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 and at  ( 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 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.