Earth Matters: Opting For Organic Landscaping in Rockland County

by Marthe School wolf

Addison Chappell’s March 3 column, “How Lawn Pesticides Affect Health and the Environment” alerted us to the dangers of these overused and underregulated toxic chemicals and the “greenwashing” of the pesticide industry as it tries to normalize its use.

It is not common to use chemicals designed for warfare to kill harmless plants like clover and dandelion. Did you know that 2,4-D (a commonly used herbicide) is part of Agent Orange? As soon as something like this becomes known, companies develop newer chemicals that promise to be less dangerous and imply that EPA registration guarantees “safety”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The EPA registration only contains a number to identify a particular product. The EPA trusts manufacturers to provide safety data and it takes decades to do so. It keeps the “inert” ingredients a secret, although sometimes they are more toxic than the “active” ingredients. Synergy effects between ingredients are ignored. Because of this, years later, you see massive lawsuits like the one with glyphosate, which for decades was sold to the public as harmless.

C / O Piermont Pier Alliance.

More and more community facilities and nonprofits are moving away from chemical landscaping and opting for organic methods to preserve their parks and landscapes. Just a few weeks ago, the New York City Council unanimously decided to ban pesticides in all NYC parks. Harvard University started a small bio project in 2009 that was so successful it expanded across campus. The Battery Park City Authority has maintained their parks using organic methods for years. In the Hamptons, the well-known designer Edwina von Gal has been creating organically tended landscapes for her wealthy customers for decades. Southampton Hospital deserves it
Label of “PRFCT Place” goes by bio.

Rockland County, which is closer to home, passed a non-toxic landscaping law in 2008. However, this only applies to land in the district. The pesticide industry lobbies have ensured that most states, including New York, are “prevention states” – meaning that only the state, not the county, can regulate the use of pesticides on private property.

So it is up to you to make the right choice, both for your health and for the environment as a whole. Think about it – landscapes have existed for thousands of years, and the magnificent gardens of Europe, dating back centuries, were not tended with chemicals. Do you really need a “perfect” lawn in front of your house? What about the health of your children and pets?

Chemical landscaping removes the symptoms by dousing lawns with “drugs”. Ecological landscaping forms the basis for healthy plant growth by testing the soil with naturally balanced fertilizers (not those high in nitrogen or phosphorus that contribute to algae growth in waterways) and only subjecting it to biological controls when it is a real problem. Careful mowing practices, including mowing
high, so that the grass has enough leaf surface for photosynthesis and enables healthy root development.

If you do the work yourself, you need to allow some study time – organic is knowledge-based, not product-based. When you hire a commercial landscaper, you need to do a serious review to find a dedicated and knowledgeable one. Both your family and the health of the planet are worth your while.

Photo credit: Lee Ross.

On the local front, the Piermont Landing settlement is located on the “Piermont Pier” in a location that is designated as an “environmentally critical area”. After not using landscaping chemicals for 28 years, they took a big step back this year. They used a restricted-use herbicide that is toxic to aquatic organisms and plan to use an insecticide that has been implicated in bee deaths. If you are interested in the unique setting of Piermont Pier and have concerns about toxic chemicals entering the ground and the Hudson River, email and be part of the effort to do so to change.

Marthe Schulwolf has been based in Piermont since 1993 and is an activist against the maintenance of chemical landscapes. She led the successful SprayNo Coalition campaign to get Rockland County to pass the Pesticide Neighbor Reporting Act in 2001. She also helped found the Piermont Marsh Alliance, which she successfully spoke out against the planned use of herbicides in Piermont Marsh in 2013. She is currently working on the Piermont Pier Alliance campaign to end chemical landscaping on Piermont Pier.

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