Amy Joyce, the Co-Founder and Director of Healthy Communities Project, has worked to reduce the synthetic lawn pesticide use in her community of Whitefish Bay, WI, for many years and played a vital role in establishing the Buckley, School House, and Klode Parks as pesticide-free zones. On October 29th, Amy will share her experiences working with the Village of Whitefish Bay during our public Policymaking and Community Engagement Panel . MPAC’s Assistant Director and Communications Manager, Ryan Anderson, interviewed Amy to learn what she did to reduce toxins in her community.
Ryan Anderson: What is the Healthy Communities Project?
Amy Joyce: Healthy Communities Project is a Whitefish Bay, WI advocacy group, founded in 2002 in response to the extremely high pesticide usage and breast cancer rate in our community and a growing concern that we and our children were being regularly exposed to toxins.
RA: How did you initially engage your community on the issue of lawn pesticides?
AJ: Our first efforts focused on compiling only the most reputable, objective research studies on pesticides and human health. Our first community forum included a presentation by Dr. Ronald Hines, then- Director of the Birth Defects Research Center of Wisconsin. We continued bringing in medical and toxicology experts to speak at board meetings on the dangers associated with pesticide exposure. Although we got the attention and support of some of our village and school board members, we continued to face resistance largely because pesticides played such a primary role in maintaining the village aesthetic.
RA: Can you elaborate on the role pesticides played in Whitefish Bay?
AJ: It quickly became clear to us that Whitefish Bay, as in many other communities, had seen a shrinking municipal budget while green space usage continued to skyrocket due to the ever-increasing number of private sports clubs requesting field usage. We, also, discovered that the private sports clubs using the most public field space and incurring the most turf damage did not contribute equitably to repair the damage. This scenario often results in a perfect storm of over-usage and little money for sound cultural practices to maintain strong, healthy turf. For these reasons, pesticides have become a popular go-to for budget starved grounds departments, but they only add to the problem by risking public health, further sterilizing the soil, and adding to both soil compaction and toxic runoff. They create the illusion of healthy turf, but not the solution.
RA: So how did you respond to the resistance and perception that pesticides were needed in Whitefish Bay?
AJ: We continued to bring forth reputable scientific studies and experts and, as they say, “Bring something to the party.” We’ve held firm to our belief that we would not just complain about pesticide use, but would focus on bringing sound solutions to the table through proper turf management training. We sought out nationally known organic turf management expert, Chip Osborne, to not only train us, but to offer professional-level trainings for area municipal and school district grounds managers and lawn care companies interested in adding an organic management component to their business models. We’ve brought together all green space stake holders to build management plans that consider all user groups, as well as each area’s usage and turf management needs. Finally, we successfully changed the conversation from talking strictly about pesticides versus no pesticides, to one that focuses on sound, safe, sustainable land management solutions and how to properly budget for it, with all user groups having input.
RA: What advice would you offer to individuals trying to push for pesticide reform in their community?
AJ: Proper green space management requires regular planning, budget dollars, accountability, and oversight on an annual basis. We’ve seen first hand how doing this results in healthier, more sustainable public green space!
RA: What do you look forward to during our upcoming Midwest Grows Green (MGG) Lawn & Land Forum Workshop October 29th?
AJ: I’m very excited to share my advocacy and organic turf management experience as both a panelist and presenter at the upcoming Lawn and Land Forum Workshop. This all-day event promises to provide a wealth of education, knowledge sharing, and networking for anyone interested in furthering the organic lawn and land care initiative in their communities or businesses.
You can hear from Amy at our public Policymaking and Community Engagement Panel from 12:35 pm to 1:45 pm at the Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park. Register at bit.ly/LLFwkspPolicy.