(Beyond Pesticides, September 14, 2023) As we celebrate National Organic Month this September, it is the perfect time to reflect on why you should consider going organic. Do you try to buy organic food when you can? Are you looking for a way to reduce your and your familyâ€™s exposure to toxic pesticides?
The benefits of choosing an organic lifestyle extend far beyond your diet or your own health. Beyond Pesticides is helping communities transition parks and public lands to organic land management. Here are some reasons why Beyond Pesticides believes in building organic communities:
Why Go Organic?
- Health and Safety: Organic foods and parks are free from harmful pesticides, fossil-fuel-based substances, and toxic chemicals, making them safer and healthier for all ages. Visit Beyond Pesticideâ€™s 40 Common Lawn and Landscape Chemicals page to learn more about the health impacts of pesticides in communities.
- Environmental Stewardship: Opting for organic parks and products supports practices that protect pollinators, improve soil health, increase biodiversity, and reduce toxic runoff into water bodies. Learn more about how to protect pollinators in your community by reading BEE Protective.
- Trust and Transparency: The USDA Certified Organic label ensures strict standards and regulations for organic products, providing trust and transparency for consumers worldwide. We provide oversight for parks that use organic land management. Visit Beyond Pesticideâ€™s literature called Save Our Organic to learn more about the power of the organic label and use our Keeping Organic Strong page to keep USDA accountable to the principles and values in the Organic Foods Production Act.
- Just Communities: Supporting organic farming practices can benefit local communities and economies, as well as promote responsible animal welfare and fair labor conditions. Organic parks are the ethical choice to promote environmental justice. The Black Institute’s Poison Parks report shines a spotlight on New York Cityâ€™s previous reliance on glyphosate-based herbicides and that people of color communities, including landscapers, bear the burden of this toxic chemicalâ€™s impact.
- Climate Resilience: Organic farming often exhibits better performance during droughts and challenging environmental conditions. Watering needs are very site-specific and the type of soil impacts drainage. Once established, a deep root system from organic land management requires less water and organic soil management results in the drawn down of atmospheric carbon, contributing to efforts to reduce the adverse efforts of carbon on climate.
How to Go Organic?
Each person’s organic journey is unique, with some emphasizing organic choices in their diet, lawn care, or community involvement. If you are interested in fostering an organic community, one impactful step is to initiate an organic park in your neighborhood. Become an organic parks advocate!
Fall is the best time to transition to organic land management, focusing on healthy soil and proper maintenance practices. Healthy soil leads to weed and pest-resistant grass. Transitioning from chemical-dependent lawns may require extra effort and attention to timing, but organic care saves resources and ensures safety for all. Here are some steps you can take to make your garden or park organic:
- Mow High and Keep Sharp â€“ Mowing with a dull blade makes the turf susceptible to disease and mowing too close invites sunlight in for weeds, so be sure to sharpen your mower blades frequently. For the last and first mowing, mow down to 2 inches to prevent fungal problems. For the rest of the year, keep it at 3-3.5 inches to shade out weeds and foster deep, drought-resistant roots.
- Aerate â€“ If a lawn is hard, compacted, and full of weeds or bare spots, aerate to help air, water, and fertilizer enter the soil. If you cannot stick a screwdriver easily into the soil, it is too compacted. Getting an aerator on the turf will be especially helpful. Once you have an established, healthy lawn, worms and birds pecking at your soil will aerate it for free!
- Fertilize Without Fossil Fuels â€“ Fertilizing in early fall ensures good growth and root development for your grass. Nitrogen, the most abundant nutrient in lawn fertilizers promotes color and growth. Adding too much nitrogen, or quick release synthetic petrochemical (fossil-fuel-based) fertilizers, will result in quicker growth and the need for more mowing. Too much nitrogen can also weaken the grass, alter the pH, and promote disease, insect, and thatch build-up. If applied too late, nutrients can leach directly into nearby surface waters. Be aware of local phosphorus or nitrogen loading concerns. Use safer fertilizers such asâ€ť
- Grass clippings contain 58% of the nitrogen added from fertilizers, improve soil conditions, suppress disease, and reduce thatch and crabgrass. So, leave the clippings on the lawn.
- Compost and compost tea is an ideal soil amendment, adding the much-needed organic content to the soil and suppressing many turf pathogens. In the fall and spring, preferably after aerating, spread ÂĽ inch layer of compost over your lawn. Compost tea and worm castings are also great additions. Learn more from Beyond Pesticidesâ€™ factsheet, Compost is Key to Successful Plant Management.
- Overseed With the Right Grass Seed â€“ Once again, fall is the best time to seed a lawn. Grass varieties differ enormously in their resistance to certain pests, tolerance to climatic conditions, growth habit and appearance. Endophytic grass seed provides natural protection against some insects and fungal disease â€”major benefits for managing a lawn organically. The local nursery will know the best seed for the area. Check to see the weed content of the grass seed and that there are no pesticide coatings.
- Analyzing Soil is highly recommended to determine specific soil needs. Contact the university extension service to find out how to take and send in a soil sample. In addition to nutrients and pH, ask for organic content analysis, and request organic care recommendations. Ideal pH should be between 6.5-7.0, and organic content should be 5% or higher. Soil test results will ensure that only the materials that are needed are applied. Read Maintaining a Delicate Balance: Eliminating phosphorus contamination with organic soil management for in-depth information on the problem of fertilizer contamination, and how to apply fertilizer properly.
- Develop Your Tolerance â€“ Many plants that are considered weeds in a lawn have beneficial qualities. Learn to read your â€śweedsâ€ť for what they indicate about your soil conditions. Monocrops do not grow in nature and diversity is a good thing. See more information on our Least Toxic Control of Weeds factsheet.
- Become an Organic Parks Advocate â€“ Send the municipal parks department links to our factsheets on Establishing New Lawns and Landscapes and Maintaining Sustainable Lawns and Landscapes. Or print them out and take them to the parks manager. For more support from Beyond Pesticides, sign up to become an organic parks advocate!
There is a lot more at Lawns and Landscapes on the Beyond Pesticidesâ€™ website. For more information about becoming an advocate for organic parks, see Parks for a Sustainable Future and Tools for Change.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.