Scenes from the Midwest Organic Conference
The premiere Midwest Organic Lawn & Landscape Conference was an overwhelming success for the organizers and 100-plus attendees to the two-day event. “We had more solid conversations about our products here than another event way, way larger,” said Brian Milan of NatraTurf, a supporting sponsor of the SafeLawns Foundation.
The information was high level and the networking opportunities were extensive. “I was able to talk with everyone in the room who was involved with tree care,” said Peter Wild, the founder of ArborJet and a SafeLawns board member. “You don’t get that kind of opportunity often enough.”
That the event was attended by organic devotees and chemical applicators alike made for some interesting discourse. The owner of a Weed Man franchise challenged the notion that 2,4-D and Roundup were dangerous. Overall, though, the event was a clear indication that organics are here to stay in the green industry — and that people will travel tremendous distances for educational opportunities. Folks from as far away as Florida, Texas, Massachusetts and Oregon were represented in the diverse audience.
The takeaway points were many, including these off the top of my head:
1) Cooperation and Open Dialogue — These are essential when converting to organics, stressed Jeff Carlson, the award-winning golf course superintendent from The Vineyard Course on Martha’s Vineyard. “Taking a side is one thing, an unwillingness to listen is another,” he said as he led the crowd through the myriad challenges of permitting a new golf course in the modern era.
2) Keeping Records — This was another point made by most of the presenters. In Carlson’s case, he built retention ponds and tested the water in the ponds for chemical contamination. That way, he would have data to refer to later if any questions arose about runoff on the course. Peter Wild stressed the importance of establishing a baseline soil test that could be referenced one or two years later to see if changes were occurring according to plan.
3) Biology, Biology, Biology — All presenters, even Jeff Carlson, stressed the importance of living soil in an organic system. Establishing the biology and honoring it by avoiding chemical applications was essential.
4) Corn Meal as a Disease Suppressant — Howard Garrett displayed a penchant for attempting anything and everything in his nearly 30-year trial-and-error life with organics. Among his innovative recipes is using corn meal for disease suppression in turfgrass — a topic I may have to add to the revision of my book at some point. Here’s a link to Howard’s web site that explains some of the nuances of corn meal: www.dirtdoctor.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2445&highlight=cornmeal. He made the clarification, too, that corn meal is not the same as corn gluten meal, which only contains a small percentage of the harvested corn.
5) Sometimes Chemicals Are Necessary — Peter Wild made the case for chemical applications in the case of exotic invasive pests where no organic control exists. The key, he said, was applying the toxic products in the most environmentally friendly manner. His ArborJet system is upheld by the U.S. EPA as one of the cutting-edge technologies in the green industry today. “Exotic invasive pests are here to stay,” he said. “And in many cases it comes down to losing the urban forest or using a chemical.”
6) We Have So Much More to Learn — That was repeated by every expert in the room. Because so much university research in the past several decades has gone into gardening with chemicals, much is left to be done to validate organic products and techniques. When Howard Garrett talked about the efficacy of corn meal in fungal disease suppression, he admitted that university data is woefully thin on the topic. When Jeff Carlson talked about grass plants building up resistance to disease after several years of establishment in the soil, he also said the universities are excited to study more.
Virtually everyone talked about where and when the next conference will be held. Organizers and sponsors are looking at Chicago in September and we’ll keep you posted.
And one last shout-out to John Weiss at Chickity Doo Doo is in order. This first conference was no small undertaking, either in finances or logistics, and he and his crew pulled it off with aplomb.