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!