By Misty Newman
Leaf & Feather, a plant nursery and tropical bird farm, sits only 15 minutes away from Maricopa and has been designated as a destination spot.
Bob McDermid, the manager for Leaf & Feather, said people come from Chandler, Casa Grande and all over the state.
“A lot of people are intrigued with the birds. It takes one visit and they are hooked,” Bob said. “It’s not a sales tactic but a great blend for those who are naturalists.”
Leaf & Feather has come a long way since opening. They started out as a barren lot with steel poles. Owner Dan Heller and Bob bought the fastest-growing trees initially and put in 100 shrubs.
Once you enter the Leaf & Feather paradise, you are surrounded by birds, trees and plants. The exotic birds and the quality of plants separate Leaf & Feather apart from other nurseries.
“We get to share our hobby with other people and to get people interested in birds. We have been acquiring the birds since 1994-1995,” Bob said. “Most of them are not for sale. In the future we want to have new variety of birds such as the Kukubaru from Australia or the Great Horned Bill. We have eight peacocks; the white male and the cameo male run loose and the rest we keep in our aviary.”
Bob says he was inspired to start Leaf & Feather because since he was a child he has loved plants and animals.
“I had parakeets when I was little,” he said. “I just followed my passion; I sold my car initially to come up with the money. You can work for someone your entire life and never pursue your passion. But if it pans out you can fulfill your dreams and be your own boss.”
Bob and Dan have achieved great success, but it has not always been easy.
“Leaf & Feather has had ups and downs in the past when the economy dips, but has been worth it,” Bob said. “This past year we were stocked more than we’ve ever been.”
The birds are only one factor in making Leaf & Feather a destination. The variety and quality of plants are taken seriously and add to the feeling of peacefulness once you enter the property.
“Many of our trees and plants in the ground are a great way to show people what will grow and do well in Arizona,” Bob said. “We prefer state-grown plants; other suppliers have tropical plants that do better in a stable climate. Exceptions to this are the palms we get from growers in the 5-gallon buckets. We hold these for an entire season and then transfer from 5- to 15-gallon buckets.”
According to Bob, the palms are in their second season before they sell them because some plants are not used to the heat initially. All state-grown plants are from wholesale plant growers located on Baseline and Southern Avenue.
“Sometimes, I say, ‘Take the plant home and send me a check. I have never been stiffed,” Bob said. “We trust everyone. It’s a great feeling to come to a place that remembers who you are. We have many repeat customers. Leaf & Feather does not take credit card, but we cover the tax.”
Leaf & Feather also has people that stop by just to get advice or will pull up, get out their chairs and enjoy their lunch.
Bob and Dan set their standards high and work diligently to ensure the nursery stays well maintained.
“I get up early every morning, around 4 a.m., because our business is 24/7,” Bob said. “We live this. We eat breakfast and then we give the birds breakfast. I also hand-pick the plants.”
Monday-Tuesday is spent going into Phoenix and hand selecting the plants. Once the plants get to the nursery they need to be prepared and cleaned up for opening on Friday. There are weeks where Bob and Dan unload 100 palms at once. During the summer, they spend 3.5 hours every day watering the plants.
Bob said he gets satisfaction from the customer’s appreciation for Leaf & Feather.
“I think our value is in the education we provide. The feeling you get when you pull into the farm and you feel the tranquility. It’s soulful,” Bob said. “I have had many people tell me how peaceful it is here. We keep it clean and manicured and people appreciate that we don’t charge an entrance fee. People visit in spring and they tell us they can’t wait to return and they always bring someone else to visit. Autistic kids from Tempe schools, whom in some cases have never seen exotic birds, love Leaf & Feather. Just seeing their faces makes us feel good.”
Misty Newman grew up in Idaho and was raised in the outdoors. She loves to go camping, hiking, fishing, & rafting. In her past life, two of her favorite recreational activities included bungee jumping and rock climbing. She was a ranger for a state park, a Recreation Coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club, and the photo editor at the College of Southern Idaho. She moved from Idaho in 2007 and has lived in Maricopa since. She now enjoys exploring AZ with her two beautiful children. Visit http://www.maricopaoutdooradventures.com/
See her previous InMaricopa Outdoors stories: