Talking Trees with Davey Tree

Sustainability on Davey’s SEED Campus

November 10, 2022 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 2 Episode 43
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
Sustainability on Davey’s SEED Campus
Show Notes Transcript

Dan Herms, vice president of research and development at the Davey Institute and Dan Joy, executive vice president and assistant to the president, talk about the Davey Tree SEED (Science, Employee Education, and Development) Campus.  

In this episode we cover:  

  • What SEED stands for and how it was chosen (1:00) 
  • The size of the SEED Campus and its features (1:50) 
  • The importance of sustainability for the SEED Campus (3:50) 
  • The history and future of the SEED Campus (8:00) 
  • Herms' excitement for the SEED Campus laboratories and research plots (13:05) 
  • Herms' favorite trees on the campus (17:10) 
  • What the project has meant to Joy (18:20)  
  • The hope for the SEED Campus (21:05)  

To find your local Davey office, check out our find a local office page to search by zip code.  

To learn more about the SEED Campus, click here.  

Connect with Davey Tree on social media:
Twitter: @DaveyTree
Facebook: @DaveyTree
Instagram: @daveytree
YouTube: The Davey Tree Expert Company
LinkedIn: The Davey Tree Expert Company 

Connect with Doug Oster at

Have topics you'd like us to cover on the podcast? Email us at We want to hear from you!    

Doug Oster: Welcome to the Davey Tree Expert Company's podcast Talking Trees. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Each week, our expert arborists share advice on seasonal tree care, how to make your trees thrive, arborists' favorite trees, and much, much more. Tune in every Thursday to learn more because here at the Talking Trees podcast, we know trees are the answer. This week, we have a very special episode. We're talking all about something called the new SEED Campus for the Davey Tree Expert Company, that's S-E-E-D and to talk about that is Dr. Dan Herms.

He is our number one guest, I like to say. Longtime listeners of the podcast know his name. He's the Vice President of Research and Development for Davey Tree. Then we've got Dan Joy. He's executive vice president and assistant to the President for the Davey Tree Expert Company. How are you doing, guys?

Dan Joy: Doing great. Thank you.

Dan Herms: Doing excellent. Thanks.

Doug: Let's start off SEED, S-E-E-D. What does that stand for?

Dan Joy: SEED stands for Science Employee Education and Development. We went through quite a process of trying to determine the name and actually went out and solicited options from the entire workforce and got back a pretty good group of names and then went through a narrowing process and landed on SEED. We felt it was very fitting to what we were trying to accomplish with the project.

Doug: Since I'm an Ohio boy, I know right where that campus is going to be. That was an old golf course, right?

Dan Joy: Correct.

Doug: Tell me about the campus. How big is it and what is going to be there?

Dan Joy: The whole site is approximately 185 acres. The golf course was 170, and then we purchased the old Franklin Elementary School site that was just to the south of it from the city and it adjoins the property. The entire campus now is about 185 acres.

Doug: Why is it important to have this new campus set up? What's going to be going on there?

Dan Joy: It certainly is an investment into the future for our employees and for the organization. The growth of Davey, we've always had the Davey Institute which is a separate building here on our existing corporate campus that was used for our research people, the education, and training classes for our company, but that was built back in the mid-80s. At that point, we were probably about a $300 million a year company, maybe even less than that. Today we're pushing at a billion and five and the employee account has certainly grown at the same rate as the top line.

The need to expand on our ability to train our employees was really the driving factor between trying to find something new or to expand. That's going to be the primary purpose of the SEED Campus is to expand our research and development capabilities, and also expand the ability to train our employees to prepare them for their jobs here.

Doug: Dan Herms, let's talk a little bit about sustainability and the importance of that for this new campus.

Dan Herms: Along with training and research that Dan mentioned, sustainability is a major pillar of the campus and sustainability around our building site, the property conservation, water management, and energy. We're really blessed with this site to have some really excellent natural areas. Close to a mile of frontage on the Cuyahoga River, beautiful setting there, a 40 or so acre riparian forest that we're putting a nature trail through with beautiful native plants, pawpaw buttonbush, other native wetland riparian species, a really high-quality bog on the campus. It's a natural area that we'll treasure and conserve as well as use for our training opportunities.

