In Memoriam: Ernie Higgins of ItSaul Natural

January 10, 2013 at 3:34 pm

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Ernie Higgins.  He died quietly at his home in north Georgia with family on December 25, 2012 of a heart attack.

I’ve known Ernie for almost 12 years, introduced by Bobby Saul of Saul Nurseries and Ernie’s co-partner in ItSaul Natural, located in  Dahlonega, GA.

Everyone who knew Ernie liked him!  You just couldn’t help it – he was always smiling, always in a good mood, and always saw the good in others and in the world. After having survived heart surgery several years ago, his zest for life was even more enhanced, if possible.

Ernie was a passionate soul about many issues, in particular creating the highest quality engineered soils – never “dirt” or anything with bio-solids.  ItSaul Natural, LLC is a soil company that came into the Saul business fold in the early 1990s when Bobby and Richard Saul partnered with Ernie Higgins, the original founder of what was then a small hen manure compost company.

The new company was named ItSaul Natural and developed a line of organic soil products under the name ‘Mr. Natural.’  These  engineered soils are available  for greenroofs and greenwalls and other  bio-retention media for LID techniques; structural soils for urban trees, turf and fire lanes; and these landscaping soil mixes:  PermaTill Soil Conditioner, Mr. Natural Complete Landscape Mix (CLM), Mr. Natural Woodland Soil Mix, Mr. Natural Hen Manure Compost, and Mr. Natural Worm Castings.

He was quite the activist, championing many environmental and social causes in the landscape industry and beyond.  He also was happy to share his knowledge with many others along the way.  Here’s he’s giving an intimate lecture to folks at the Habersham Gardens:

He was also extremely proud of many of the projects on which he worked, in particular the Atlanta City Hall Pilot Greenroof  and especially the  William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, AR.

In 2003  Atlanta’s $60,000 greenroof project was sponsored by the city’s Department of Watershed Management as a tool for improving air quality and for reducing stormwater runoff.  When it opened in 2004, the $165 million William J. Clinton Presidential Library complex earned a Silver LEED rating – the first presidential library to do so, and in early November, 2007, it received Platinum certification for existing buildings (LEED-EB) from the USGBC.  Saul Nursery and ItSaul Natural provided plants and engineered soil for both vegetated roofs.

Ernie also loved nature and parties with music with his friends at his farm!  I’m sorry to say we were never able to make it up there to share in the festivities:

Aramis and I spent lots of fun times with Ernie  at various happenings here in Atlanta and at  CitiesAlive Conference events in Atlanta, Vancouver, B.C., Philadelphia, and  most recently Chicago.  Here he is with Aramis and Janet Faust of JDR Enterprises in Philly in 2011:

Ernie will be sorely missed by so many people and we send our heartfelt  condolences to his  wife of 18 years, Chris Pepper, and all of  his family.  Here are Chris and Ernie at pal Bill Brigham and Beate Allio’s Greenroof Wedding in May, 2010:

Here are what some of his friends have to say about the wonderful Ernie Higgins:

“Ernie got an early start in the organic movement and was way ahead of his time.  For 26 years Ernie stayed with the business he loved, composting and blending organic planting soils when few recognized their importance.  Those who knew the man saw an endless determination to succeed, a master blender, a logistics genius and a salesman  extraordinaire.” ~ Business Partner Bobby Saul of ItSaul Natural

“Where do I begin? I still remember when and where Ernie first called me on the phone eighteen years ago. Like Ernie, I have many friends, however only a handful can I really call true best friends and Ernie is and always will be one of them. It got to the point where we were like two teenage girls having to speak to each other on the phone at least once a day. The value of those “end of day phone calls” was not the business we had to conduct but how the calls would transform. No matter how stressed we were that day or what had gone wrong at work the calls ended up having both of us laughing uncontrollably into the phone, time would get away from us and we would end up being late for dinner. Not a bad way to end the work day. I’m glad we didn’t get into texting; LOL just doesn’t have the same effect as the real thing. I’m grateful I made that last call before I left the country for my Christmas vacation.

