, actually."
Engebretson said that reel mowers are better for grass because their blades cut like scissors, whereas a gas-powered rotary mower tears grass, damaging it and leaving it open to disease. Because of the way they cut, rotary mowers also make grass bleed, staining shoes and concrete, he added. Another plus, he said, is that reel mowers also can be used to cut and mulch the yard simultaneously by simply allowing the reel mower's clipping to stay on the lawn, since they decompose quickly and help release nitrogen into the lawn. And reel-type turf-grass mowers are frequently used by golf courses and for other sports fields, he said.
Engebretson has been mowing grass since he was a kid, but has had a bona fide lawn business for six years. This is the first season, however, that he has been using eco-friendly techniques.
"I've always been an eco-friendly person, but I was reading a National Geographic this winter and I read an article that said how much pollution a gas mower produced. The article said nine cars in an hour of operation is equivalent to one gas mower in an hour of operation, so it's a ton of pollution."
That article was the catalyst for Engebretson to shift toward a green-minded business model and prompted him to invest in reel mowers and battery-operated trimmers, which are charged with a Jensen power inverter. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statistics posted on the Web site People Powered Machines, about 54 million Americans mow their lawns each weekend, which uses 800 million gallons of gas per year and, as a result, produces about 5 percent of the nation's air pollution.
Engebretson took the eco-friendly concept even further while he was studying for Oklahoma's pesticide applicator certification test. For him, the best substances to place on a lawn " meaning the least harmful to humans, animals and plants and grass " are those that don't need warning labels.
"The skull and crossbones were a turnoff. The more I researched pesticides and chemical pesticides, it just looked horrible to me " something I would feel bad about spraying," he said. "There are common things you can use that you wouldn't think of, like different vinegars and citric acid, but they do the same thing: They kill the weeds and the roots. And the fertilizer is all organic, too," Engebretson said, noting that such organic treatments are pretty close to odor-free.
Engebretson has some pretty satisfied customers, too, including Oklahoma City resident Debi Miller.
"They do a great job. I'm proud of Ben that he's so ecology-minded," she said. "I think it's important for everyone to do their share."
Right now, Greencut Lawn Care is a part-time venture, but Engebretson hopes to take it full time and also land contracts to cut commercial properties. He ultimately would like to franchise the business.
With this year's lawn season well under way, Engebretson seems pretty driven to propel his business with reel mowers and other eco-friendly technology.
"I'm not so much about profit, but more about saving our environment," he said. "I was watching the news and it mentioned an ozone alert, and it just made me feel better about doing this."
To find out more about Greencut Lawn Care, log on to or call 308-7157. "Deborah Benjamin