On Friday morning, an elderly man pulled up to the yard at Rare Earth Landscape Materials in Grass Valley.
“I’m looking for some small pebbles to scatter around my wife’s grave,” he said as he climbed out of his car. “Do you folks have that sort of thing?”
The answer was a resounding yes. In fact, more than likely, the man was overwhelmed by his choices.
However, back in 1980, when Jami and Jim Hopper were first getting their business off the ground, choices were limited.
The Nevada Union High School sweethearts had just barely graduated when a friend with a landscaping business in Half Moon Bay called them up and asked for a favor.
“He wondered if we could sell some of his compost here in Grass Valley,” said Jami. “He brought it up and dumped it on Jim’s parents’ property near the Golden Chain Motel. It was during the summer, and we thought we’d just see how it goes. At the time, there was almost no one in town who carried landscaping materials.”
As it turns out, things took off from there. Due to a high demand, they quickly expanded their offerings to include bark and rocks. With a small tractor, Jim would load a rented trailer and shovel the materials out once he arrived at the delivery site.
“We didn’t have a dump truck yet,” said Jami with a chuckle. “Good thing Jim was still young.”
In 1984, the Hoppers moved their business from Jim’s parents’ property to a third of an acre on Hollow Way in Nevada City. In 1987 they expanded to two acres, and in 1997 they relocated to two and a half acres on La Barr Meadows Road.
“When we moved here, I remember looking around and saying, ‘What did we do? How can we ever fill this?’” said Jami. “I never would have guessed we’d be where we are today.”
Two years ago, the Hoppers were able to purchase the 45 acres adjacent to their property. They are currently in the process of expanding their inventory onto 11 of those acres.
No more shoveling for Jim — Rare Earth now has a staff of 10, six dump trucks, a flat bed and a fleet of heavy equipment for distributing their massive on-site inventory.
Materials are shipped in from as far away as Pennsylvania, said Jami, and their drivers routinely pick up and deliver materials within a 100-mile radius. Soils were recently delivered to Fresno, Bakersfield, Merced and Clear Lake.
Many customers drive up from Sacramento to take advantage of the selection.
Various types of decorative and natural rock are popular items, in addition to 10 types of bark, flagstone, Mexican beach pebbles, tumbled glass, patio pavers and retaining wall blocks, not to mention a new area for statues.
Rare Earth sells 40 different varieties of bagged fertilizer and amendments.
“We make our own garden soils here,” said Jami. “We have eight or nine different soil blends and 10 different composts, all of which are stock items.”
But the best addition to the growing business, added Jami, is their 22-year-old son, Kirby, who started working full time at Rare Earth two years ago and is soon to be the third co-owner.
“Kirby went off to school in Oregon and now he’s back; he’s in the process of learning to run the whole yard,” said his mom. “He has lots of good ideas for expansion.”
Long before he started working full time, Kirby remembers sweeping the floor of his parents’ office as a child. He’d get bonuses added to his allowance for helping.
“I’ve been here my whole life,” he said. “Now I’m discovering that I enjoy being a manager. I feel like my life has a purpose. I love working outside and I’m excited to come to work every day.”
In addition to seeing her son interested in the family business, Jami says the most rewarding part of Rare Earth’s remarkable expansion has been the longtime customers who have become friends.
“I just love helping customers and seeing us continue to grow,” she said. “We’ve all been working 60-hour weeks, but it’s worth it. As we continue to make more room, there will be more new stuff on the way.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.