We'll be installing a large solar array to power the campus with renewable energy. We have a comprehensive water management plan, stormwater management, and water management. Sustainability, Dan can probably comment on the sustainability features that will be incorporated into the new building that are really exciting as well.

Doug: Before we go on to that Dan, you brought up something there that I need to talk about, pawpaws.

Dan Herms: Pawpaw.

Doug: Tell people what a pawpaw is. This amazing native tree and that's going to be part of the campus. I can't be more excited because I am a pawpaw fanatic. [chuckles]

Dan Herms: Pawpaw is a native riparian species in Ohio, southern and eastern Ohio, growing along rivers that produces what I think is a wonderful tasty fruit. It's hard to beat the animals to it.

Doug: It's true.

Dan Herms: You have to be on the ball but I was really excited to find large stands and colonies of pawpaw in our riparian forests. It's also the host plant for the zebra swallowtail butterfly which is a really beautiful native butterfly species.

Doug: I did not know that. That's great information. Dan Joy, let's continue with sustainability. Talk a little bit about this. For all of us, sustainability is important, but what specifically are you doing there at that new campus besides what Dan Herms told us about?

Dan Joy: The entire building, the design process that we're going through, we are targeting lead certification at a minimum silver but as we just keep moving through the process, we think that gold is going to be very attainable for us. The entire design of the building is with all of that in mind, very energy-efficient lighting fixtures. The insulation in our factors of the way the building's going to be constructed is going to be probably three times what the normal construction would be. We're using these called SIPs panels. They're structurally integrated panels that are foam and almost 12 inches thick that provide insulation rating like three times of a traditional construction.

Lots of windows to allow natural light in and to take advantage of that. Then, as Dan mentioned, we are doing a solar array with the goal of having the building be net zero so that we'll generate as much electricity as we'll be utilizing to operate the building all geared towards trying to achieve that lead certification.

Doug: Could you run through the timetable of when you started thinking about this and when things are going to get underway?

Dan Joy: We purchased a property in 2016 with an idea of what we wanted to do with it, but nothing real concrete. It sat there for a couple of years, and then we engaged with a group called the SmithGroup out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, to help us with the master plan. We put a core group and Dan was on that committee, myself, and the leadership of the organization. We went through about a eight or nine-month process to work through, to land where we did on the master plan. Then it's always longer. You get to that point and you think, "We're ready to start pushing dirt," but no, we're not. There's a lot more to be done.

We went ahead and continued forward with bringing SmithGroup on as the architect of record. Since the master plan in 2018 to today, we've just been going through all the design process, schematic design. We finished up design development and they're actually putting the construction documents together to be able to get us started. The hope is we've got an early site package that's going before the City of Kent here in a couple of weeks for approval. Immediately, once we get that approval, we're going to start doing some site work, getting the main drive in, getting the building pad built, the utility quarter put in, as long as Mother Nature cooperates with us throughout this winter. That's the goal.

Then the steel package is going to be done real rapidly. We'll get that on order because it is a long lead item. The hope is to start coming out of the ground with some steel, early next spring and we're off. Right now, the construction schedule is to wrap up the building in late '24 and be able to occupy it the first part of '25.

Doug: Bigger classrooms, right?

Dan Joy: Bigger classrooms. We're doubling the size of our classrooms. To Dan's delight, probably quadrupling the size of our laboratories, if not more. Neat features, there was an old barn on the property that we had dated back to 1890 the timbers. A timber frame barn, and I spotted it. I had a friend who was a timber frame activist and enthusiast, and I brought him out. He says, "You can't tear this barn down. We got to save it." We dismantled it piece by piece and have it stored in the old cart barn over there for the golf course, and are going to put that back up as an anchor on one end of the building and utilize it as an event center.

