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Former Chemical Applicator: ‘I Am Literally Ashamed of Myself for Being Part of It’

Tom Kelly, founder of Fire Belly Organics

Tom Kelly, founder of Fire Belly Organics

A Conversation With Tom Kelly

To the outside world, Tom Kelly of Milford, N.H., has turned the lawn care industry on its ear in remarkably short period of time. Seemingly out of nowhere, his new company, FireBelly Organics, had the trade show known as New England Grows in Boston abuzz with talk of his revolutionary easy-to-use lawn care program made from 100 percent organic ingredients.

Behind the scenes, however, the 2010 launch of FireBelly has been sub-consciously contemplated for years. As co-founder of one of the New England region’s most successful multi-location lawn care companies, Tom had a career with lawn chemicals that spanned nearly two decades. What he refers on his new company’s web site as “guilt” began long ago, however.

SafeLawns recently sat down with Tom for a wide-ranging talk about his company and the state of the lawn care industry. Though respectful of many of his former colleagues in the chemical industry, he’s not afraid to speak his mind, either.

SafeLawns — Tom, you have a long background in the lawn care industry. Can you tell us how that came to pass and about some of your experiences?

Tom Kelly — I graduated from Syracuse University in 1993 with a degree in English and was facing a job market not unlike today’s. That fall I found myself working for Barefoot Grass Lawn Service, which at the time was the second largest lawn care provider in the country. Within a couple of years I had been promoted to branch manager of a division on the south shore of Massachusetts. In the fall of 1996 Barefoot Grass was purchased by Chemlawn (now TruGreen) and instead of going to work for them I started The Lawn Dawg.

In the beginning we were promoting Lawn Dawg as the company that would reduce pesticide use by not applying pesticides as a preventative measure. We figured we could do that because of our expertise in agronomics, but as we grew I think we unwittingly just turned into any other chemical lawn care company [in terms of the amount of pesticides used].

I began to take in interest in organics in just the last five years or so and can honestly say at this point that I feel that the organic methods are actually more effective than any chemical program I had ever been involved with.

SL — What changes have you seen in the industry in the last 20 years?

TK — Back when I was an applicator at Barefoot Grass we did everything possible to prevent negative issues within lawns by applying preventative pesticide controls. We were told to spray every single lawn with a blanket application of weed control and every single lawn always got an application of Dursban for preventative insect control. In 1996 EPA introduced the Food Quality Protection Act, which was a program designed to take a good hard look at many of the products we were using as preventative controls. The result was that several of the products we were using every single day were found to be very dangerous. This was the first point in my career that I really began to question just what exactly I was not only involved with as an applicator, and also promoting to the public.

The biggest problem within the lawn care service industry is that there are very few small to midsize companies offering a quality product. Consolidation has had a big hand in this — as there are only two or three major players, who consistently buy out any company as soon as it reaches a certain point in revenue. It’s difficult to do quality control witin a large company format. Unfortunately, when you hire a lawn care service nowadays you should be aware that when the technician arrives at your house your yard is among 30 to 40 stops scheduled for the day. It’s all about quantity and not much about quality.

Finally, today the term “green washing” comes up a lot with regard to lawn care services and products. Nobody wants to be known as a “chemical service” anymore, because consumers are more aware of the dangers that chemical fertilizers and pesticides are presenting. So some companies are calling themselves “organic-based” or “greener.” Most of the large corporate companies claim to have an organic option available. Some companies even go as far as to simply lie about what they are doing. I truly think that this effort to essentially save their business is what in the end will ultimately destroy them. Dishonesty is usually flushed out in the market place — even if it takes a couple of years.

SL — You made a fairly radical change by opening FireBelly Organics. Can you tell us about the reasons why FireBelly came to be?

TK — It may appear on the outside that the change was radical, but I would disagree. I had been considering organics and researching the methods for a long time. There are many people in the organic industry who have been way ahead of their time in terms of using organic methods and now I think this philosophy should be brought into the mainstream.

