Be A Force For Change


The dandelions were pretty much invisible. As I looked across my lawn from a distance, here in July, that distinctive green foliage blended in perfectly with the grasses, clovers, and dozens of other species. They are abundant, but in midsummer, nobody cares. Back in May their yellow flowers were plentiful and on display, prompting poison pushers to promote their products that would solve this supposed problem.

Sure enough last spring a promotional flyer from a lawn chemical applicator appeared in my mailbox. They could make mine “the best lawn on the block” using the drug called “Weed and Feed,” to deal with the supposed “problem” of dandelions. What they didn’t mention is that a major component of the infamous Vietnam era defoliant, Agent Orange known as 2, 4-D, is the “Weed” part. The “Feed” part is fertilizer that is unnecessary when there is diversity.

The company is offering to eliminate dandelions along with anything else that isn’t grass. Apparently, they want me to pay them for a “perfect” monoculture mowed lawn. Just banish broad-leaf plants. I used their self-addressed-stamped envelope to send a note that I’m not about to downgrade my healthy yard into a foolishly flawed and fake ecosystem. Furthermore, they failed to convince me that the much maligned medicinal “health food” called dandelion is a problem serious enough to risk the health of kids, pets, neighbors and wildlife.

The real problem is our poisons. Once applied, these toxins don’t know when to quit. According to Beth Huxta in “The Dark Side of Lawns,” lawn chemicals get tracked indoors, often onto surfaces where kids play. The National Academy of Sciences reports that 50 percent of contact with pesticides occurs within the first five years of life. Such repeated contact has been linked to numerous diseases in children. For example, researchers reporting in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that “exposure to garden pesticides can increase the risk of childhood leukemia almost sevenfold.”

The U.S. has more land in lawn than in corn, by 32 million acres. About 10,000 gallons is the amount of water (annually) beyond rain the average American lawn sucks up. Each year, some 90 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides are dumped on lawns by 80 million American households. American homeowners use up to 10 times more pesticides per acre of lawn than farmers use per acre of crops. Unnecessary lawn fertilizers are applied annually and quickly run off, entering water sheds. From there they often head south, ultimately contributing to a dead zone the size of Connecticut in the Gulf of Mexico.

Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 16 pose serious hazards to birds, 24 are toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, and 11 have adverse effects on bees. And yet promoters go to great lengths to convince potential customers to buy these products to effortlessly kill “detested” broadleaf plants and create smooth, barren, grass monocultures. For more information, google “dark side of lawns.”

Roundup is one of the most toxic and ubiquitous herbicides. And yet it’s also one of the most common and accessible poisons. The singular focus is on its ability to kill plants. There are many hazards this potent poison poses. If you simply google “problems with Roundup,” you will very likely stop using this “quick death for plants… slow death for you” herbicide. Organic grains would be a particularly good idea when shopping, since Roundup is often used to spray crops just before harvest.

I have news for the pesticide pushers. I already have “the best lawn on the block.”

As I write this, I’m looking at a complex community that is our lawn. The majority of our flowers, shrubs and trees are native. Healthy cottontails visit as I’m working at my computer on the patio table. Numerous varieties of birds are a constant presence. Countless insects and spiders consider our yard theirs. Truth be told, it IS theirs. We are just temporary visitors and try our best to do no harm.  We truly feel at home here as part of this amazing community of life, greater by far and older than ours. For a healthy and safe home environment avoid “lawn treatments,” and don’t worry about dandelions.

For more information just google Doug Tallamy’s “The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening.”

Dale Goodner was supervisor of environmental and interpretive services at Peoria Park District before he retired and moved to Wisconsin where he volunteers and writes about environmental issues.

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