Going Organic in Charlestown
Food for the Birds Becomes Long-Term Sustainability for RI Couple
By Kathy Litchfield
CHARLESTOWN, RI – Mike Divney believes in healthy communities. As a land planner, LEED professional and site engineer, it was important for him to find a knowledgeable professional to partner with when he was ready to alter the landscape surrounding his coastal Rhode Island home.
The one-third of an acre he and his wife Jean own now boasts an organically maintained lawn, a rain garden full of native plants, a thriving blueberry bush that feeds the birds, pervious grout on the patio to direct stormwater runoff and an organic herb kitchen garden growing mint, basil, chives and parsley.
The couple eats organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables and is exploring the use of red wiggler worms for composting their kitchen waste, to then use as rich fertilizer in their yard.
Divney wasn’t always savvy on employing sustainable landscape practices. He credits the 9-year NOFA accredited organic land care professional he has partnered with - Frank Crandall - for being an excellent teacher as well as a constant student which he greatly respects.
“Years ago, (Jean and I) had worked with other landscapers who really took a narrow view. It was, ‘what plant do you want and where do you want it,’ rather than, ‘what is it you’re looking for on your property long-term, what matters to you and how would you like to practice this,’ “ said Divney.
“When we started looking around and asking for references we found Frank and were very impressed with his knowledge and professionalism. He not only had the horticultural background and an artistic discipline, but he is an encyclopedia of knowledge. There’s been a lot of collaboration in our professional relationship and that’s why it’s so treasured by us.”
It all started with a blueberry bush. When the Divneys bought their property, there was a decades-old blueberry bush which was in the way of alteration plans. According to Divney, Crandall carefully excavated the bush, took it away, stored and nurtured it for two years, then brought it back and replanted it.
“It is a very important source of food for the birds. We never get any of the berries and that’s ok,” Divney said.
Crandall also advises the Divneys on how to protect the trees around the house during alterations, and on regular maintenance of their perennial beds including pruning and mulching techniques that minimize water inputs.
Divney is excited to share the beauty and efficiency of his rain garden, filled with native plants, and the new pervious grout on his patio, which directs rain water to run beneath the patio onto a gravel base rather than into stormdrains, which delights the engineer within him.
Through his work, Divney had watched the trends in sustainability over 30 years and knew that he was inclined towards organic land care, but didn’t know about the NOFA program until he met Crandall.
The fact that Crandall was accredited meant a lot to Divney – that he had done his homework, was always learning new things and was tied into an organization dedicated to the ongoing education of land care professionals.
“We’ve made a few mistakes of course, but we’re trying to do things the right way,” he said. “Obviously most people who know anything about health and nutrition are purchasing organically grown fruits and vegetables and trying to get them from local farmers when possible. It’s important to tell your friends and neighbors about this. With someone like Frank to help me here in Rhode Island, we can see the fruits of what we’d like to accomplish and do a great deal on our own. It’s important in our small community to get everyone to realize our water supply is provided from surface runoff from land and streams. We have to protect the aquifer. This isn’t just for now -- what we do has an effect for future generations.”
Divney likely sounds like an AOLCP’s dream client. He is educated, understands what he wants and enjoys being an active partner in the organic land care of his beloved home. He enjoys learning new things and loves sharing what he has learned with others. He is also invested in his community, believes that what he does on his property affects his close-by neighbors and makes decisions based on what is best for the land, wildlife and water into the future.
“If you start with sustainable processes, you can save the expensive use of chemicals, you can reduce the amount of water you require and discover more economical ways of doing things. It’s important to work with a professional to help you optimize the most cost effective and sustainable ways to do these things. You start with your microenvironment. If you keep your microenvironment healthy, you’ll be a healthier person, and can help create healthier communities,” he said.
The Divneys are very pleased with the results they’ve achieved using organic methods. After a one or two growing seasons’ transition, the Divneys are enjoying the landscape they helped to design and are grateful to Crandall for helping them achieve their heart’s desires.
“We are delighted with the results. Our yard looks great!” said Divney.