Employee Spotlight with Justin Van Horne
Cagwin & Dorward is regarded by many as a leader in tree care service and landscape maintenance in Northern California, largely thanks to its exceptional people, like Justin Van Horne.
How long have you been at Cagwin & Dorward?
This year makes 8 years that I have been with the company.
What do you like about your job at Cagwin & Dorward?
I’m an arborist by trade and I get to interface with my community as it relates to trees, tree care, and tree needs. The beauty of Cagwin is I get to interface not just with residential tree care but also commercial and municipal tree care. So my reach is drastically extended and being able to maintain trees on some of the most iconic landscapes in California is definitely one of the best parts of my job.
When growing up, what was your vision of what you wanted to become career-wise?
I grew up in southwestern Oregon, on the coast, and there’s not much out there but ocean, redwoods, and mountains. And so I envisioned that if I could figure out a way to make money being in nature, I was on the right path.
My mom said to me, “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” and I got to prove my mom wrong in my line of work and that money does really grow on trees. So I figured that out early and have been stuck with it ever since.
When you are not working, what do you do for fun?
I’m a bit of a geek, but I love to spend my free time running. I’m an avid runner and like to trail run. One of my other passions is I like to mushroom forage. Being in the Bay area, we’re in an epicenter for dozens and dozens of phenomenal edible gourmet mushrooms.
I also enjoy cross-country motorcycle trips with my dad as well as scuba diving. I recently became a scuba diving instructor which has taught me a lot about engaging with the world on a really in-depth level. That is something meaningful and fun to me.
Do you have a favorite restaurant?
As an avid scuba diver, I love food that I can pull straight out of the ocean or forage right out of a nearby forest. I also enjoy locally sourced food. I guess you could say the restaurants at the top of my list are restaurants that use locally sourced food.
Who are mentors in your life?
One of my best mentors is Jeff Englehart. He is near and dear to me and also to Cagwin & Dorward. Jeff was one of the previous owners and he ran the whole tree care department. The thing I appreciated most about Jeff was that he had a good sense of business. He also was a direct and open person and I really thrived with that kind of person in my life, definitely professionally.
Executive Leadership Team – Cagwin & Dorward, 2016 (left to right): Charlie Thompson, Jeff Englehart, Chris Lawrence, Steve Glennon, Ron Macler, Aaron Majors, Kristen Giomi
Another mentor is a Cagwin tree guy, Mark Carpenter. The thing I learned from Mark was to work smarter, not harder and I felt lucky to have worked so closely with him. He is the person who put me on the fast lane for being who and what I am for Cagwin today.
Who had the greatest influence on your life growing up?
The greatest influence on my life was my dad. My dad is an amazing person. He has a lot of life and spirit in him. Not long after I was born, my dad became disabled. I could tell at an early age that my dad was going to live his life vicariously through his children. I took that to heart, almost to a fault, to where all my hobbies were his hobbies, all my favorite music was his favorite music, as well as all the things I like to do.
What is one word or a few words that your friends would use to describe you?
Well, the nickname that has stuck with me my whole life is A-Catalyst — an agent of change.
What are you most proud of in your life?
My job in life is to help connect people to nature and at Cagwin it has been connecting people to landscaping, which is a form of nature. I feel very lucky to have lived such a good life. Being a tree person, I’ve been able to just fulfill that really simple goal of continuing to connect people with nature and then as a part of that, connecting them with their community. I’ve kept it simple: good food, good drink, and good company. I’m proud that I’ve been able to stick to that and to be so successful with that basic concept.
If you could have dinner with any three people throughout history, who would those three people be?
I would want to sit down with Teddy Roosevelt, Alexander the Great, and my great, great-grandfather.
How do you want to be remembered someday
I mean, honestly, I get to touch trees that will be around for hundreds of years beyond me. And if I can help a tree stand for another few hundred years so that a couple of generations beyond me can enjoy them — that’s good enough for me.
I have a minor in Geology, and it doesn’t matter if you get your headstone made in marble or in limestone, eventually, your name will wash away and no one will care at that point. So I think it’s a little bit too vain to hope that I am going to be remembered; eventually, it won’t be by anybody.
Do you have pets?
I come from a family where we breed boxers. So I have two boxer dogs and a sulcata tortoise.
The sulcata tortoise is I believe the fourth largest tortoise in the world! They can get to be the size of a miniature horse and they live about 80 years. So you have to have a succession plan, which is fun.
Do you have any political leanings?
First and foremost, I’m an environmentalist. You have to have the globe in order to do all the other stuff that you want to do. I find our current state is actually advantageous for everyone to coalesce around the reality that there is no planet B; this is all we have. No one has colonized Mars or the Moon, so we have to figure out how we can make this all work and there’s no time like the present.
I teach night classes at a community college and I unblinkingly tell my students that as horticulturalists they get to single-handedly save the world if they do it right. What is a plant other than anything other than atmospheric carbon that has been sequestered into a physical form. Presto you have a plant. So we’re the only carbon-sequestered technology that’s tried and proven and we know how to make money at it. So if we could get more of the world to do what we do, then we have a chance; this is a good place to get started.
Who were your childhood heroes?
I was really into nature, so John Muir was an early hero of mine. I was also into soccer, so Pele’ was huge when I was growing up. I was very much into music and liked the Grateful Dead, and Jerry Garcia influenced me in untold ways.
If you could travel back in time, what one piece of advice would you give to your younger self when you were starting out?
Not only is it okay to cry, but it’s also a strength to understand your feelings and other people’s feelings.
What’s been the happiest day of your life?
The happiest day of my life was a family scuba trip growing up when we lived in Oregon. This was a trip on our own boat, and we harvested fish and abalone (marine snails) and other sea life, and we all contributed and celebrated by feasting as a family. If not the happiest, one of the top happiest days of my life.
What is one thing about you that few people know?
Growing up, few people knew that I was a shy and awkward kid. Even today.