A Fisherman Turned Organic Landlubber
Jason Norris may have a landscaping crew at his command, but that doesn’t mean he sits behind some particleboard desk, plastic hunk of phone pressed to his ear, staring into the half-distance as he lines up the next property for his Norris Organics guys to attack with spinning blades, shovels, rakes, and enough bags of mulch to dam a small river.
No, on the final Friday of a notably cold and wet April, he could be found alone in the spritzing rain, walking behind a mechanized overseeder across a throbbingly green lawn in his care off Crestview Lane in Sagaponack. To his right, the well-appointed estate. To his left, a view that not all that long ago gave onto dunes and beach grass now showed a phalanx of huge three-story houses, a veritable mountain range of wealth in defiance of the wild and encroaching Atlantic beyond.
Despite the long stretch of lousy weather, it’s been a busy spring, Mr. Norris’s crew of five spreading out across the South Fork, from Southampton to Montauk, six days a week on missions of, in his words, full property maintenance.
“I’m one of the few NOFA-accredited organic landscapers,” he said of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, through which he completed a five-day program of study. So what does that mean, exactly, down in the dirt? For one thing, he said in the course of a brief chat under the shelter of a carport, the roar of the ocean a constant in the distance, “We re-incorporate all leaves — we use them in the mulch as part of our organic treatments.”
For another, while he tries to get all his clients to compost, “We make our own compost tea, an organic fertilizer. It’s a liquid with fish enzymes and molasses. It’s got a beneficial living bacteria that helps with grubs and helps with fungal disease.” Squid juice is one ingredient.
More broadly, “Three hundred and fifty million pounds of fertilizer go on lawns every year in the U.S.,” he pointed out, “but here, the toxin-free properties are some of the nicest properties in the Hamptons. The lack of synthetics does not affect the aesthetic look.”
He used to surround himself with a different kind of green — the briny depths — on commercial fishing trips out of Montauk. “We’d go for tuna and swordfish for 30 to 50 days at a time, to the Grand Banks, all over.”
“It’s great to do when you’re young, but it’s rough, man.” After 22 years, “I couldn’t handle the lifestyle anymore. It was just too much on the brain and body.”
His path to becoming a professional landlubber went through the doyenne of environmentally conscious landscape design hereabouts, Edwina von Gal, the founder of the Perfect Earth Project. Back when he was a one-man operation with a push mower and a pickup, she asked him if he wanted to mow her lawn, and she went on to introduce him around to acquaintances in need of a landscaper. He still maintains her property in Springs. “She’s been a real mentor to me,” he said.
With long blond hair and a genial earnestness, like a Chip (“Fixer Upper”) Gaines who went into a somewhat less lucrative vocation, he’s 47 now, married, and has two young children. “They were a main reason for switching jobs,” he said. He started Norris Organics in 2014, “and it’s really blown up.”
Now he lives a quiet, normal life in Springs. He even keeps bees in his backyard. In the off-season he’ll do some tree work, in the deep winter snowplowing and removal.
“One thing about organic landscapers, we’re not in competition with each other. We don’t want every house on the block to be a client. We just want every house on the block to be organic.”