As an ISA-certified arborist, Edward Morrow is one of only a few in the region. Photos by Kevin Dantes

He’s a nature and numbers kind of guy.

Edward Morrow’s rural lifestyle has been about making critical calculations on behalf of the land: amount of barbed wire spools needed to fence in areas; number of hay bales necessary to carry livestock through a season; time that’s required to check the property line every so often.

“There’s nothing like experiencing nature uninterrupted,” said Morrow, 33, a fourth-generation farmer in Middle Georgia. “Growing up on a farm has helped me pick up so many useful skills like carpentry, hunting, fishing and mechanic work since I was a kid.”

All outdoor opportunities that granted adventure, taught self-sustaining on family farmland. The outdoorsman is also an accountant and arborist — one of only a few African-American tree surgeons in his countryside community and within America’s Black Belt Region. And he’s using these “essential worker” skills to help startup and struggling rural businesses survive financially during high and low economic times, whether tree-related or not.

“I’m pretty sure I’m the only International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)-certified Black arborist in my immediate area,” said Morrow, who conducts most of his farming, accounting and arboriculture business in Baldwin County.

According to ISA annual reports, up to 42 countries recognize ISA arborist credentials. There are more than 31,000 certified ones around the globe. Morrow follows the highest industry standards of tree safety and health. A quality the tree doctor has taken seriously for nearly two decades as co-owner of tree care company, M&K Tree Service LLC, with his father.

Morrow helps operate his arboriculture ventures slap dabbed in what the Black Belt Region is known for: Lack of educational success. Lack of advanced technology (ex: broadband). Lack of tech-savvy jobs. Lack of adequate business and economic development training. Traditionally, the region has been populated by rural, largely poor African-Americans living in discrimination, hardship and social exclusion. However, a 21st-century South could move into creative leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Morrow on a hazardous tree removal job with M&K Tree Service.

“I came from a line of educated farmers who were both business owners and academics,” said Morrow, “so I feel compelled to continue what they started generations before.”

Morrow views and applies his arborist post, EdwardTheArborist.com, as a teaching tool to help rural business owners develop new strategies to sustain in an eCommerce-driven era. And with global pandemic coronavirus helping to expose the lack of resources supporting the South, Morrow finds it more essential now than ever to help tree care — and small town-based businesses in general — organize to survive in today’s digital economy. He even simplifies technical business subjects for clients like taxes, budgets and becoming a registered, legal entity.

“I’m talking about simple adjustments traditional business models aren’t using to move their operations into the future,” he said. “Instead of writing everything down and trying to remember certain dates, there are online calendar apps like Calendly to use, financial organization apps like QuickBooks Online and email systems like MailChimp that can make paperwork and customer relations a smoother, quicker process to handle. These technologies help improve processes and have environmental benefits.”

 

AGRICULTURE AS AN ESSENTIAL CAREER

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a memo that established worker guidelines during the coronavirus outbreak. It determined those critical to helping state and local officials protect communities and continue public health, economic, safety and national security. Agriculture is one of those listed industries.

In a Georgia Department of Agriculture release, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary W. Black nodded the agency for sending out the memo: “Food and agriculture are a vital part of ensuring our economy continues to operate at the highest level,” said Black. “We commend the many workers within this industry for keeping us all fed and healthy during this unprecedented time. Our agency will continue to do our part to keep food safe, animals protected and businesses open.”

Black went on to highlight the range of ag-related fields that are significant during the pandemic. “Georgia is blessed to have an incredibly diverse agricultural sector that includes everything from food producers and processors to landscape and green industries,” Black said. “We encourage local governments and decision makers to consider the central role all these industries and businesses play in our state and local economies as they make key decisions during this response.”

Tree climbing ropes the tree doctor uses to ascend into canopies.

Representing green industries, Morrow leaves his farmland wearing his signature warm smile but donning a mask and gloves in this climate prior to putting on his everyday tree equipment. With Morrow’s expertise and demand, he often shifts green jobs throughout the Deep South. Arboriculture consultant one day. Tree care company manager the next. Despite the nation’s uncertain economic outlook, he sees agriculture as a fundamental mainstay with many revenue streams to capitalize on.

Days not surveying, cutting or saving trees, he’s consulting neighborhood companies from home about updating their business models and mindset. “It’s how you leverage the land,” he said. “Think of short- and long-term uses. You can grow, lease and sell crops like timber on it. You can build an online business on it that offers services and products someone in California might need.” For Morrow, land equals peace of mind, financial sustainability and now social distancing to focus and create digitally.

 

EDUCATION AS AN ESSENTIAL COMMITMENT

Before coronavirus, Morrow frequently partnered with universities like Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia College & State University and his alma mater Fort Valley State University (FVSU) to guest speak, train and mentor young entrepreneurs and agriculturalists. These institutions’ business and cooperative extension programs became a gateway to give students a real-world sneak peek into how they could turn agriculture into an enterprise. After all, agriculture is Georgia’s oldest and No. 1 industry. According to the University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, agriculture contributes roughly $73 billion annually to Georgia’s economy.

Morrow was raised on a dairy-turned-beef farm. Plenty of ag options at his future disposal. Morrow considers his father “a checkerboard reference” throughout his career. The best model to succeed in agriculture.

“You can say I had a built-in internship with my daddy,” said Morrow. “Farming and working in green industries was a natural fit. My daddy was already an accountant, outdoorsman and cowboy.”

To broaden his farm-life lessons, Edward, ’09, graduated from FVSU in accounting. The same university his rural grandparents, Amos and June Morrow, graduated from in the 1950s. The same institution his great-aunt Joyce Hill Vasser graduated from (who also become the first Black student to desegregate Georgia College & State University during the 1960s).

Morrow applies his arborist, accounting background to help rural businesses sustain digitally.

FVSU is Georgia’s top producer of African-American students who earn bachelor’s degrees in agriculture, agriculture operations and related sciences.

“FVSU’s small setting allowed me to relationship build faster,” he said. “It was close enough to home, so I could still contribute to the farm.” A fan of the environment and continuing education, Edward recently became tree risk assessment qualified and a plant health care technician. Meaning he can advise private landowners, municipalities and commercial entities about urban forestry and plant health care initiatives.

He shares his industry tips and strategies with regional green industry magazines. His articles have been featured in the United Kingdom’s Pro Arb Magazine and with U.S. trade publication The Tree Care Industry Association.

In his rare quiet moments, Edward has been working on new literature to educate younger generations about agriculture and arboriculture in a creative, comic book style. “I’m working on an illustrated — and one day motion comic — series for teens using the stories of people from my rural community and ag background,” said Edward. “It’s my way of connecting rural lifestyles with new technology and our stories.”

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