Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Going Organic in Concord, Mass: Creating Quieter Communities

Dr. Jamie Banks and Area Landscapers Decrease Noise and Pollutants through Cleaner, Quieter Landscape Equipment Use

By Kathy Litchfield

George Carrette, owner of  Eco-Quiet Lawn Care
CONCORD, MASS. -- George P. Carrette started his own business converting lawns to food production by installing raised beds for customers in the Concord, Mass. region. Then he heard about landscapers using electrical and battery-powered equipment to maintain residential properties, with the goal of being environmentally-friendly and just so much quieter.
Carrette decided to invest in the idea, given that the neighboring town of Newton has imposed noise restrictions on leaf blowers; noting the rising concern about the environmental and health consequences of using noisy, fuel-powered landscaping equipment on workers, clients and their families; and the fact that he sought a niche in the competitive Greater Boston area landscaping industry.
Last March, the 23-year-old entrepreneur re-created his business by thoroughly researching, and then purchasing a 33-inch “Mean Green Lawn Mower”– electrical and lithium battery-powered - at a cost of about $9,000.

Because this represented a huge increase in start-up costs, Carrette said he looked at this investment long-term. He put out minimal marketing – about 500 fliers in public places around Concord, advertising his company, Eco-Quiet Lawn Care.
In the first eight months of his business, which grew almost entirely via word of mouth, Carrette made enough profit to triple capacity in 2016, way more than he expected to make in his original gardening business. He skipped the fall advertising originally planned as he was swamped with clients. He now works with a handful of contractors to help him maintain residential properties quietly, in Concord, Lincoln and Lexington and plans to expand into Newton and Acton in 2016.
“Right now, it’s a really good opportunity for young entrepreneurs to switch over and not enter the rat race of conventional landscaping, doing what everyone else is doing,” said Carrette, who recently spoke at an alderman’s meeting in Newton to inform them about the alternatives to using louder gas leaf blowers.
“Put more money into getting this high performance, commercial grade lithium battery operated and electrical equipment and defer other costs while you grow your business. Also, cross compatibility of hand tools specifically, is essential,” he said.
Dr. Jamie Banks, Founder of Quiet Communities
Environmentalist and health care researcher Dr. Jamie Banks, founder of the non-profit educational and outreach organization Quiet Communities, picked up on this national move towards more sustainable, quieter landscape equipment in order to create healthier communities starting in 2013, while she actively participated in a citizens group in Lincoln, Mass.
A growing number of communities are being disturbed by the increasing use of landscape contractors in neighborhoods, parks, and school settings who were using a variety of fuel-powered maintenance equipment – including leaf blowers, industrial mowers, trimmers and chainsaws – to do all tasks once conducted manually. As she began studying the health and environmental impacts of conventional fuel-powered equipment, she realized that this problem was affecting hundreds of communities across the country.
California was really the first to address the issue in the 1990s, she said when many towns and cities created noise ordinances, with explicit restrictions on times and hours of use for leaf blowers, in some cases, banning the use of these noisy, fuel-powered noisy machines. Others in different parts of the country have done or are trying to do the same.
“While these efforts are laudable and necessary,” Banks said, “they have been difficult to enforce. We need to also introduce practical, cost-effective solutions.”
The growing use of commercial fuel-powered equipment around our schools, homes, parks and other public spaces is a public health and environmental problem, she said. It is especially problematic for workers, children, seniors and people with chronic conditions who are exposed to loud noise, toxic exhaust, and fine particulates day after day for hours at a time and who are at risk for conditions such as hearing loss, heart disease, asthma, and cancer. The environmental impacts include fuel/chemical spillage; air, water, and soil pollution; ecosystem and plant destruction from noise, pollution and mechanical injury; and, decreasing biodiversity.
Most fuel-powered landscape equipment produces noise over 85 decibels, the level defined by the Occupational Safety and Hazard Association as being harmful to hearing, with some equipment measuring as much as 1,000 times noisier, she said. While workers may be wearing ear protection, children and others in close proximity – whether in their homes, at school, in parks, or shopping centers -- are probably not. 
“Quiet Communities is dedicated to protecting our health, environment, and quality of life from the excessive use of industrial outdoor maintenance equipment. We work with communities, businesses, and schools to provide education, outreach, and advocacy focused on informing the public about the risks of related noise and pollution, and beneficial alternative solutions,” said Banks, who holds a Ph.D. in social policy and health economics and masters’ degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth Medical School.
