I vividly remember my college professor having stacks of SportsTurf Magazines on his desk. One day as I was passing by on my way to my next class, something caught my eye. It was an article about the Daytona Speedway highlighting the logo art that was created by hand. I was intrigued. I asked my professor if I could have this issue so I could take home and read and this is where it all began!
I always knew I wanted to play with plants and get my hands dirty and earn a living at doing it. I wasn’t fully prepared for the lack of support I would receive as I embarked on this quest. I want to say that it is because these people knew that I wouldn’t want to (or be able to) do a physically demanding job when I’m 60, but I think subconsciously they all knew that being a female in the green industry, wasn’t common, and if we’re being really honest, it’s not very accepted. I think everyone knew I’d have to break stereotypes, work harder than the average man, and possibly be ostracized for simply being a lady.
My faith has always been a big part of who I am. I know that the Holy Spirit lives within me and when I seek Him in whatever I am going through, He helps give me clarity to drown out the noise and keep pushing through the fog. My career choice is a prime example of this! I had no idea where I would go after I graduated college. I knew I didn’t want to do golf courses or be a mow, blow and go landscape service. I honestly don’t think I knew what I wanted to do, but subconsciously that image of Daytona Speedway logo painting was etched into my brain. I knew I wanted to use my creativity and be outdoors!
During the last month of my college career, my professor asked me if I was interested in talking to an industry leader about a job in Charlotte at a private school. I said sure but looking back, I’m not sure why I did.
I’m from a small town, family is everything to me, and let’s be real… I’m a homebody. I would be moving to a big city by myself to start my career… by myself! I have always had Heather (my twin sis, best friend and business partner) by my side. I took the phone call and set up a meeting to come and tour the campus and talk about the job opportunity. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of it all!
Private School Grounds Crew (2011 – 2020)
I moved to Charlotte by myself and began on the grounds crew. I owe so much to my boss for giving me the opportunity, and literally showing me the ropes at all things sports turf management! In those early days, I remember calling Heather to laugh about all the things I broke, or mowers I got stuck. This job and the people I worked with really did become like family to me! I had so much to learn and they took me under their wing to raise me up.
I learned so much while working here: how to use a weed eater, skid steer, reel mower, how to stripe an athletic field, paint logos, how to prepare dirt for baseball and softball, how to apply pesticide applications and properly apply fertilizer. One of the most important things I learned was how to fix equipment, because God knows I broke my fair share of it! My tenure here lasted roughly ten years. I worked my way up to a leadership position as the Assistant Grounds Crew Supervisor.
Heather has always said that I have been telling her what to do since we came out of the womb, and it’s true — I’m the bossy one. I’ve always had the drive to be efficient in everything that I do and I’m always thinking 10 steps ahead. This position was created just for me so I could step into this leadership role, but wow… once I attained it, it was the beginning of a huge struggle!
I quickly learned that being a female leader of all men is ridiculously challenging. Throw in being the youngest and smallest AND moving up to a leadership position within a team that I had previously been a part of… it seemed like the challenges would never end! I remember feeling so frustrated that I wasn’t being taken seriously. All I ever wanted was to be an effective leader. “Why don’t they think the way I think?” I remember asking my husband with my eyes full of tears. His reply was groundbreaking: “That’s your first problem. They aren’t YOU! You can’t expect others to do or think the way that you do. Everyone is unique and from different backgrounds with experiences and upbringings that are different than yours. You have to communicate the things that you want and be level-headed enough to talk to each one on a personal level. Quit taking it personally and leave your emotions out of it.” That hit me like a stack of bricks. I had been comparing everyone to myself, and it wasn’t fair to them or me!
This began my journey to understand people, their personalities, and how to effectively communicate as a leader. I wish I could say that I read a book or listened to a podcast and things immediately changed. Truth is, each day was a new struggle. I had to constantly remind myself of my husband’s words and take my emotions out of it. I needed to think about the other person and be empathetic to where they were at in their journey and make sure I was giving each of them the tools, explanations, time, and energy that they needed to perform at their highest level. I ultimately had to recite my husbands words in my head every day and remind myself that as long as my team had the same end result as I would, I needed to give them space to execute the way that they choose. My goal was to show them the ropes, the way that I did it, and then give them the space to perform and sometimes fail on their own. After all, that’s exactly what I needed and wanted when I was in their shoes!