It was a large burn, 45 by 90. We're going to use the frame, put it back up, the whole frame will be exposed inside. It'll have a new skin around it, but it'll be a great spot for us to hold big meetings, celebrations, a place for us to display our archives which we haven't had for the company for a long time. That'll be a fun part of the community and then at the other end, we're building a interior climbing training center to be able to utilize to bring our employees in. Actually, it will be able to be utilized by any work a loft trade. Firefighters might use it.

Anybody who works in the air would be able to come in and use this facility to train their employees. It's one of few in the country. There is a network of these facilities, maybe 8 or 10 of them. We'll become part of that network. We'll allow other people to use our facility and they'll be able to utilize and we can use theirs. It'll be a real win for the organization to be able to do training indoors during rough weather. From the very beginning, people and be in a very controlled environment to be able to be sure that they're getting the proper instruction to get started into their climbing careers.

Doug: That has to be a huge space. How high can they climb indoors?

Dan Joy: Because these are entry-level climbers and they're first people, we're not all that concerned about getting them that high off the ground, but it is going to be about 45 foot, which is right at the limit that we could do within the zoning regulations. It is more of a steel structure inside that you recreate what it's like to be in a tree by walking out on beams and that sort of thing. It's about the size of a gymnasium and about 45 foot is the interior height.

Doug: All right, Dr. Herms. Tell me about your excitement about this laboratory that we're talking [chuckles] about here, because when Dan Joy mentioned it, you smiled right away. [laughs]

Dan Herms: I'm very excited about it. After being a researcher for my entire career, the opportunity to design new laboratories to serve the tree care industry and our company is incredibly exciting. There'll be two laboratories. One will be a diagnostic laboratory that will be regulated by the USDA. That is a laboratory that will receive samples from Davey operations throughout the country to diagnose disease problems, insect problems, and so forth so that we can make prescriptions. There's containment and precautions because we're bringing in pests as we have been. We currently have a diagnostic laboratory, and we have had for many years.

This will have some new features that will support new technology, molecular diagnostic techniques, DNA techniques, and so forth. We will also have a separate research laboratory to support the Davey research and the Davey scientists. We conduct research on everything from pest management to tree stress management and water tree structure and function, soil ecology, soil management, pollinator habitat. This laboratory will be designed to support field-oriented research on plants, soil, water, the kind of things that support Davey operations. To be able to design facilities like this from the ground up, it's a once in a career opportunity.

Even if that, very few people find themselves in this opportunity, very few scientists, so I can't tell you how thrilled I am. Equally as exciting for me is the opportunity to design field research plots for conducting controlled research in the field. I would estimate that we have allocated about 20 acres. Does that seem reasonable Dan? Reasonable estimate. About 20 acres for controlled field experiments. We've excluded deer, we've planted replicated tree plantings, a number of different species where these trees will be allowed to grow to maturity.

We can conduct experiments. We have turf research, we'll have greenhouses for greenhouse research, natural area research as well, state-of-the-art irrigation. When we talk about water management and stress management, we'll be able to control the amount of water that goes to individual trees so that we can conduct randomized, replicated experiments on water use by trees, water management, stress physiology. It's a dream to be able to design these kind of things from the ground up. Then this being a former golf course, there are large numbers of mature trees, trees that line what used to be fairways, and so forth.

These also provide a wonderful opportunity for research that's generally lacking in a university environment where research is conducted on three-year grant cycles and so forth.

Having these large, mature replicated trees for conducting long-term research is also a very unique and valuable opportunity.

Doug: When you look at that site and you're looking through those trees, is there anything in there that is special to you when you're looking at them, like, "Oh, I can't believe how big this is," or "I can't believe they've got one of these"?

Dan Herms: There are some amazing trees out there. Dan's nodding his head, but I'll just quickly say that there are some mature cucumber tree magnolias, unlike anything I have personally seen before. Some legacy oak trees that we had a colleague and a friend, a professor at the College of Worcester that studies endocrinology dated back to the early 1800s, and some other remarkable specimens.

Dan Joy: There's more than a handful and the more I spend over there, the more I get attached to each individual one of them too. It's exciting. It really is a great spot.

