Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Changing the World One Lawn at a Time by Kathy Litchfield

"Out & About with AOLCPs"
Changing the World One Lawn at a Time
By Kathy Litchfield
LEXINGTON, KY - One of Storey Slone's favorite clients is a woman who requested she plant as much clover and as many violets as possible on her lawn, to combat her neighbors' synthetic turf monoculture.
Slone, a 24-year-old organic lawn and turf specialist for the Dave Leonard Tree Specialists, wishes more homeowners would recognize the benefits of an organic approach and embrace this model client's attitude on their own properties.

"People don't realize how their lawn care practices affect their environment, their own homes children or pets, or even a pedestrian walking by," she said.

 Slone is one of the NOFA Organic Land Care Program's youngest AOLCPs. She took the Philadelphia, Pa. accreditation course in 2012 and started her job as the organic lawn and turf specialist in January 2013. Hers is a brand new position for the tree care company, founded in the 1970s by nationally recognized arboriculture authority Dave Leonard (who helped to write the International Society of Arboriculture's original certification test and still meets with tree clients daily.)

"I manage and helped to create our brand new organic lawn and turf program that started this past March," said Slone. "Dave realized that many trees were negatively affected by improper herbicide use and the health of their soil and landscape. We brew compost tea that we utilize in the lawn care program as well as our plant health care program, to combat fungal disease and pest pressure, build organic matter, and reduce stress for trees and turf."

Slone spends her days managing 32 residential lawn care clients, encouraging them to choose an organic approach and offering three different programs.

The first is a basic lawn care program (soil test, applications of compost tea and recommendations); the second is their standard program (five visits to the site including tea, fertilizer, amendments and site monitoring); and the third, a premium program (nine visits including compost tea, fertilizer, a higher level of weed management and renovation as well as soil aeration).

"I came back from the NOFA course feeling a mixture of intimidation and excitement about implementing new organic practices," she said. "I like learning about soil biology and chemistry and how the details of a landscape can really affect whatever it is that you're growing."

For instance, Slone brews different compost teas to feed trees (fungal teas) and lawns (bacterial teas).

"Knowing when to use what is very important. This year we used tea as a preventative and also to remediate some fungal pathogens that appeared in lawns, like brown patch, and had pretty good luck with that. It's interesting to see what cause problems in a landscape how we can balance and fix them," she said.

A Kentucky native, Slone grew up camping, hiking and spending time outdoors with her father, a wildlife biologist. He loved to hunt, fish and garden, and she was proud to grow up knowing where food comes from.

"It seemed like one of the most powerful things I could do as a person was to grow my own food," she said.

She spent a year volunteering with AmeriCorps NCCC and among her positions spent time working with Growing Power's Will Allen in Milwaukee, Wis. providing access to healthy food, clean water and promoting sustainable communities.

Slone completed several internships with the Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) on farms including: a permaculture farm in Berea, K., on a biofuels plant with a pepper breeder in Pittsboro, N.C., at a goat dairy, and at a lavender farm in North Carolina. She then graduated from Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro, N.C. in 2009 with an associate's degree in sustainable agriculture. It was her college advisor who told her about the NOFA OLC Program's accreditation course.

Just before her present position, Slone worked for the Department of Fish and Wildlife at a hatchery raising native fish species for stocking rivers, lakes and streams.

"Honestly growing grass and growing vegetables aren't all that different when you're looking at soil health as the foundation. If you've got good healthy soil, you've got healthy plants," she said.

Slone hopes to expand the organic lawn and turf program to include 100 clients in 2014 and plans to organize organic lawn care educational workshops in the Lexington, Ky. area. She said it seems like the organic idea is "fairly new, but catching on" in this part of the state, and she's hopeful that people's eyes will be opened to the affects of what they choose to do in their own yards.

"I try to convince everyone I can to commit to a fully organic program. We use OMRI approved products and offer a transitional program to organics," she said. "We've paired up with a well-known landscape company in Lexington, Henkel Denmark, and they're introducing us to a lot of their clients which is exciting."

When she's not working, Slone enjoys raising two chickens (named "Henbit" and "Chickweed") and growing vegetables in her urban garden in downtown Lexington. In late August she started a garden club she's hoping to develop. She's networking with the Young Farmers Agricultural Legacy Program and wants to get involved with more community organizations.

"I'd like to do a lot more education and teach people how the small mundane details of their everyday lives have a role to play in sustainability and environmental awareness," she said. Every decision we make has an impact on our environment. I think the majority of people don't look critically into the products or practices involved in their daily lives, and I'd like to help change that."

"Our program is all about the soil. We're focusing on the integrated relationships of trees and landscapes and how they affect each other. Creating symbiotic relationships where plants can support each other and building healthier soils that naturally decrease pests and pathogens and encourage biodiversity," said Slone, who publishes a blog on the company website,, and was recently interviewed for an article on organic lawn care in Lexington's Chevy Chaser Magazine.

For more info, contact her at