I can say that all the times Ernie and I have spent together were very special to me and I feel that knowing him has enhanced my life greatly. I will miss him terribly and mostly around quitting time when I will feel the need to pick up the phone for a few laughs at the end of the day.” ~ Chuck Friedrich, RLA, GRP, Carolina Stalite Company

“Ernie Higgins was a man of wonderful contradictions.  Homespun but intellectual; soft spoken but intense; relaxed but hard working which shows how he found a balance in life and work that few find.  His spirit will be missed around the green roof circles and all his other social circles as well.” ~ Ed Snodgrass, Emory Knoll Farms/Green Roof Plants

“I first met Ernie while working on the ATL City Hall greenroof, from day one he was my new best friend.  He treated everyone kindly, with respect but with just a little ribbing humor.  A southern gentleman who always greeted you with a big grin and warm hug.  Wow, what a void he’s going to leave in the industry.

He and I were on the same flight coming home from Chicago (last October after CitiesAlive).  We sat and chatted the whole way home and continued on MARTA to our designated stops.  He never lacked in conversation and was always engaged to know you better.  He had my back so many times I can’t even count.  I regularly got random phone calls from people who would start the conversation “˜I was just talking with Ernie, and he says I should call you”¦’; a great team player.  I always wondered how he was privy to so many projects; I think because he knew everyone and everyone knew him and everyone liked and trusted him.  A very loyal person to call friend; a real diamond in the rough.” ~ Janet Faust, JDR Enterprises

Here’s Ernie, pre-ponytail, in green at the  Atlanta City Hall Greenroof Dedication in April, 2004.  Note his colleagues to his left: Bill  Brigham, City of Atlanta  Landscape  Architect in dark blue plaid, and ItSaul Natural partner Bobby Saul in white plaid.

“Ernie was a true Champion in the Green industry and without his knowledge, expertise and professional guidance, the Atlanta City Hall Greenroof would not be the success that it is day.  Ernie touched so many lives in the industry and will be deeply missed.  We now have a void both in our hearts and in our profession that will take a long time (if ever) to fill…” ~ Bill Brigham,  Principal Landscape Architect/Proj. Manager, Bureau of Watershed Protection,  Dept. of Watershed Management, City of Atlanta

“Ernie was always the brightest smile in any room he was in. He was a major influence on me and my decision to enter into the world of Green Roofing. And with that, he shared his bliss and made it mine, too. “  ~ Mary Ann Uhlmann, Tremco

Close friend Chuck Friedrich has shared the following with us:

Earnest “Ernie” Whatley Higgins of Gainesville, Georgia, died quickly of a heart attack at home the evening of Tuesday, December 25, 2012.  Ernie is survived by his wife, Chris Pepper; his mother, Jane Betts Higgins; his sister Betty Daniel; his brother Carl Higgins; stepdaughters Julie Sevadjian and Sara Tacket; nieces, nephews, in-laws, and a multitude of friends and close acquaintances.

Ernie was born in Rome, Georgia, March 26, 1943.  Ernie attended Darlington Academy in Rome, Georgia followed by a period at Auburn University.  After returning to Georgia from Dallas in 1988, Ernie conceived and created what would become Mr. Natural organic compost and potting soil utilizing the tons of hen manure generated in the broiler houses at the chicken farm.  Ernie leased land near Dawsonville, GA, and created a manufacturing and bagging facility he affectionately knick-named “Dookie Hill.”  In the early 1990’s Ernie partnered with Bobby and Richard Saul of Saul Nurseries to create a new company named ItSaul Natural, LLC.  ItSaul Natural, LLC, has become a leader in organic soil, engineered soil, and green roof growing media technology.  Some of their green roof projects include: Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock, AR; Bridge Street Parking Decks, Huntsville, AL; Renaissance Park Pavilion, Chattanooga, TN; High Museum at Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, GA; and Atlanta City Hall, Atlanta, GA, and many more.  Ernie was a member of the Southern Nursery Association, Urban Ag Council, GGIA- Georgia Green Industry Association, and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

In 1994 he married Chris Pepper on 70 acres tucked into a bend of the West Fork of the Little River at the end of Butler Road- just South of Quillian’s Corners and Clermont, GA.  Ernie and Chris later purchased that land and have generously shared their property with friends and family on a regular basis.  Ernie Higgins never met a stranger and perhaps his greatest delight in the world was bringing his friends and family together for a good time.  He enjoyed making connections with people and seeing people connect.  He loved to learn, to hear stories, to tell stories, to listen to good music, and to help anything grow.  At just shy of 70 years old Ernie had more kid-like zest for life than many of us have ever known.  As Angus says, Ernie was a “special, unique, crazy and wonderful hippy.”  Ernie will live on in the hearts and minds of his family and friends.

