By Nicole Rivard
Back in the summer of 2012, Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, became alarmed when she noticed yellow pesticide application signs—the ones that are supposed to remain for 24 hours after a pesticide is applied— on the edge of Pinkney Park in her hometown of Rowayton, Connecticut, a 1.4-square-mile peninsula that hooks into Long Island Sound. Pinkney Park is situated along the Five Mile River, which provides habitat for aquatic organisms, fish, songbirds, amphibians and small mammals.
It is also the site of many community events, such as Shakespeare on the Sound, where families and children sit directly on the lawn. She called the lawn care company to inquire what was applied and learned it was a product called Quinclorac, which is used for weed and crab grass control. She then reached out to the national organization Beyond Pesticides to get more information about the product. Feral learned that the chemical is a potential groundwater contaminant, meaning it may be mobile in soil and have the possibility of running off or persisting in groundwater.
Also, Quinclorac is considered slightly toxic to aquatic animals. So Feral, capitalizing on her position as a member of the Rowayton Gardeners Club, sprang into action and approached the three elected district commissioners who run the town, also known as the Sixth Taxing District.
“The Garden Club asked the commissioners to consider making Pinkney Park an organic showpiece for the community in 2013, as it’s a staging sight for concerts, a farmer’s market and a series of events year-round,” Feral explained. “In turn, I was asked to start a discussion about what a pesticide-free organic program would entail, including details about costs, timing to unfold as well as organic lawn care firms to consider.
“I think the commissioners felt confronted initially when I pushed quickly for meetings. They likely imagined that my activist role at Friends of Animals could be potentially embarrassing since I pressed them on debating the risks of exposure to lawn pesticides in addition to their contribution to water pollution of Five Mile River.”
The timing couldn’t have been better. In May of 2012, a Five Mile River Watershed Plan had been released by the South Western Regional Planning Agency that focused on the need to reduce non-point source (NPS) pollution, the diffuse sources of which are pet waste, lawn fertilizers and pesticides. The education and outreach portion of the plan focuses on helping watershed residents understand the connection between their actions and the health of the Five Mile River.
It gives them an easy-to-implement, inexpensive list of actions that can result in reductions in NPS pollution. In addition to pollution, Feral dug in and provided the commissioners with data on the link between pesticides and cancer in humans and pets. “Initially this likely frightened them, too,” she said. “But I always emphasized that we could focus on simple steps to convert town property to organic lawn care so they wouldn’t feel overwhelmed or ashamed of a past approach.”
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Ignoring being labelled a “commando” at times, Feral rallied the Garden Club to approve a pesticide free lawn-care plan for Pinkney Park, something that the commissioners couldn’t refuse after realizing the benefits to humans, pets, pollinators and other wildlife. In November of 2012, the Garden Club hosted its first Pesticide-Free Lawn and Garden lecture to educate members and the community at large about the Garden Club’s overall goal to decrease the amount of pesticides and fertilizers that contaminate and reach waterways without increasing costs of maintaining Rowayton’s public parks and open spaces.
By 2013, the tide had turned and Feral was asked to develop an agreement between the Garden Club and town of Rowayton that officially transitioned Pinkney Park to pesticide-free lawn care, an agreement that continues today. The park’s transition started with a simple soil test, a crucial first step in any organic lawn care program to see if the soil was acidic.
The Garden Club then began to address other public land areas in town to be included such as the Community Center property, the Rowayton Dog Park and Bailey Beach. All are now pesticide free, and in 2018 Beyond Pesticide’s Pesticide-Free Signs will all be on display in the hopes of spreading the message so residents will be encouraged to adopt a pesticide-free approach in their own yards.
“I’ve identified several companies that private residents can hire for lawn care that use organics,” Feral said. “So far the signs we’re marketing seem to be a hit in town as people see that the public green spaces don’t look any different without using pesticides; in other words they are still aesthetically pleasing. They are seeing the town’s environmentally wise approach is a win-win for wildlife and humans.”