“Our mission is to promote clean, sustainable, and quiet outdoor maintenance practices as the valued norm,” she said, emphasizing that there is extensive research available demonstrating the harmful effects both short-and long-term from using this equipment. Banks’ own research focuses on emissions, noise, and health and environmental impacts from fuel-powered equipment. Last Spring, her research on national emissions from gas-powered lawn and garden equipment, conducted with help from the US Environmental Protection Agency, was presented at a national conference.
Quiet, clean solutions exist, she said, including sustainable landscaping, manual tools, and lithium powered electric equipment. She is presently working with her team, including community groups and landscape professionals, to spread the word and implement alternative solutions. Commercial grade lithium battery powered equipment has been of special interest, she said, adding that it is now practical and cost effective to use this equipment on many properties.
Our conferences and equipment demonstration at schools and gardens including Tufts University, Wellesley College, and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, have had a very favorable reception, Banks said.
Quiet Communities has recently presented at conferences including the NOFA Annual Gathering of Accredited Professionals (CT), Cornell Cooperative Extension (NY) conference, Suffolk County (NY)’s sustainability program, and at an American Public Gardens Association symposium (WI).
Through a recently formed partnership with the American Green Zone Alliance, a California-based organization, Quiet Communities will be educating, training and certifying workers in creating “Green Zones™,” areas maintained emissions-free and quietly. Our partnership with AGZA is aimed at bring the pioneering work done on the West Coast to the Northeast and other areas of the country for the benefit of municipalities, college campuses, healthcare facilities, and commercial properties, among others, she adds. Through its work with landscapers, the partnership also helps properties and professionals choose and purchase appropriate, high quality equipment.
While there is presently a small number of landscapers using solely electrical, battery and solar-powered equipment, Banks expects that number to grow exponentially within the next 10 years.
“We believe what we are seeing is the start of an upsurge of interest in clean, quiet, healthy maintenance alternatives,” says Banks.
Quiet Communities is working on a directory of companies that use this new technology to post on its website and make it easier for consumers to find them. Quiet Communities is also seeking members – she encourages professionals to visit the website and join.
While the costs to purchase some of these machines is greater than the cost of their fuel-powered counterparts, the long-term cost benefits are many, agreed Banks, Carrette and also NOFA Organic Land Care Professional Priscilla Williams, owner of Pumpkin Brook Organic Gardening in Townsend, Mass., who began using a quieter, battery-powered leaf blower last year.  
We have purchased so far the Mean Green Mowers Company version of a leaf blower - the first ever for our company. It sounds like a vacuum cleaner! . . . We used it only a few times, mainly to blow leaves off a steep ridge garden that is hard to hand rake. Trialed it here in our PBOG plant holding area. I found that the leaves blown to the sides made too thick a layer over the naturalized low bush blueberry growing there, but did a nice job of cleaning up the leaves on the traprock that we use on the ground layer of this holding area,” said Williams. “As finances permit in the future, I would like to purchase their mowers. We started fertilizing and renovating  lawns this year in an effort to offer full service to our clients. Had 10 lawns and already have two new additions for next year.”
Eco-Quiet Lawn Care staff member using electric equipment
            Carrette said he spent one-twentieth of what he would have spent with his new equipment.
“When things go wrong, the equipment is usually under warranty so you can get replacements,” said Carrette, who recommends keeping batteries charged, storing them in low-humidity facilities, watching out for water corrosion (from washing them), making sure that the equipment is stored at an optimal temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit; and really researching what technology will be right for a landscaping business before purchasing equipment.
“The technology’s improving all the time so you want to be sure to keep up with it and learn what’s becoming available,” he said. Carrette shared that he uses the Mean Green mower (that takes a 90-lb. battery), a Greenworks 80-volt blower (used with battery backpack or two other smaller batteries, weighing about five to eight lbs.) and an 18-inch Greenworks chainsaw.
“Make sure your producer of your equipment is investing in new research and new equipment for those same batteries, in order to increase cross compatibility,” he said.
            Banks offers Quiet Communities’ annual report, “Year in Review,” for anyone seeking more, and specific, information about health and environmental impacts of fuel-powered equipment – available to download on the Quiet Communities website. For more information and/or to become a member, visit www.quietcommunities.org or email info@quietcommunities.org.

Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 Annual Gathering was a Success!

by Jenna Messier
     We were very excited to host our 10th Annual Gathering on December 14th, 2015 at the Sturbridge Host Hotel. It was a noteworthy conference, with cutting-edge speakers and topics being covered, collegiate networking among AOLCPs, and a comfortable venue with excellent food and service.
     We began the day by highlighting the changes to the NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care 6th Edition, scheduled to be finalized and printed in January of 2016.  Some of the most important changes will occur to the NOFA Organic Land Care Program chapter, Energy Use and Climate Change chapter, the Fertilizers and Amendment chapter. 
    Significant changes to the introductory chapter will be adding a policy on using fertilizers
containing GMO grains, clarifying both the Emergency Non-Organic Rescue Treatment and the Split Business policy.  The majority of organic fertilizers contain ingredients from GMO corn and soy, and without an affordable organic option on the market, these fertilizers are allowed for organic land care which has a greater positive impact on organic lawn care being affordable.  The Emergency Rescue treatment will now include a timeline: if you use a non-organic rescue treatment, then this property, this specific lawn or place, cannot be considered under organic care for a period of two years.  Split business policy will state that you can only use the word "Organic" in your business name if you offer 100% organic services and do not operate a split business. The goal has been to better define the lines and limitations to maintain organic integrity among organic land care professionals.
Dan Dalton speaks of trees
     NOFA OLC is excited to now include a new section in the Standards: Organic Tree Care. Dan Dalton and Michael Almstead, both ISA certified arborists from Almstead Tree and Shrub Care Company, wrote this new section which qualifies best practices for organic tree care such as pruning, fertility, and soil care in the root zone. 
Peat moss - 10,000 years in the making

Big changes to Fertility and Soil Amendments sections, which will be divided into 4 sections: Fertilizers, Amendments, Compost and Compost Tea. Under Amendments, peat moss will be now prohibited as a soil amendment, but allowed within a seed-starting mixture, for now. Fortunately, there are alternatives and they are preferred. More updates will be reported with the publication of the Standards in early 2016.

