Nature & Nurture: Father and Son Grow a Business from a Shared Passion for the Environment

Posted by
Nicole Bradley on Aug 4, 2016 10:17:34 AM

Spending time outdoors is a way of life for Jeff and Eric Sebert, father and son who share a love - the landscape as nature intended it. Their appreciation stems from growing up enjoying trees, plants and animals. And, that passion has grown into a progressive business venture that is a product of two generations of family sharing a vision for a greener world.

            An interest in preserving nature is simply in their DNA.

            In 1985, Jeff founded Sebert Landscaping based in Bartlett, Ill. Meanwhile, by exposing his sons to the outdoors, Jeff unknowingly left a remarkable imprint on his son, Eric’s, future.

“This passion came naturally, and that’s such a blessing,” Jeff says, relating that he sees Eric’s energy for nature and ecology and it reminds him of how he was in his early twenties. “I still have that,” he adds.

            Their story illustrates a selfless love for the natural world—and how that translated into Bluestem Ecological Services, a sustainable company that builds, restores and maintains native ecosystems.

 Young Eric, Jeff and Brian going fishing

Planting Ecological Ideals

Jeff tells a story that illustrates his love for nature and explains how it has come full-circle with his son’s passion for ecology and the launch of Bluestem.

When Jeff was 12 years old, he found a scraggly willow tree and decided to plant it next to a pond where he loved to swim and catch frogs.  He kept it watered, took care of it—and it flourished.

            The tree grew there, and Jeff continued to visit the pond as an adult. About 20 years later, he went to that pond with his two boys. They were in grade school.  They took a cutting of this tree, then took it home and plantrf it.

            They potted the cutting and it rooted. Then they placed it by a pond on their farm in Marengo. The tree grew to about a 3-inch caliper, and Jeff’s travels took him back to the childhood pond, about 50 miles west of home.

            The pond was gone. It had been filled in. The willow tree was gone, and there were no signs of nature…just an industrial building.

            But the willow tree on their Marengo property still thrives. The boys saw how easily man can take away nature. And how nature can be “replanted” and appreciated.

            These types of lessons emerged all of the time at the Sebert household.

Eric shares what it was like to grow up on their family farm in Marengo, Ill. He spent days outside exploring. They had bison, chickens and goats. There was a pond to fish in and acres of open land to roam. “I just developed a love for nature—it wasn’t on purpose,” Eric says.

            His memories mirror those of his father, who has always camped, fished, hiked, and enjoyed just being outside. “That’s just how I live my life,” Jeff says simply.

            Eric and his father share these hobbies. As Eric got older, he gained a much deeper appreciation for what he had been given.  He started realizing the importance of the natural resources they have on their property and here in northern Illinois—and in the rest of the world. Then that opened up a whole new door.

 Young Eric and Brian catching a fish with their dad

Planting Seeds

Ultimately, that door was Bluestem Environmental Services, a way for the Sebert’s to bring back more of the nature they both have grown to know and love—and to share it with others.

            “Seeing what has happened to our planet in the last 50 years, the impact mankind has had… I want to do something to help continue that sustainability that I believe we should all be pushing for in our lives,” Jeff says.

The concept for Bluestem was partially conceived in a field by Jeff’s farm in Marengo, where he planted a 30-acre prairie. At the same time, Eric began pursuing an environmental science degree at University of Wisconsin, and then the University of Minnesota. One summer, he interned at Fermilab, where his fieldwork was focused on restoration efforts.  It was all about restoration ecology. They were collecting seed, planting areas, clearing, and rescuing these degraded spaces to bring them back to a better state.

He was giving something back to nature.

            “Eric really started showing an interest in prairie restoration and ecology projects,” Jeff says, relating how this effort on their Marengo property provided an outlet for father and son to explore native prairie restoration.

            A couple years later after Eric graduated, the seeds of a business had been planted. From a lifetime of loving the outdoors, a more focused ecological path emerged for him: native prairie restoration and stewardship.

            Jeff had always been interested in exploring this line of work, but when he started Sebert 30 years ago, prairie restoration was not something the public understood. It still requires a learning curve, he and Eric agree.  

A lot has changed in the past three decades. Today, Sebert Landscapes’ tagline is, “Landscape. Leadership. Sustainability.” And Bluestem as a sister company is sowing the seeds for positive change, one landscape at a time.

There’s a growing awareness of the benefits of bringing nature into a commercial landscape setting.  Bluestem Environmental Services is focused on conservation, preservation and maintaining natural spaces. It’s the work Jeff and Eric were born to do.

From Eric’s perspective, the creation of Bluestem two years ago, and its young success has happened quickly. “This came to be—and I’m grateful to my father for recognizing my passion and for realizing that it could really grow into something strong,” Eric says. “We’re pushing forward with Bluestem day by day.”

Today, Eric runs field operations for Bluestem. Jan Papa is general manager, and Jeff serves as CEO. “I have experience with the science—the plants, the ecology and how ecosystems work, but I have a lot to learn on the business side,” Eric says, looking to his father as a mentor.       

For Jeff, Sebert Landscape has been a vehicle to share his lifelong commitment to the environment, and a stepping stone to improving the ecosystem’s sustainability through Bluestem.

            Bluestem is a platform for the Sebert’s to create a legacy of leaving the land in better shape than they found it. Environmental restoration benefits everyone, he says.

“There is a cost savings for clients,” Jeff adds. “They’re doing good for the environment, and increasing the biodiversity on their property. They’re creating areas where their employees can go out and appreciate the landscape, look at the birds and butterflies, take a break.”

Today, Eric’s work at Bluestem is all about building nature. “We are currently working hard on a sustainable development called Wildwood, which includes 120 acres where we are doing some seeding and setting up a management plan for various conservation easements,” he describes.

The work that Bluestem performs requires some education. “I love talking with people and really explaining to them the science of what we do and what they can expect to see growing on their properties two and four years down the road,” Eric says, revealing his energy for the work.

“A dream my dad had 30 years ago is coming to fruition,” Eric continues. “He is living that dream and watching it unfold not only from his role, but through me, his son. And I think he takes a lot of pride in that. I’m proud of that.”

 Baby Eric and Jeff touching plants      

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Topics: Sustainability, Native Prairies

Written by Nicole Bradley

Nicole Bradley