Would you like weed killer with that?

I’ve been very disturbed lately, trying to process how we came to value a perfect lawn over people.

The other day, as I walked with my son to school, we passed house upon house with little signs posted in their yards saying “chemical treatment – keep children and pets off until: such and such date” or “pesticide application: keep off until dry”.  I’m sure you’ve seen them.  We’ve all seen them.  We’ve become accustomed to them.

But have you ever stopped to wonder why they post those signs?  Why just children and pets, is it safe for adults?  Why a three days?  Why is everything okay once its dry?  Is it really?  It is okay?  Can we really put chemicals on our lawns that kill plants and insects but have no effect on us after just a few hours or a few days?  Or are we simply ignoring the possibility that it might have an effect?

Let’s think about this.  We grow grass, we feed it with chemicals to make it green, we layer on more chemicals to kill anything that isn’t grass, then we layer on even more chemicals to kill off any insects, beneficial or otherwise, who might be living in the soil because we don’t want them to ruin the grass that we worked so hard to get perfect and green.  But for what purpose?  Can we walk in it?  Can we play in it with our children?  Ca we let our pets go out and sniff the ground?  Can we do all of those things without the little voices in the back of our heads saying “Are you sure that’s safe?”?

Now I realize some people, a lot of people, might not like to think about this.  In fact, I’m guessing they stopped at the subject line and didn’t read any further, or they started reading but stopped at the second sentence.  But if you’ve read up to this point then I ask that you bear with me and read through to the end.

There are times in our lives when we learn things that we don’t necessarily want to hear.  We hear things that put us on the defensive and make us not want to listen any further.  We, as human beings, have a conscience, and we don’t like to admit when we may have made a mistake or been a part of a greater problem.  My goal is not to put anyone on the defensive, but to just get us all to stop and think and maybe, change our behaviour.

If you use chemicals in your yard or garden I’d ask you to honestly ask yourself one question: Why do you do it?

Why do you use chemicals?  Why chemical fertilizer?  Why insecticides?  Why pesticides?  Why herbicides?  Is it because it’s how you were taught and you don’t know how to do it differently?  Is it because you think it will take too much time or too much work to not use chemicals?  Is it because you’re worried about what the neighbors will think if you have weeds in your yard? (After all  you’ve heard how they talk about the other neighbors, you don’t want that to be you.)  Is it because you can’t stand the sight of weeds because in the back of your mind there is a stigma with weeds and laziness?  Do you just think of weeds as interruption of the span of green and are therefore ugly?  Do you truly believe that the chemicals won’t harm anyone?  Or do you just not want to be bothered?

Let me ask another question.  If you knew today that you, your child or your pet would end up with Cancer in a few years, would you still do it?  Would you still expose yourself, your family and your pets to lawn chemicals?  Would you still value your lawn the same way you do today?

I don’t.  And here’s why: A few years ago I lost my dog to Cancer and I’ve lost far too many people in my life to Cancer, unexplainable Cancer.  And while I don’t have a background in science or chemistry or medicine, I can tell you my theory.  We are surrounded by chemicals in every facet of our lives.  Our food contains chemicals, our homes contain chemicals, our air is full of chemicals, we put chemicals on our skin in the form of lotions, sunscreens, make-up, deoderant and anti-perspirants.  We have chemicals in our toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, soap, laundry soap, fabric softener and house cleansers.  There isn’t an area in our lives that isn’t exposed to chemicals.  So why can’t scientists figure out what causes Cancer?  My guess is because everything causes Cancer.  Can I control everything?  No, I can’t.  I’m sure I’m exposed to Cancer causing chemicals far more than I’m aware of and I can’t control that.  But what I can do is eliminate the chemicals from the areas in my life that I can control and hopefully, that will be enough me and my family to live a long and healthy life.

My parents weren’t “hippies” or “tree-huggers”, in fact we used products daily growing up that contained all sorts of chemicals, mostly because it’s what we knew.  As I’ve grown and life has taken me on many paths, including working for an Organic Certification Agency over 20 years ago, I became increasingly aware to the dangers of chemicals and just how long they stay with us.  Did you realize that if you wanted to start an organic farm (or garden) today, but you were using chemicals on it yesterday, that your crops wouldn’t be considered “organic” for at least three years?  Why?  Because it’s not just the chemicals that get applied to the current crop that makes something organic.  It takes three years for the chemicals to break-down in the soil enough that they don’t show up in toxic amounts in our food.  Three years.

So transfer this to our lawns.  When we use chemicals, we are typically on a schedule, we keep adding them to our lawn multiple times a year.  We add more, and more to get the best results.  And there it sits.  It sits in the soil that grows our grass, the soil that grows our flowers and our food for years to come.  But we continue to tell ourselves that it’s okay.   We post signs, telling people when we’ve put chemicals on our lawns.  And after a couple of days its safe, right?  When our dogs put their nose right on the ground and sniff, it’s okay.  When our kids sit in the grass, pull up the blades and put them in their mouth to make the blade of grass whistle, that’s okay too.  When we walk barefoot or have a picnic in the front lawn or when we eat veggies out of our garden that shares the soil with our lawn, it’s safe, right?  Or is it?

My thought is this.  If the guy spraying our lawn is supposed to wear boots, gloves and a mask to apply it (which they are supposed to do to limit exposure) and make sure not to spray on a windy day, or the warning on the bag or bottle of chemicals that we’re applying on our lawns or gardens says not to ingest and to call poison control or a doctor if it is ingested, then why would we trust that after just a couple of hours that it’s “safe” for us to be on, that it’s “safe” to eat, that it’s “safe” at all?

We do many things in our lives out of habit.  Change can seem difficult at first, but I urge you to question what you’re doing, what you’re using and if you don’t have a clear conscience, then look for alternatives.

If you have been using chemicals and you’ve thought about eliminating them from your yard but you don’t love dandelions and aren’t friends with creeping charlie or plantain or what have you, don’t sweat it.  There are alternatives.   There are more and more organic lawn care companies that will do the work for you if that’s what you’re accustomed to.  Or, if you want to convert it yourself I would recommend the book The Organic Lawn Care Manual by Paul Tukey.

Please, if you’re in the area, do not use my lawn as an example of what organic lawn care looks like!  My yard, particularly the front, is definitely not picture perfect.  Other than mowing, aerating and watering, our lawn has not truly been cared for in the past few years.  In fact, the current dandelion population makes me cringe.  However, when I weigh the dandelions against the health and well-being of my family and pets, they don’t seem quite as bad.

Think of it this way, if you were to go into your local coffee shop but instead of asking if you would like cream they asked “Would you like weed killer with that?” what would you answer?  Or, if you sat down at the dinner table and asked someone to pass the salt and pepper, but upon receiving it you realize its filled with weed n’ feed, would you use it on your dinner?  If your response is “no” then I ask you to seriously consider whether you think it’s truly “safe” to put these same chemicals on your lawn and in your garden.  If, in the back of your mind you have doubt, even the slightest bit, I urge you to change.  For you.  For your family.  For your pets.  And for those to come after us.

Afterall, is your lawn really that important?

Kate

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