Dr. Jamie Banks, Executive Director of Quiet Communities
Equally important, NOFA Standards will offer an increased emphasis on environmental and human health issues in the newly-named Energy, Pollution and Climate Change chapter. Dr. Jamie Banks presented her talk, "Innovations in Landscaping Practices to Increase Environmental Health for All," in which environmental health data and potential solutions were reported to the audience and will also be included in the 6th Edition of the Standards.  Some of the hidden dangers which come from using landscaping equipment include harm done to our hearing and nervous systems from high decibels of noise, particulate matter stirred up by machinery and entering human lungs, toxic emissions from machinery, and fossil fuel spillage entering the ground and waterways.
     Dr. Banks discussed emerging technologies such as electric mowers and battery operated equipment, explaining that these technologies are developing very quickly, offer solutions, but are more costly for the landscaping providers.  We will have a summary of Dr. Banks presentation available shortly on the website.
     At NOFA OLC, we join Quiet Communities and Dr. Banks in advocating for energy-saving and pollution-reducing technologies; however we completely understand the difficulty which a small business will have in purchasing new equipment and incorporating new methods. We simply want to shine the light on the future, and help point out the path towards increased sustainability for the organic land care industry. As Dr. Banks suggested, next time you need one piece of new equipment, explore the electric and battery powered options.
James Urban, FASLA
     Our keynote speaker, James Urban, FASLA spoke about landscape specifications which he has developed and offered as open source documents to improve the landscaping and landscape architecture industries. Specs include soil preparation in the urban environment, sourcing the best nursery stock, best practices for managing drainage in street trees, etc. These specifications can be found at jamesurban.net and at http://www.urbantree.org/index.shtml.  ( I had trouble opening the home page.)     
Tree Requirements in order of importance
     Jim frames much of his discussion on planting street trees to endure time upon this diagram which shows the needs of a street tree.  Having enough soil to support root growth and allowing water to flow in and out of the root zone are critical to the long term success of the trees, as evidenced by some of his slides showing trees failing in less than ten years.  His suggestions are to amend the native, on site soil with quality compost and to install drainage which will continue to function for years.  In addition, Jim has spent a lot of time demanding better container grown trees from the nursery industry, so that his projects will continue to flourish for many years beyond his guarantee period.  Girdled roots on container stock are prevalent and should be rejected.  Even decent trees may need to be root pruned prior to planting to prevent circling roots from fatally continuing their growth pattern.
     If you are interested in the full powerpoint presentation, please contact Jim Urban at jimtree123@gmail.com. He will also offer a discount on his book, Up by Roots, to our members.
Jeff Cordulack, Lynn Rose, Pat Sullivan, Rob Dill, Ed Brunton and Chip Osborne
     We have had some excellent press coverage of the following segment, "Honoring the City of Springfield with an Organic Leadership Award."  Click here for the full article and likely more articles are to come. NOFA OLC is truly inspired by the work of citizens, municipal officials and parks and recreation workers to transition 6 public parks to organic management and then to increase their goals for next year.  Springfield is leading the way in the Northeast, as evidenced by surrounding cities planning to follow their lead. Springfield truly deserves the recognition.
Jeremy Pelletier, Jenna Messier, Chip Osborne, and Jeff Cordulack
     NOFA OLC surprised Chip Osborne with his own 2015 Organic Leadership Award, honoring him for all of his work nationally advocating for organic lawn care in public and private spaces.  Yes, he was surprised, but he also deserves the recognition.  The plaque read, "Thank you for all of your tireless efforts; traversing across the United States and working across the aisles, to create a healthier world by educating the public and transitioning one organic lawn at a time."

Mark Highland speaks about sourcing organic ingredients
    Last but not least, we had a presentation from a leader in the organic industry, Mark Highland, President of Organic Mechanics Soil Company, from Modena, Pennsylvania. Mark discussed the core values of his social business; quality, high price, environmental stewardship, and fairness with labor and customers.  Organic Mechanics produces premium organic potting soil and their customers expect a very high quality, peat-free potting soil which comes at a premium price. Back at the founding of the company, there were no other organic potting soils on the market at the time, except one created by a large multi-national company.  Mark then shared his process for sourcing large quantities of ingredients for his potting soil, including worm castings, compost, bark mulch, rice hulls and coconut coir. The first choice is usually to buy local products, however Mark shared the considerations which he weighs when sourcing ingredients from great distances, such as coconut coir instead of peat. Renewability is a key factor when sourcing ingredients from a distance.  Even when sourcing fuel, he looks for renewability.  Organic Mechanics fuels their vehicles with biodiesel from waste oil and also heats their shop with it as well. Mark's full powerpoint is available here.
     Thanks to all who attended the 10th Annual Gathering! As always, it provides "food for thought" over the winter as we evaluate our land care practices and look to improve in the new year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Going Organic in Springfield, Massachusetts

TURI Grant Funds Municipal Training, Six Pilot Sites & Future Plans

By Kathy Litchfield

SPRINGFIELD, MASS. – Springfield is going organic, thanks in part to a $20,000 community grant from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) in Lowell, MA that funded trainings and technical assistance for implementation of organic land care practices at six public pilot sites over the last year and a half.
                The properties include the Frederick Harris School grounds, Sweeny Athletic Field at the High School of Commerce, Forest Park athletic field, Tree Top Park, Camp Wilder and the terrace at Mason Square. The results from these pilot sites have provided the foundation to expand the program to 50 school properties and 900 acres of managed public land, according to Lynn Rose, Project Coordinator.

