During pandemic, ServeScape seeking to plant seeds of hope and joy
By Maria Saporta
Mario Cambardella is a man of firsts.
Cambardella was the first person to hold the title of urban agriculture director of a major city in the United States.
Now Cambardella has launched a first-of-its-kind landscaping consulting service aimed at changing the way we look at our lawns, gardens and green spaces.
That business – ServeScape – was launched officially March 19 right when the COVID-19 pandemic had begun to change the way people in Atlanta and the country were interacting with each other.
“I want to be an agent for change and offer something so everyone can change their environment,” Cambardella said in a telephone interview. “We have had four orders to date. We’ve already had a soft launch, and we’ve facilitated about 15 deliveries up to this point.”
Cambardella has a team of four working on ServeScape, which includes two field agents who can do site visits and make recommendations on how to transform the way we can best leverage our environment.
“One of the most therapeutic activities one can do is being out in the garden and out in nature,’ he said. “I have been impregnated with the idea that everyone can have a food-producing landscape that is resilient.”
In many ways, ServeScape is a continuation of what Cambardella has been doing at the city of Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability for the past four years and four months. His last day at the city was March 10.
“A lot of resources are poured into aesthetic beauty rather than food producing landscaping and urban agriculture,” Cambardella said. “We are trying to change the relationship we have with the landscape around us. Let’s grow food, not lawns. We want to lead with beautiful and resilient landscapes.”
ServeScape will offer landscape businesses and individuals with the tools they need to help change the spaces around them. They have developed a network of Georgia-grown plants and suppliers, and they will supply and deliver the plants to their clients.
The goal is to create spaces that people want – a butterfly garden or a bee-friendly environment. They can advise on the planting of fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and spices. And ServeScape’s website offers a real-time inventory and prices of the available plant products.
“ServeScape is a curator,” Cambardella said. “We are making it easier for people to find the native plants, providing planting plans and delivery. The unique thing about ServeScape, we are a network by design. We collaborate and share ideas. We have a robust community of learning to show how people can shape the environment around them.”
Cambardella said ServeScape can offer better pricing and higher quality products than big-box retailers, and ServeScape is able to source its inventory in Georgia so that it benefits the local economy.
When asked about the timing of leaving the city and launching the new business, Cambardella honestly answered: “We did not know a pandemic was coming.”
But he had been working on the ServeScape concept for the last couple of years, and he always had planned to leave the city in 2020.
“It was really time to allow someone else to become the city’s urban agriculture director,” Cambardella said. “When I went to the city, I had the opportunity to work in vulnerable communities that had challenges getting access to fresh foods.”
Under Cambardella’s initiative, the city created Georgia’s first urban food forest – a 7.1-acre tract near Lakewood Fairgrounds and Browns Mill Golf Course – into one of the largest food forests in the nation.
AgLanta also launched a “Grows-A-Lot” program for entrepreneurs, nonprofits and residents to adopt a vacant, city-owned property to start a new urban garden or urban farm. Now Atlanta has 10 “Grows-A-Lot” sites.
“I had hit the goals laid out before me, and it was time for me to leave,” Cambardella said.
Now Cambardella, 38, is hoping ServeScape will help turn around our “nature deficiency disorder” by learning more about how we can create sustainable landscapes.
By becoming more attuned to our green environment, Cambardella said we are “developing rooted citizens” at a time when we need it most.
“We are facing an acute challenge right now, We know it’s a difficult time,” Cambardella said. “In the time of this pandemic, we need to plant seeds of hope and joy.”