While I was still working my full-time job, my boss asked me if I wanted to go with him to Bank of America stadium where the Carolina Panthers played so I could meet the groundskeeper there and to walk the field as they prepared it for a game. Ummm… YES! I remember seeing the huge Panther logo on the 25 yard line and the crew out there painting the outline. I walked over there and they asked me if I wanted to give it a try. “HECK YES I DO!”
But honestly, what was I thinking? This was my first time on an NFL field and here I am about to paint the team mascot on the grass. I think this had to be the Holy Spirit inside of me talking. In my flesh, I would have played small and shrunk back into my shell in fear of messing up. Thank God I took the challenge without hesitation and painted that beautiful panther logo. I was so stinking proud of myself… literally on cloud 9!
NFL Carolina Panthers Grounds Crew (2013 – 2018)
The following year, that same groundskeeper reached out to my boss to see if I was interested in working part time on the weekends during their upcoming season. I would be helping to maintain the common areas around the stadium (lots of push mowing!) and also help paint the game field in preparation for their Sunday or Monday games. YESSSS PLEASE! I took the offer and never looked back. Not only did I get to prepare the field and see my work on national television, I got to stand in the end zone and raise and lower the field goal net. I was so close to the action and shoulder to shoulder with so many well-known players! This was also the time that the Carolina Panthers were on a winning streak (I like to think that I was their good-luck charm!) and they made it to the Super Bowl. I continued my time here for five consecutive seasons as a member of the grounds crew.
MiLB Charlotte Knights Grounds Crew (2016 – 2016)
After football season was over, baseball was ramping up. I had my feel of prepping high profile private high-school level baseball and softball fields, but really wanted to experience this sport on a higher level. I reached out to the groundskeeper at the Charlotte Knights in hopes that I could get a spot on their crew part-time on the weekends during their season. Not-so-funny backstory to this; I had reached out a year prior while the grounds crew was under different management and the assistant ended up declining my offer because he said that I would be eaten alive by the men on the crew.
While I am sure that this was God’s way of saying it wasn’t the right timing, the sheer fact that somebody was telling me no because of my gender infuriated me and only made me press harder.
On the minor league level, dirt-work is never ending and I learned a lot during this season! I had never seen a game in person, so the experience was totally new to me. I remember running out with the drag at the 6th inning with the rest of the crew, all carrying screen drags, and walking the infield dirt. The drag itself weighed a ton, then add the physical piece of pulling it and keeping up with my male counterparts, doing it all while the entire stadium was starting at you (I definitely stood out like a sore thumb). Super intimidating, but I enjoyed every minute of that! Sometimes the guys would ask if I needed a break or wanted to opt out of doing it again. “Heck no, I’m doing it!” I’m definitely the person that if you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll try everything in my power to prove you wrong! Whether dragging, tamping clay, carrying 50 pound bags over my shoulders, or spreading hundreds of pounds of infield conditioner by hand, I wanted to do it all.
On March 26th, 2019 my son was born. I had worked through my entire pregnancy, definitely not letting people tell me that I could or couldn’t do something just because I was pregnant. I was so resistant to hearing others’ stories of pregnancy. I wanted to listen to my body and make the best decisions for me. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, I can be very headstrong!) Growing a human for roughly 10 months is probably the biggest accomplishment I have to date and I’m pretty sure women should get a medal for surviving pregnancy. For me, the mental struggle of doing a physically demanding job and not allowing others to take the weight off of me was draining. Pack on the hormones and emotions, I feel like I should formally apologize to my coworkers. I hated when other women would tell me that I wouldn’t want to work once he was born or that there was no way that I would want to continue to do the career that I was in. I mean, I knew this was my passion. When the nurses laid my 9 pound baby on my chest after I pushed for hours, I was completely overcome with joy! I had never felt a love like this before. It may be weird to say this, but my whole pregnancy I never grasped the concept of a tiny human growing inside of me. The day I met him, I knew my world would indeed change forever!
