A New Pathway for Myself and MGG

MGG’s Ryan Anderson announces a 6-month leave to pursue a life goal of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail

I gave my first natural lawn care presentation to a group of ten concerned citizens.  I’ll confess that I was woefully unprepared to speak as a lawn care expert four years ago. Despite taking a college Botany course, I entered this job believing only one type of turfgrass existed. I never heard of aeration. Grubs were squishy bugs that Timon and Pumba devoured in the Lion King, not beetle larva that attacked plant roots.

I treasure that first presentation despite my remedial training. The group was Elmhurst Cool Cities Coalition and that night I had the pleasure to meet Jill Jarvis, Barbara Lonergan and Lisa Gerhold.  These three passionate and hardworking women have advanced natural lawn care in their community since we first met.  Progress took time, probably more than they expected or hoped. Last year, however, the Elmhurst Park District committed 30 acres to natural lawn care and will use organic fertilizers on all parks.

Helping grassroots groups like Elmhurst Cool Cities has always been the most satisfying part of my job. I’ve met determined and welcoming people from organizations of Go Green Park Ridge, Non Toxic Lisle, Growing Green Grand Rapids, Healthy Communities Project and so many others. Saying goodbye to our sustainable landscaping advocates, even if just for a little bit, will be my toughest challenge.

On March 13th, I plan to take a six month leave from my position as Midwest Grows Green leader and Community IPM Outreach Specialist for the IPM Institute of North America to pursue a life goal of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. I will leave MGG in good hands with Vytas Pabedinskas, a soil scientist and long-time advocate for sustainable landscaping, and Valerie McGoldrick, IPM Institute’s Community Coordinator.  I, also, believe I will leave MGG in good standing for the future.

When I took the position of Program and Communications Manager for the Midwest Pesticide Action Center four years ago, I wanted to shape MGG into a robust program that could help all policymakers, sports and recreational field managers and residents cost-effectively eliminate synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on their landscapes. Back then, I thought we had so few working in chemical reduction on sports and recreation fields. But, fortunately, I was wrong!

In 2017, I presented alongside Non-Toxic Naperville to the Naperville Park District board about eliminating pesticides on their parks. Unbeknownst to me and the Naperville Park District, the district’s Park Operations Manager, Carl Gorra, already employed many natural lawn care practices and trained a manager who frequently collaborates with MGG, Kristi Solberg formerly of Park Ridge Park District.  Carl Gorra’s knowledge helped the Naperville Park District easily implement eight organic parks in 2018.

After meeting Carl, I wanted to know how many other sports and recreational field managers were reducing synthetic pesticides and fertilizers behind the scenes and how we could move their work to forefront of the public discussion.  This curiosity resulted in my proudest achievement over my four years with MGG…the creation of the Lawn & Land Forum.

The Forum gave more than 300 practitioners a previously non-existent platform to speak freely about their pesticide reduction practices, benefits achieved, obstacles faced and lessons learned. Over three years, eight webinars and four workshops, we have learned a great deal about best management practices, strategies and policies to eliminating toxic products on highly trafficked turfgrass fields.

Everything came full circle for the Lawn & Land Forum, MGG and myself on Saturday, January 25th. On that day, I revealed our new Lawn & Land Forum Toolkit to 25 plus attendees of the IL Parks Conference alongside regular forum participant Carl Gorra and funded in-part by Elmhurst Cool Cities Coalition.

If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to view our walk-through webinar of the Toolkit at It covers why I strongly believe this resource will serve as a go-to hub for natural lawn care, IPM and sustainable landscaping policy and practice improvement for countless entities seeking alternatives to synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

MGG staff of Vytas Pabedinskas and Valerie McGoldrick will periodically update and add to this resource as we learn more about sports and recreational field management, but, also, cover new topics such as glyphosate alternatives, horticulture and coastal management.  The backgrounds for both Vytas and Valerie ensure a smooth transition for MGG. Vytas holds a Masters degree in soil science and education from the University of Arizona. He has taught and presented about soil health and the latest in compost use at schools, garden clubs and teacher conferences.  He is a member of the Soil Science Society of America and participates on the Education committee. He is, also, a member of the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition promoting composting and compost use in Illinois.

Meanwhile, Valerie has a B.S. in Soil and Crop Science and Environmental Horticulture from the University of Wisconsin Platteville. She has developed IPM plans for horticulture and agriculture and has led IPM educational courses.  Currently, Valerie leads IPM Institute’s Green Shield Certified and Pest Defense for Healthy Schools Program.

I could not find a better set of individuals to serve as the next face of MGG. Both will be available to answer your lawn and landscaping questions and help implement NLC and IPM at a large scale.  However, funds for sustainable landscaping advocacy and technical assistance continue to decrease, especially in this current political environment.  To ensure MGG staff availability and responsiveness in 2020, I’m personally pledging to match every dollar donated to MGG at until my Appalachian Trail start date on Thursday, March 19th. I’m pledging because I believe the new Forum Toolkit, the three MGG programs of Pesticide-Free Parks, Point-of-Purchase and Community Engagement and the many MGG resources will help you and your communities easily adopt and implement programs that protect children, pets and pollinators from toxic pesticides and fertilizers.

2020 is a crucial year for MGG pesticide reduction progress and I hope you will join me in supporting this work. I will directly email our two Forum templates of the Natural Lawn Care Workplan and the Generic IPM policy if you donate at a level of $25 or greater. A donation of $100 or greater will enter you into a raffle for a Patagonia backpack.

If you can’t support us financially, please support our outreach. We appreciate a Tweet or Facebook share of this fundraising campaign, a pledge to join our MGG community or a response to our short 5 minute pledge survey to improve our programming.

Thank you for your continued support and I hope to regularly follow MGG work on the trail!

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