Doug: Of course, if it's going to be a campus for Davey Tree, you've got to take care of these pristine old trees. Dan Joy, when I think about this process, to me it seems daunting. I'm thinking about like, somebody, "Okay, we're going to build a house," and all the little things that you've got to deal with. Tell me a little bit about that for you in a project this big like that, going through all these lists of things that need to be done and need to be put in the right place.

Dan Joy: It is a daunting project. Myself, I've been with Davey for 46 years and looking to hang up my Davey hat out here soon, but this project came along and Pat, our CEO approached me. He knew I was wanting to start to back down a little bit and head towards retirement. He said, "Would you be interested in taking the lead on this project?" I probably didn't do a very good job of hiding my enthusiasm about it when he asked me, because I can't imagine a better way to end a 46-year career than to be able to have an impact on something like this that's going to be around for generations to come. Not only for Davey but for the community and for the industry.

Like Dan mentioned, it's a project of a lifetime. Most people don't ever get an opportunity like this. We migrated myself, my responsibilities were slowly handing off to people because I've been in operations, I've been responsible for safety and equipment and purchasing, and really done a little bit of everything in the organization over my career, but as of the end of this year, I will be done with everything else other than this project. It is an absolute full-time job commitment for me for the next couple of years to see this through. It's probably consumed better than 50% of my time, even the past couple of years through

this planning process.

You are right. It is a big project. You hire good people. I think we got a great group with the SmithGroup as our architects. I think we've got a great contract manager with Rulon. We build a team, which is very typical of the way we work just internally. We tend to build teams. If we're happy with them, we move forward with them. That's what we've got doing this. It truly is a team effort between an internal group of Davey people and our outside consultants, the architect, and the construction manager that it's going to be great. It's fun. it's exciting, but it is a lot of work.

I know I have thousands of decisions to make on a daily basis moving forward over the next couple of years, but I cannot think of a better way to wrap up a career. I really can't.

Doug: With that deep history with the company, before I let you go, I want to ask you what you hope that the employees get out of this new SEED Campus.

Dan Joy: Certainly I believe that it is going to be something that we are all going to be very proud of. It will be a showplace for not only us. The intent is to have community involvement. We really did even mention that we're going to have a 30-acre arboretum that I believe will be a destination arboretum as it matures over the years. It might be a little young-looking when it first goes in. We got 30 acres dedicated for an arboretum that we intend to be a destination place. That's going to be a great place for everybody to come enjoy and learn about plants.

I think it's going to be a great recruiting tool for the corporation. When we have prospective employees or schools that have arboricultural programs that we can bring there on field trips or open it up for their educational purposes, I can't believe that people aren't going to say, "I need to go to work for this company." I do believe that's going to be one of the biggest return on our investments. Employee training, employee retention, and recruiting down the road is going to be really important to us.

Dan Herms: I'll just add that I think there has been a trend in academia to disinvest in arboriculture research. For Davey to recruit scientists out of academia such as myself, such as some of my colleagues to come to Davey and then provide a resource like this, we'll be able to step into that void and address those research questions that support not only Davey, but the tree care industry as a whole and elevate our industry and continue to advance our understanding of tree biology, plant healthcare, so forth. I think this will be a great resource, as Dan mentioned, that will support not just Davey employees, but our community of practice as a whole.

Doug: Now, Dan Joy, I know you're retiring, but you've got to come back on the podcast here when this is all getting put together. I don't care if you're retired or not. I don't care if you're going to be in Bermuda. You've got to come back and tell me about how this all finished up. All right, guys. Thanks so much for your time and all this great information.

Dan Joy: All right. Thanks, Doug. Appreciate it. It was fun.

Dan Herms: You're welcome. Thanks for having us.

Doug: That is going to be an amazing site, not just for Davey, but for the community too. I'll be sure to keep you posted on the progress of the campus. Tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I am your host, Doug Oster. Did you know that Davey cares for many historic properties around the country? We'll dive into that next week talking to some arborists who are proud to keep the trees thriving on these special landscapes. Do me a favor, subscribe to the podcast so you'll never miss an episode. As always, we'd like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer.


[00:24:33] [END OF AUDIO]