I had always loved landscape design and reimagining homes to fit different styles and ultimately give them better curb appeal. While in school, I learned there was so much more to designing landscapes that would play into each design. Plant selection, drainage, pests, soil amending, and more. I definitely think my experience in sports turf and management of grass, plants, and sports fields has given me the ability to design with a different perspective.
STEPPING OUT ON MY OWN to build a legacy
In October of 2019, I had officially created Fawn Renae Designs and Those Plant Ladies. There was a lot that I didn’t know but what I did know is that I wanted to create landscape designs and also work with my twin sis to give other women the opportunity to work with their hands. Fawn Renae Designs and Those Plant Ladies were born out of that vision. I started doing landscape designs for friends and family. I hand drew everything because I didn’t have a software program. I also didn’t like the typical landscape drawing from a birds-eye view. My creative brain simply didn’t work this way. I needed to be able to see the space and design on top of it. While coloring with pencil and trying to erase to relocate a plant in an image just one centimeter to the left, I decided it was time to invest in a software program. The one I had used in college was extremely expensive and out of my budget. I found a super inexpensive one to begin with. I literally taught myself everything through trial and error! From starting the business, knowing what to charge, to even teaching myself how to design, I just figured-it-out. Like mama always said, practice makes perfect. I believe this is true for my designs. Each space I reimagine, I feel like I get a little better.
Heather and I had always dreamed of combining our careers and doing something together. I remember saying, “What if our past experiences, journeys, skills learned, talents, and failures were for a bigger goal to bring them together for one mission?” We firmly believe that this idea came to us from within. We knew this was God speaking through us to prepare ourselves for what was next. We wanted to unite my rough and dirty background with her soft and curated approach
Being a female in a male-dominated industry has taught me a lot about myself. I had to learn to be confident in my own skin. I remember the guys at work telling me that women didn’t want to do turf management as a career because they didn’t want to get their hands dirty. I immediately said “Not true! I’m a woman and I LOVE this career! I think other women don’t have the opportunity and also don’t have someone to look up to help show them the way.” In October of 2019, I booked an installation of one of my designs and sought a crew to help. I asked my older sister, Nicki, if she wanted to be a part of it, and she was totally ecstatic to join. She asked a couple of her friends to take off from their full time jobs as well, and before I knew it, I had my very first all-female crew! Each woman came to put in the hard work to see a job from vision to execution. They worked their butts off! After posting and sharing about it on social media, we were overwhelmed with the amount of women who said they wanted to be a part of our crew, even if they didn’t get paid. They just wanted to learn and have fun with us! Those Plant Ladies started off as what Heather and I thought was just the two of us. Turns out, it’s so much bigger than us. Women all over the world are wanting to be part of this movement to change the standards and break down stereotypes!
On March 25, 2020 (the day before my son’s first birthday), I left my full-time job to pursue my businesses full-time. I wanted more flexibility of my time, and ultimately to spread my wings and fly. I had been waking up at 3:20am to get ready for work, waking my son up at 4:00am to take him to daycare and then traveling an hour to Charlotte for work. I would get home in the evenings around 4:00pm and pick my son up and spend the remaining 1-2hrs with my family but I was depleted. I was giving him and my husband my leftovers. I felt the nudge to step out onto this new journey with faith. I remember praying, “God, please send me a sign.” Oh He did! Every single day, there was some kind of reminder or signal that show me what I really wanted to be doing and I couldn’t drown it out any longer! I gave my boss a month’s notice and prepared for my departure. Little did I know, Covid-19 would be shutting the world down very soon after.
So much of 2020 was spent just figuring it out. Since Heather and I read Marie Forleo’s book Everything is Figuroutable it’s been our mantra to jump into action and figure it out as we go. Both Fawn Renae Designs and Those Plant Ladies were fresh and new. We didn’t have anyone to model our business after their example. We were strictly following our gut and stepping out in faith! Each time I felt like it wasn’t possible to push through, God sent someone or a new experience to us to help us get through the challenge. There have been some extremely hard times, but even when the bank account is empty and the jobs are few, I’m reminded that this is exactly what I was made for! Every single piece of my past points to this moment. It’s scary, but it is one million percent worth it! Leaving a legacy…