One of the most underrated aspects of the Alliance’s work with the RiverSmart Homes program is its potential value for small companies looking to move into green infrastructure, such as rain gardens, rain barrels and permeable pavers. By providing training and ongoing support, we enable contractors to take on new, ecologically responsible projects. This support for small businesses was what helped me find my passion for local waterways.

In 2013, I started working for Bona Terra, a small, family-run DC-based landscape company and participating RiverSmart contractor. At the time they had a small crew that installed rain gardens and BayScapes (conservation landscaping), as well as occasional permeable pavers. I had little landscaping experience and no knowledge of green infrastructure- in fact, I thought “green infrastructure” meant houses with plants growing on them! I started working on the rain garden crew and attended one of the Alliance’s rain garden training sessions. Bona Terra didn’t need to develop its own training program since the Alliance provided such comprehensive information. I was also able to connect with other contractors and share best practices. By the time I left Bona Terra in 2020, I was their RiverSmart Manager and ran garden installation demonstrations for the Alliance’s RiverSmart landscaping training. My knowledge of green infrastructure, native perennials, and conservation landscaping was gained almost entirely from my work as a RiverSmart contractor.

My level of experience entering this field was not unique. Many of our contractors come to the RiverSmart program with some landscaping experience but minimal green infrastructure experience. In 2018, eleven out of twenty-four participants in the Alliance’s contractor training reported that they had little to no knowledge of stormwater issues in DC before the training. Ten out of the twenty-four reported moderate experience, and only three came to the sessions with a high understanding of our DC stormwater issues. In 2019, four out of seven training participants reported that they had never installed a rain garden before. However, all of them said that they had moderate or high knowledge of DC stormwater issues.

For the Alliance, this means that the opportunity to assist in the development of contractors’ skills extends beyond our RiverSmart landscape trainings. In the past six months, we have been working to expand the support we offer participating RiverSmart landscape contractors. Our goal is to enable smaller companies that work with us to thrive and grow through the RiverSmart program and beyond. Besides ensuring that RiverSmart homeowners are getting quality garden installations, we want our contractors to have the ability and understanding to incorporate environmental best management practices into other parts of their businesses.

To accomplish this, we have been updating our existing training program and adding support services for our current contractors. 

This fall, we offered our rain garden and rain barrel trainings virtually for the first time. With no capacity limit, we opened the trainings up to anyone who wanted to attend. Instead of limiting participation to one representative per organization, anyone including any interested individuals, owners, designers, , crew members, foremen, and even out-of-state companies were able to attend. The two trainings involved over sixty participants.

Additionally, we have had the pleasure of working with Beth Ginter with the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council to develop an assessment for prospective landscape contractors based off of the successful Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals certification program. The assessment helps to identify the strengths and weaknesses of new landscape contractors, allowing us to recommend specific trainings and resources to each contractor. 

We had all of our current landscape contractors take the landscape assessment exam. This allowed us to offer them individualized, tailored support to improve their installations, streamline their design process, and expand their knowledge of native plants. In addition to direct feedback, we are also developing resources for contractors to improve efficiency and accuracy throughout the design and installation process. This individualized assistance approach requires significant staff time, but the Alliance values our contractors, not only as a participant in the RiverSmart Homes program, but also as successful businesses working to bring sustainable practices to the landscaping field.

The Alliance’s work with contractors has always been vital to the RiverSmart Homes program’s success, and our trainings have evolved over the last twelve years to meet the needs of the program and our contractors. The Alliance continues to work to develop new resources and approaches to expand and strengthen our contractor training efforts with the hope that our contractors will be a strong advocate and supporter of improving stormwater retention on properties in and around DC. Through continual education and training opportunities, the Alliance works to achieve its mission of bringing together communities, companies, and conservations to improve our lands and waters. Together, we can make a difference!

Jamie Alberti leading a training presentation