I sat in the back of the truck as Heidi and Brad drove me to their greenhouses and pointing out the different, numbered hoop houses. “Wow, look at that one. We’re going to have to move them outside soon,” Heidi said while pointing out hoop house number 9.
The production section of their business, “The Back” as they like to call it, is home to nearly 20 greenhouses. Each one holds multiple species of native wetland plants and shrubs. Shade cloth and white shiny plastic lay over-top of the arched bars that provide the structure necessary for a successful greenhouse.
While touring “The Back,” the married couple of 25 years told me about the history of their company.
The nursery, formally known as Aquatic and Wetland, started in 1986 out of Boulder, Colorado as a family company. Aquatic and Wetland Company, was originally a design, build, grow business specializing in “restoration, creation and maintenance of native habitats,” according to Brad Windell. Prior to 2010, AWC’s services included: wetland delineation, mitigation design, construction, habitat enhancement design; water resource engineering, landscape architecture and maintenance, disturbed land reclamation, irrigation design, and the production of native wetland, riparian and upland perennials, shrubs and trees.
Heidi and Brad are deeply passionate about the environment, and they facilitate and care for it through the operation of business. I asked the couple what they’re favorite part about Aquatic and Wetland:
Prior to Aquatic and Wetland
I assumed that all of these endeavors must have been accompanied with a degree and years of education in environmental sciences, natural resources, or landscape architecture, but when I asked Brad and Heidi about their background, they simply laughed.
Neither Heidi nor Brad thought that they would be pursuing the career they are today. “I wanted to be a teacher; I love kids!” Heidi said when I asked about her college education. Heidi went to Fort Lewis College and got a degree in business and Spanish. “The business degree was a last minute decision, I changed my major my third year of college…it was a little late,” Heidi admits. She went on to pursue a teaching degree, and eventually became a teacher at North High School in Denver, Colorado for a few years. But no where did I hear any interest in the environment in her schooling.
Brad was similar in his responses; he went to University of Colorado and graduated with a degree in Psychology and a masters in microbiology — he had intentions of becoming a doctor. So how did their story evolve and how did the environment become so intertwined with their lives?
Heidi told me they lived an adventurous life out of college. The two met 25 years ago and embarked on separate journeys — Brad went to medical school in the Caribbean and Heidi lived in Ecuador for a year. They met up during summers to work on fishing boats in Alaska in order to save up money. Brad eventually became involved in the snowboarding industry, the infamous Windells Snowboarding Camp is his brothers creation, which eventually led the couple to a snowboarding event in Japan. Brad said that the Japan trip was a deciding factor in pursuing a different path, one that incorporated Aquatic and Wetland Company. He wanted a different lifestyle, one that was less hectic and “glitzy” as the snowboarding industry was. The nursery offered that opportunity at a different lifestyle.
Brad’s father was a founder of the company, and played a key role in the couple’s future career change. Jay, Brad’s dad, asked Brad to join the company as general manager and Heidi to do administration.
“There was an exponential learning curve on our part. And to this day, we are still learning and growing in new ways,” Brad said.
Thirty years and a few business changes later, the company and the couple are different but as strong as ever.
In 2010 Aquatic and Wetland Company made the transition to Aquatic and Wetland Nursery, L.L.C. Heidi is now the sole owner of the company, making it one of the few woman-owned environmental operations in the state of Colorado. AWN also downsized as the name suggests; they no longer do construction or maintenance and instead decided to focus on only the production of native wetland and riparian plants.
Lessons and Struggles
Brad and Heidi both admit that building and effectively managing a company was not always a breeze. The couple profess that since Aquatic and Wetland is a family company, the hardships often have an effect on the relationships within the company. Since both are around each other nearly 24/7 (they wake up together, go to work together, and go home together), I asked if the couple liked working together and this was their response:
We end our tour of the back; I hop back in the truck as we rumble down the dirt road back towards the main office. Brad, Heidi, and Aquatic and Wetland plan to continue their emphasis on teamwork, both in their companies values and in their own personal lives. Aquatic and Wetland is celebrating its 30th year in business this year. Brad offers one last thought on the future: “We don’t know if we will be doing this forever, but for right now we’ll just enjoy the Spring year-round.”