“Ernie got an early start in the organic movement and was way ahead of his time,” said one of  his partners, Bobby Saul of Atlanta.  “For 26 years Ernie stayed with the business he loved, composting and blending organic planting soils when few recognized their importance,” Saul said.  “Those who knew the man saw an endless determination to succeed, a master blender, a logistics genius and a salesman  extraordinaire.”

A memorial will be held in the Ed Cabell Theatre at the University of North Georgia (Gainesville State College), in Gainesville, Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 2:00 PM. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Smithgall Woodland Botanical Garden- contact Rebekka Kuntschik- rkuntschik@atlantabotanicalgarden.org. and/or the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, 845 West Ridge Road, Gainesville, GA 30501.  Cards and correspondence may be sent to P.O. Box 434 Murrayville, GA 30564.”

Aslo read the “Ernie Higgins, 69: Made organic soils, wonderful wines”  obituary from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by  J.E. Geshwiler.

Remember the part of how  Ernie Higgins never met a stranger?  Here’s proof – the photo below shows him at a CitiesAlive after-party in Philadelphia 2011 with Chilean Ignacio Espoz of Latin Green who had just met Ernie about 10 minutes prior, introduced by me:

If you’d like to share your thoughts and memories, please respond to my post or send me any quotes (and/or photos) at linda@greenroofs.com.

We’ll miss your ponytail,  kind smile, and hearty laugh, Ernie!  You will certainly never be forgotten, always remembered as the happy person and gentle soul that you are.

~ Linda V.

Ed Snodgrass & John Shepley Voted Two of America’s Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs 2011

June 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Businessweek.com profiles 25 ventures selected from reader suggestions in their third annual roundup of America’s most promising social entrepreneurs. Guess who made into this year’s list?  Emory Knoll Farms/Green Roof Plants co-owners Ed Snodgrass & John Shepley – also two of our contributing editors!

“…Socially minded entrepreneurs and investors are still building the infrastructure to start and expand companies that exist between the purely for-profit and the purely philanthropic…Investors are beginning to consider social ventures more seriously…” ~ excerpt from Businessweek.com of June 22, 2011

Funny – Ed, our Plant Editor, has been with us the longest (since 2004) and writes the “Ask Ed” column, and John is our newest contributing editor, the Green Business Editor,  having just come on board earlier this year with his column “Sustainable Business Insights.”   Corporate sustainable  responsibility and has been their motto from their beginning in 2004; in 2010, Emory Knoll Farms  became one of the first benefit corporations under a Maryland law that creates a new legal designation for social enterprises.

Businessweek.com is asking us to “read through the profiles of these social ventures””then vote for the most promising before July 12 (the voting page is also available at the end of the slide show).  We’ll announce the top five vote-getters on July 19.” Everyone can vote once for their favorite.

How about we greenroofers unite and let’s all vote for Ed and John, and in the process highlight Emory Knoll Farms and our greenroof & wall industry!  A little self promotion never hurts, you know.

Read “America’s Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs 2011” by John Tozzi, and the accompanying article “For-Profits Fixing Social Ills” by Nick Leiber, Joel Stonington, John Tozzi, and Venessa Wong which includes  the slide show of 2011’s 25 private, for-profit social enterprises  here – and specifically the one about Ed and John here.

For some background on Ed and Emory Knoll Farms, you can review my 2009 “From Llamas to Greenroofs: An Interview with Ed Snodgrass.”  Visit the Emory Knoll Farms/Green Roof Plants  website here.

Congratulations, Ed & John – way to go!

~ Linda V.

Greenroofs.com’s “This Week in Review” on GreenroofsTV: April 15th, 2011

April 16, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Each week you can expect to learn What’s New here on  Greenroofs.com through our “This Week in Review” video.   Here’s the transcript for April 15, 2011 from our daughter,  Anjuli –  click on the photo below to see the video, or  here.   Enjoy!

–   Hello, I’m Anjuli Velazquez and welcome to This Week in Review for April 15th, 2011 on  GreenroofsTV.

–  Project of the Week

– Our project of the week is the Longdrive house built in 2008 in Long Eddy, New York.  This 4,000 square foot home by Alveary Architects was designed to be an extension of existing trails and paths that wind through this beautiful 63 acre property.  A conversation pit with a large stone fireplace dominates and anchors the center of the house.  Radiant-heated stone floors were used throughout the main level while the master bedroom suite and upper stories were floored with reclaimed wood, which was also used for all interior walls.  Next to the master bedroom is a green house separated by pivoting wood doors providing a tropical retreat during New York’s long winters.  The house is covered by a custom designed green roof complimenting the natural setting and the planted roof on three levels blends into the natural landscape and encourages the wildlife to creep in close to the house.  Also, Longdrive was featured on the cover of our 2011  Greenroofs and Walls of the World™ 12 Month Wall Calendar!

– To learn more about  Longdrive, click on our project of the week photo on our  homepage.

–   “What’s New“

– Our 2011 “Love the Earth, Plant a Roof!” Earth Day Photo Contest is going on right now, so participate in the fun by submitting a photo on our Facebook page and telling your friends to vote!  You can submit your greenroof or wall photo by next Friday, Earth Day April 22nd, but keep voting until Friday, April 29th and the winner will be announced on Saturday, April 30th!

– We’d like to announce a new Contributing Editor here at Greenroofs.com:  Welcome to John Shepley!  John is co-owner of Emory Knoll Farms/Green Roof Plants based in Street, Maryland and look for his first column coming very soon!

–  Advertiser Press Release:  Green Living Technologies International – or GLTi – has added a Vertical Farming Seminar to its Certification Training: “Food is Not an Option…” The class will provide the knowledge base to implement vertical agriculture ranging from a hobbyist/education to professional grower and for profit opportunity.

GLTi also announces that Certification Training is Available for Registration in Detroit, Michigan.  The GLTi training is much more than a lecture series; it’s also a hands-on demonstration and application comparing apples to apples.  You will learn to compare other technologies!  Both class sizes are limited so register early!

– The NYC Strategic Alliance for Health honored Discovery High School as the first recipient of its Excellence in School Wellness Award at Bronx ceremony earlier this week, on Tuesday April 12th, 2011.  The Excellence in School Wellness Award recognizes the strides that schools are making in creating healthy school environments as a means to prevent childhood obesity and improve academic achievement.  So, congrats to them!

– Be sure to read Linda’s Sky Gardens Blog posts where you can read how the ASLA, or the American Society of Landscape Architects, has been nominated for their new greenroof page as a Webby Award finalist; learn more about our project of the week on the “GPW: Longdrive“ post; see my script on the “Greenroofs.com’s “˜This Week in Review’ on GreenroofsTV: April 8th, 2011“ post; and, read all about our annual contest with the “Enter the 2011 “˜Love the Earth, Plant a Roof!’ Earth Day Photo Contest“ post – what it’s all about, what you have to do to enter, the requirements, how to vote and more!

–   “Upcoming Events“

– April 16th-17th: Join EPA for Earth Day on the National Mall at Washington, DC.

– April 19th-20th: is the Green California Summit and Exposition in Sacramento, CA.

– April 20th: there is a Garden Roof Course at GOCSI Green Product Show at the Central Florida Fairgrounds in Orlando, FL.

– And April 22nd: is Earth Day!  Your support enables Earth Day Network to power the environmental movement and ensure a healthy and sustainable planet for all of us.  Your contributions and purchases help mobilize communities, implement environmental education programs and support Earth Day events and actions around the world.  From greening schools in post-Katrina New Orleans to improving water and sanitation services in a refugee community in Ghana, EDN supports and coordinates thousands of Earth Day events worldwide each year.  Earth Day, April 22, is the largest secular holiday in the world, now celebrated by more than one billion people.

– Stay tuned for our latest Sky Gardens – Greenroofs of the World™: The Cook+Fox Architects Office episode in Manhattan, New York coming soon.  In the summer of 2006, Cook+Fox Architects decided to set a greener, healthier example with a roof that absorbs stormwater, lowers surface temperature, and benefits both the local ecosystem and the human environment.  Having grown rapidly, the firm had recently moved to a new office on Avenue of the Americas at West 20th Street.  Located in the 8th floor penthouse of a former upscale department store, in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, the new space looked onto a sizable terrace-level rooftop.  Though coated in black tar and formally off-limits, the roof held great potential as a platform for promoting urban sustainability.  For more information about this project profile you can search Cook+Fox in our projects database, or visit this link below: (http://www.greenroofs.com/projects/pview.php?id=670)

–   “In the News“

– Preston Moretz of the Temple University News talks about “Sustainability projects advance throughout Temple.”  He says, “At Temple, environmental responsibility is continually being woven through the campus fabric; everywhere from academics, to research, to everyday business practices.”  On the Main Campus, the redesign of Pearson and McGonigle Halls were to include a new upper level, which will feature the installation of approximately five 12-foot wind turbines on the roof.  The turbines could generate between 16-18 kilowatts of power, which will be returned to the building’s power grid, reducing Temple’s energy costs.  Temple’s Ambler Campus is home to the university’s first green roof, which was installed in 2005 through a grant from PECO Energy and occupies three-quarters of the 5,000-square-foot roof atop the Intercollegiate Athletics Field House.