                In recognition of the City’s efforts, the NOFA Organic Land Care Program will award the City of Springfield with an Organic Leadership Award on Dec. 14 at the NOFA Annual Gathering. Chip Osborne will present the grant project and specifics on the rewards and challenges of how the work in Springfield is progressing.
                “We are extremely proud to accept the $20,000 grant from TURI, which will start the vital process of integrating organic fertilizers in the maintenance practices of our open space across the City. It is time we take the lead in the Pioneer Valley by encouraging both residents and businesses to join us in the protection of our open space and water resources by using organic fertilizers. I am convinced this will have long-term impacts and improve the overall health of our urban environment,” said Mayor Domenic Sarno at the time of the grant award.
                The project came together through a perfect storm of events, according to Lynn Rose, who has worked with the City of Springfield for seven years developing and implementing environmental programs in the City, including integrated pest management (IPM) techniques and laws on public properties. She’s a member of the Northeast IPM School Working Group, and conducted extensive research into pest IPM methods, but over time found herself frustrated with the restrictions of IPM. She had hoped that eliminating all toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers was possible.
At that time, she was approached by Maryanne Jule, a resident, who was interested in helping the city lands become organically managed. Together they pursued additional resources.
                She called the national organization, Beyond Pesticides to identify resources specifically designed for municipal issues. As a result, she enlisted Chip Osborne to teach a municipal training in organic care for athletic fields, city terrace and building grounds.
Springfield then partnered with several citizens, Better Life Whole Foods, and the cities of Northampton and Holyoke, and applied for a TURI community grant to help train employees to implement organic land care practices on six properties in Springfield, and train residents on organic lawn care.
Since the grant award, the Springfield Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management, under the leadership of Executive Director, Patrick Sullivan, has been hard at work testing soil, developing bid specifications for materials and labor, creating a program budget to implement organic land care practices and conduct trainings for staff, community groups, residents and homeowners and the grant’s municipal partners -- all with Chip Osborne at their side.
“Chip Osborne is a force of nature – he has made a pivotal difference in how the staff and administration see and do things,” said Rose. “It was fascinating, at Chip’s very first training, to see how everyone came together. There were people who didn’t realize how willing the administration and the staff were to consider organic management.  Chip brilliantly illustrated how feasible it was and how much sense it made.”
Osborne also outlined how it is possible to save 20 percent of costs in the long run once organic methods are established, said Rose, which will ultimately help the City defend its decision to make this transition to organic.
After Chip’s training, the staff all came away thinking, “Why would we do anything else (but organic)?” said Rose.
Over the last year, Sullivan and Osborne have worked closely to  integrate the “systems approach” to building soil fertility to prevent disease, insect and weed infestations, maintain soil biology, use proper fertilization for optimum plant health, choose the right grasses to thrive in the different conditions of the six pilot sites, and integrate preventative strategies and products for long-term care.
The parks involved in the grant had challenges the program would need to address – bare spots on fields that pose unsafe playing surfaces and encroachment of poison ivy and other weeds that pose life-threatening bee allergic reactions. Rose said the City is committed to choosing organic methods to battle these issues.
Sullivan said, “The green industry now offers organic products that are affordable and will have a long-term impact in improving the overall health of our turf eco systems. We also will be saving money in the long run.”

According to Rose, the City is moving away from using synthetic fertilizers “that can leach into groundwater, streams, rivers and lakes and cause negative health effects in children and pets.” They are basing their fertilization on soil testing results.
She said they have already expanded the number of pilots, and will continue to transition all of the public lands. Future initiatives include writing a grant to the Environmental Protection Agency to identify and address stormwater runoff issues from herbicide and synthetic fertilizer use by residences and businesses in Springfield; and working with the Operational Services Division (the agency that establishes contracts for state agencies and municipalities to purchase products and services from) to source organic products so that they are attainable by municipalities and state agencies.
“Once the products are available on state contract, state agencies can also begin the transition to organic,” she said. “Maybe the transition will take years, but it is doable and we can make changes statewide.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fall Accreditation Course was a Success!

by Jenna Messier
Nancy Dubrule Clemente - Natureworks
In early November, 41 students became Accredited at our Fall Accreditation Course in Organic Land Care at Greenwich Audubon! NOFA OLC offered a new format of two days of instruction one week, and two days of instruction the following week, to allow people to continue working during the busy fall cleanup and planting season.  Students came from New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts to learn the nuts and bolts of organic land care from popular NOFA teachers such as Michael Nadeau, Nancy Dubrule-Clemente and Chip Osborne.

