by Eileen Weber
Spring is in the air and homeowners everywhere are watching their lawns turn from muddy brown to lush green. Every year, garden centers are overrun with a rush of consumers picking up grass seed, fertilizer and weed killers. But for many, grabbing the first pesticide off the shelf is not their idea of a healthy lawn.
For Jay Feldman, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Beyond Pesticides, and Chip Osborne, President of Osborne Organics, organic lawn care is the best method to obtain the sometimes elusive American dream: A velvet carpet of green grass.
Last night, the two men spoke at a free lecture open to the public at Southport Congregational Church. The lecture, “Going Green In Your Own Backyard”, was sponsored by the Fairfield and Sasqua Garden clubs. It focused on how to manage your lawn or garden organically and the impact pesticide use has on our environment.
Feldman spoke vehemently against the use of pesticides. He showed a 1950s advertisement with the tag line “DDT Is Good For Me.” He even quoted the notable biologist Rachel Carson when she said, “Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life?”
“You can’t go anywhere without people talking about being green,” he said. “But how do we incorporate that into our lives? It is time to shatter the myth that we need to use pesticides.”
He gave frightening statistics on the dangers of these chemicals. Of the most commonly-used pesticides, nineteen of them are known carcinogens and thirteen can cause birth defects. Feldman showed a slide of a child born to a farm hand working in crop-dusted fields. As a direct result of the sprayed chemicals, the child had no arms and no legs.
Feldman pointed out that we know pesticides are bad. We wear protective clothing. We are warned not to use them around our children, our pets, and our nearby waterways. And yet, we continue to buy them thinking they are necessary to grow a beautiful lawn.
Chip Osborne, the self-proclaimed “turf professional”, agreed with Feldman. He said that American homeowners are the largest users of pesticides and the do-it-yourself lawn care industry is a $25 billion business. In fact, $750 million is spent on grass seed alone.
Lawn care manufacturers have an answer for every ailment. You got weeds? Get rid of them before they start! Got bugs? Can take care of that lickety-split. “The fact is, the market is changing,” said Osborne of the copious lawn care regimens on the market. “Organic lawn care is a systems approach and not a product approach.”
Osborne went on to say that the best lawn care comes down to a few simple points: raise your mower blades to cut your grass no shorter than three inches from the base, use compost as a thin layer of top soil, and bugs are beneficial.
One of the biggest issues for homeowners is getting rid of crab grass. But if your grass blades are long enough, they shade the shorter crab grass sprout and prevent them from growing. The compost feeds the soil and provides the proper amount of nitrogen that your lawn needs.
As for bugs, another nemesis to the average lawn care enthusiast, Osborne said that 99% of them are actually beneficial for your grass. It’s only a few that will harm it. But if you remove the good bugs, you leave an open field for the bad bugs to move in.
According to an April 12, 2007 article in The New York Times, the organic lawn care business has been booming. Lawn care manufacturers have been promoting their own organic product lines because consumers are clamoring for them.
''Ten years ago the only people who bought organic fertilizers were wearing Birkenstocks,'' said Bruce Butterfield, research director at the National Gardening Association as quoted in the article. ''Now it's soccer moms with minivans.''
But when it comes to organic lawn care, both Feldman and Osborne agreed on one major point. Going green is great, but it loses its effect if your neighbor sprays his lawn with chemicals.
So the next windy day you see your neighbor outside with a spray can, tell him to just grow his grass longer. We’ll all be better off.