– Tom Oswald of MSU News reports on “MSU students to present green-roof technology at EPA event in Washington.”  A team of Michigan State University students travels to Washington, D.C. to take part in a competition that could get them a federal grant to continue research into technology that would allow green roofs to be used on sloped roofs.  The students, who are in the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction, are participating in the National Sustainable Design Expo, which is part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s celebration of Earth Day 2011.  Jeremy Monsma, a graduate student in the SPDC who is heading up the project says, “The majority of residential roofs, especially here in the north, are sloped because of snow,” and “the goal of our work is to answer fundamental questions relating to the performance of extensive green roof systems when applied to more conventional pitched roof systems.”  One of the goals of the team is to develop a construction manual which will assist with all future greenroof installation on steep slopes.

– Elisse Lorenc of Iowa State Daily announces, “Students Society of Landscape Architecture recruits by building green roof VEISHEA display.”  Located in front of the College of Design, SSLA spent 6 months planning and constructing a display to demonstrate the uses of green roofs.  The display has three miniature roofs or modules, each displaying a different type of green roof.  The group hopes to grab students’ attention at VEISHEA, but also alumni to get the word out about green roofs, answering student questions and demonstrating the uses of a green roof.

–   To learn more about these stories and new ones posted daily, go to our  In the News or  newslinks section of our website.

–   Have something you think we should know about and post on our website?   You can send us your green articles, videos and images to  editor@greenroofs.com.

–   Stay up-to-date with what’s going on at  Greenroofs.com by subscribing to our  greenroofsTV channel on YouTube, following us on  Twitter, liking us on  Facebook and being a member of our network on  LinkedIn.

–   This has been This Week in Review for April 15th, 2011 on GreenroofsTV.  I’m Anjuli Velazquez and I’ll see you next week!

*This week’s episode is sponsored by  The Greenroof Directory, brought to you by  Greenroofs.com.*

Did we miss something?   We’d love to hear from you!

~ Linda V.

 

New Book from Ed Snodgrass Now Available!

September 7, 2010 at 1:03 pm

As you probably know (unless you’ve just entered the greenroof field), Ed Snodgrass is a horticultural consultant who  co-owns and operates Emory Knoll Farms/Green Roof Plants, a perennial nursery specializing in green roof plants that stocks over 100 varieties of green roof plants.   To date they have and provided over 2.5 million sf of planted roofs!

Ed also happens to be one of our Contributing Editors, our first in fact – see my 2009  “From Llamas to Greenroofs: An Interview with Ed Snodgrass.”   Appropriately, Ed is our Plant Editor and writes “Ask Ed” where he answers reader questions, writes occasional articles, and features seasonal greenroof plants for us.

Ed is also a seasoned speaker (highly in demand) and writer (who says he will try and contribute more here on Greenroofs.com!).     By now I’m sure you’ve all read  Green Roof Plants: A Resource and Planting Guide, by Edmund C. Snodgrass and Lucie L. Snodgrass, published by Timber Press, 2006 – I thought it was great, and a perfect resource – see my review here.

And, his brand new book, The Green Roof Manual: A Professional Guide to Design, Installation, and Maintenance, by Edmund C. Snodgrass and Linda McIntyre, published by Timber Press, 2010, is now available!   I feel privileged that I was sent an early copy to review, which I’m working on along with finishing up another Contributing Editor’s book by  Kelly LuckettThe Green Roof Guy Green Roof Construction and Maintenance, published by McGraw-Hill’s Greensource, 2009 (it’s fantastic and I can’t believe I haven’t finished the review yet).   Are they similar? Yes and no.   Both are certainly unique with dinstinct perspectives.

But my early feeling for Ed and Linda’s new book is that it is simply  great – much more overall in scope than the first (of course, it had a plant focus) and another must have for our greenroof and greenwall library!   Order today  from Amazon.com  for quick delivery.

Congratulations, Ed, on yet another success!

~ Linda V.