Michael Nadeau

Full classroom at Greenwich Audubon

Chip Osborne telling it like it is
Mike Dietz

The course continues to be an intensive learning experience, with 8 or more hours a day of instruction.  After 13 years, the agenda continues to evolve, as we respond to students' interests in learning new subject areas.  An introduction to permaculture has been added for the last three courses, as well as additional case studies on Green Stormwater Infrastructure to challenge the students with the options for removing impervious surfaces and installing rain gardens and other structures to infiltrate water on site.  This year, Dr. Michael Dietz from UCONN taught the GSI sections for the first time, giving the students instruction in using the UCONN Rain Garden App and demonstrating large scale projects across the state.

Some students attended the course in groups, such as 4 students attending from Almstead Shrub and Tree Company, pictured to the right with Dan Dalton in the center. Dan teaches Pest Management and Pests in Shrub and Trees at the course and also in an arborist working for Almstead.  3 students attended who work at The Hickories Farm in Ridgefield, and 2 students from Northeast Horticultural in Stratford. Additional trucks are shown below, as I found them in the parking lot!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Going Organic on Long Island and Beyond

The Perfect Earth Project

By Kathy Litchfield
East Hampton, NY

While perched in her dentist’s chair one morning five years ago, Edwina von Gal realized she didn’t know of a landscaper offering chemical free lawn care to suggest to her dentist, who was concerned about toxins from his waterfront lawn sinking into Long Island sound.
            “I had been a landscape designer for a zillion years and I had always been an organic gardener in my own place. I was gravitating through the years towards more and more natural gardening for my clients too,” said the 67-year-old founder of The Perfect Earth Project (PRFCT Earth PRJCT), a two-year-old non-profit educational organization promoting toxin-free landscape management based in East Hampton, Long Island.
“My basic design concept was always to get people to stop and look at the natural beauty of intrinsic things, like the bark of a tree. But it was always a bit of subtext. Now times have changed and I realized then, that this is a message I could fully embrace. I soon found that more people were asking for chemical free lawns and I needed to learn more about this,” said the Brewster, NY native who grew up in dairy farm country running around outdoors unsupervised and gaining a love and comfort of nature that has been a constant thread throughout her life.
Edwina von Gal asked her some of her clients if they would agree to allowing her to manage their lawns without any toxins. She found that many clients weren’t even aware of how their lawns and landscapes were being managed - whether or not they were being sprayed, how often and with what - by the people they hired, although their vegetable gardens were organic.
“Honestly I never paid much attention to lawn, it wasn’t high on my list of interesting things,” laughed von Gal, “but what we realized is that after a year or so, it really worked. Nobody really noticed a difference and everybody was happy to try it, and when I told them what we were getting rid of, they were ecstatic.”

