MPAC’s Ryan Anderson explores how to connect with those initially resistant to Natural Lawn Care
Our natural lawn care (NLC) session at the 2018 Illinois Parks Conference last month had it all. I covered the environmental and health risks of pesticides and how to engage the community in these issues. Two NLC companies, Logic Lawn Care and Dig Right In Landscaping Inc., walked the 40 plus attendees through the NLC approach, its policies, and the costs. Michael Kormanik of the Evanston Environmental Commission offered suggestions on how to market the approach to a park board. Carl Gorra from the Naperville Park District described how he applied organic steps into his park management practices.
Out of all these presentations, however, I would argue that Park Ridge Park District’s Terry Wolf stole the show. Terry put it simply, when MPAC and Go Green Park Ridge (GGPR) introduced the idea of a natural, pesticide-free park in 2013, he thought “no way” he could implement NLC in his parks. But, thanks to Terry’s willingness to learn and GGPR’s persistence on the issue, Terry’s “no way” position evolved in to “why not?”
From now on, Midwest Grows Green (MGG) wants to reach the “no way” crowd at every presentation, workshop, or fair we attend. Because we will not achieve large-scale lawn care behavior change if our information only reaches the environmentally conscious.
To reach the “no way” crowd in 2018, we started to identify trade show and professional development events similar to the IL Parks Conference and develop resources to help our many community partners and advocates discuss natural lawn care options with their local authorities (see our Activist Toolkit).
It helps that our MGG Lawn & Land Forum forged a path for us to connect and discuss NLC and IPM practices, policies, and strategies with park, school, and grounds managers that normally do not attend the expos and networking events that we do. Since October of 2016, a total of 163 individuals representing 21 different park districts, 8 different school districts, and 14 different lawn care companies have attended one of the forum’s five sessions. Most notably, 66 attended the Forum’s inaugural in-person workshop on November 13th of last year.
At events like our 11/13 workshop, we have the unique opportunity to monitor how turf policymakers and practitioners view the practicality of NLC and identify the barriers that prevent more NLC practices in our parks, schools, and other public places. The main takeaways from the 11/13 event include:
- Focus on feeding the soil with organic matter, that feeds beneficial soil microorganisms and biota, that feeds grass roots with cycled nitrogen and other nutrients.
- Conventional pesticides are often used to replace good cultural practices of mowing, fertilization, aeration, etc.
- Effective IPM/NLC policies and programs often follow a bottom-up meets top-down approach that starts by educating the public and building “up” from there to the park and school district level.
- Traditional cost valuation methods for lawns place far too much value on the greenness of lawns as opposed to the building block of all healthy plant life, the soil.
- Managing community expectations during the transition to NLC or IPM requires the combined effort of businesses, advocates, educational institutions, nonprofits, and park and school districts.
We have 51 more pages of takeaways, best practices, and observations learned during the workshop available on the Illinois Sports Turf Managers Association’s website at bit.ly/LLFwk17. I strongly encourage you to follow our Forum resources page at bit.ly/LLFresources as we continue to add more tools, notes, and recordings to help advance pesticide reduction policies and programs in landscaping.
We have another year planned of webinars and workshops that will only reach the “no way” folks with the engagement and work of you; our MGG pledges and community advocates. So please continue sharing our forum with your park and school districts and encourage your neighbors to take the pledge at bit.ly/MGGpledge. With your support, we should have a ground-breaking year for natural lawn care and sustainable landscaping!