Sean O’Neill, director of education and outreach for The Perfect Earth Project, put it this way: “It doesn’t make much sense to walk across a chemical lawn to get to your organic tomato garden.”
O’Neill, native to Farmingville, Long Island, grew up fishing with his grandfather every Sunday at Blue Point, became an avid fisherman, and holds a master’s of science in environmental and natural resource economics from the University of Rhode Island (2006) and a bachelor’s of science in natural resource management from the University of Delaware (2004).
He worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as a pesticide control specialist where he witnessed firsthand the dangers of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers as he visited properties to enforce pesticide laws. While at NYSDEC, Sean created the 2011 Long Island Golf Course Initiative which lead to the successful diversion of thousands of pounds of illegally manufactured “knock off” pesticides products from entering Long Island, and served as a technical adviser on the Long Island Pesticide Use Management Plan focusing on improved human health and water quality in response to the pesticide contamination of Long Island’s vulnerable sole source drinking water aquifer.
 Coupled with a personal desire to protect the environment, he jumped at the opportunity to work with von Gal and joined the team in April of 2014.
The goals of The Perfect Earth Project are to promote toxin-free land management for the benefit of human health and the environment, by helping people to understand the dangers of synthetic lawn and landscape chemicals especially for children and pets, and by educating homeowners and landscape professionals on how to use ‘PRFCT’ practices to achieve great results at no additional cost.
They accomplish this by offering low-cost seminars ($10 to $25) open to professionals, homeowners and community members interested in learning about non-toxic ways to manage land. The first seminar was held in February 2015 and attracted over 150 people, two-thirds of whom were professional landscapers and designers and the other third of whom were homeowners, said O’Neill.
“When people learn that they are affected by what others are putting into the environment we share, they get engaged on a personal level,” he said. “Part of our success to date has been that personal touch where we can really show how this affects everybody. It’s not a polar bear on an iceberg far away. It’s right here in our communities.”
Opening conversations with people, sharing information, educating people and encouraging them to engage in trading stories are really important basic principles for von Gal and O’Neill.
“We’re here to help people, to provide people with resources to create their own awareness and share it with others. We very much encourage people not to fire the people they’re working with, but to convert them,” she said. “We want our seminars to be pilot programs that can serve as models for anyone who wants to create their own training program. We hope to build a network of experts around the United States that people could call within their own communities, for help in choosing a non-toxic landscape.”
 Edwina Von Gal’s work has been published in major publications and her book “Fresh Cuts” won the Quill and Trowel award for garden writing in 1998. She has served on boards and committees for a number of horticultural organizations, and is currently on the board of “What Is Missing,” Maya Lin’s multifaceted media artwork about the loss of biodiversity. She went to Panama in 2002 to design the park for the Biomuseo, the Frank Gehry designed museum of biodiversity under construction in Panama City, bought some land and stayed on to found the Azuero Earth Project with like-minded friends and scientists.
“The process convinced her to extend the toxin-free message to the United States, and Perfect Earth was launched in 2013 to promote toxin-free landscapes everywhere,” she wrote on the organization’s website.
Since 2014, von Gal and O’Neill have engaged Paul Wagner, of the NY Soil Food Web, to serve as expert and as a speaker at their seminars. They are working collaboratively with the NOFA Organic Land Care Program to promote accredited professionals (see www.perfectearthproject.org/toxin-free-landscaper-list) as well as Long Island landscapers offering non-toxic methods.
They’re partnering with the Peconic Land Trust to address private horticultural management and to train future gardeners in least toxic methods. They have received a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant and are working with Cornell Cooperative Extension to publish two versions of their landscape manual – one geared to landscape professionals and one to homeowners - already available as a text version on their website, www.perfectearthproject.org/.
They are also working not only with individual property owners, but with hospitals, college campuses, real estate developers and municipal parks and lands, to educate all involved about how possible it is to have a “perfectly aesthetically pleasing lawn and landscape without the use of cancer causing chemicals, or fertilizers that pollute our waterways and estuaries,” said O’Neill, adding that on a personal note, he is thrilled that many of the landscapers he worked with over the years in his previous job are becoming interested in learning how to provide the services their clients are requesting.
“From a purely business standpoint, it’s becoming imperative that landscapers learn how to do these things in order to make a living in the future.”
Edwina von Gal emphasized that The Perfect Earth Project isn’t working to reinvent something, but to “engage the existing infrastructure and create a big demand among the population of decision makers and land owners to insist on toxin-free maintenance and to understand that it doesn’t need to cost more and that it is possible.”
“We’re not doing advocacy,” she said. “We feel we can meet our goals simply by creating a consciousness among people who are doing their own lawns or hiring someone to do their landscape.”
Underway is the “PRFCT Places” program, a registration service that recognizes and promotes toxin-free properties by listing them on an interactive map and directory on the website. Von Gal encourages anyone who knows of a toxin-free property that would qualify to get in touch with her. The same goes for professional landscapers interested in registering their businesses as “PRFCT” to promote their services and products. 
“We promote the idea and they can use our brand to promote their projects,” she said. “Since we ourselves cannot be in every community serving the United States, we feel t his is our job, to create materials and packages that we can turn into easily replicable models that others can provide to their communities,” she said, encouraging land care professionals to contact her and share info on the challenges they face and how the Perfect Earth Project could help them. “We would love to create a whole army of ambassadors.”
Von Gal was appointed as a master teacher at the Conway School of Landscape Design for 2015-2016 and looks forward to further building awareness of eliminating toxins from maintenance programs and community projects.
For more information, visit www.perfectearthproject.org, or engage in social media on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.