What really disappoints me most within the context of the argument of organics versus chemicals is the perception that there is absolutely no common ground. On the chemical side I think you will find that most applicators and even middle management staff typically do not treat their own lawns with the products that their companies provide to the public. It’s the corporate structure and upper management staffs that continue to push the fact that organic products are almost mythical and useless. You would think that this is true of the other side too but I don’t think it is. I had a anti-pesticide activist ask me last week if I could introduce her to some of the pro-chemical people just so she could open up a dialogue with them. I suggested that maybe that wasn’t the best idea as I was certain she would be met with a very aggressive stance.

In the end, all lawn care professionals and product developers should be trying to offer the best way to have a healthy lawn. Fire Belly is just another means to get there and sometimes I just don’t understand all the resentment that the chemical side seems to promote.

SL — Great name. I wasn’t sure at first, but I really think it’s a name to remember. Where did that come from?

TK — I really wish that we had a good story for this question because I get asked it all the time. The fact is that just brainstormed for a few weeks over many different names and logos. This is what we came up with although I’m open to some suggestions as to a better story that would be more interesting to tell.

SL — You market the “world’s first organic lawn care program.” What does that mean exactly and what are the benefits to the consumer and the lawn?

TK — Organic lawn care has gone through some significant growth very quickly. There are new products and new technology coming out all the time and we expect that the market place will continue to be flooded in the coming years. What FireBelly set out to do was to simplify the process for people who want to stop using pesticides and chemical fertilizers on their lawns. Instead of being confused about what to use and when to use it we provide it in a very easy-to-use and easy-to-understand program.

When you sign up for the FireBelly program we ship the products to you over the course of the year. You don’t have to store everything for future use and, when the products arrive throughout the lawn season, it helps to remind you that it is time to treat the lawn.

In terms of agronomics, our organic program is based on improving the life of the soil. In most cases, especially after lawns have been treated with chemicals, soil from which lawns grow is stale and void of any microbial activity altogether. When the microbial activity is re-stimulated, the organic matter in the soil increases greatly and when this happens the grass literally flourishes. By using ingredients like kelp, humic acid and naturally occurring macronutrients — and combining them with beneficial strains of bacteria — we are creating the perfect environment for any plant to thrive. The key is consistency over the course of a growing season.

SL — Do customers have the ability to customize your program for their own needs?

TK — We have the basic program that consists of six seasonally specific treatments. We stress the fact that no matter what type of grass you have or what climate you live in this system is effective because it is more about the soil and less about the plant. By applying our six treatments in conjunction with each other the results can be incredible.

In addition to our basic program we offer supplemental products that can enhance the program based on a lawn’s individual needs. We offer a liquid corn gluten product for weed prevention and have several different methods for controlling insects. We also implore our customers to perform a soil test at least every two years to determine any specific needs that their lawn may require. The report that we send you as a result of the soil test is extremely detailed and often times uncovers a specific issue that could be creating a problem with the appearance of the lawn.

SL — How does your shipping program work? You’ll deliver to the U.S. and Canada, correct?

TK — We deliver our products anywhere in the United States and Canada, that’s correct. We consider the seasonal shipping part of our program to be a big benefit in terms of the success of your lawn care routine. Because we send you the products over three shipments you never have to worry about going out and purchasing additional lawn care treatments. We’ve found that even the person who is very excited about their lawn in April has his or her interest drop off when July arrives. When our product shows up at their front door it reminds them that it’s time to treat the lawn.

SL — How difficult is the application process for the average homeowner?

TK — Our products are extremely easy to apply. They come in ready-to-use hose end sprayers that attach directly to your garden hose. There is no mixing, no measuring and you simply put the container on your hose and spray it on your lawn. For bigger properties we include a sprayer that is able to cover more ground more effectively the difference is you simply need to pour the products into the spraying container.

SL — Can a landscaper be hired to apply your product?

TK — We get calls all the time from people who want to use our products, but do not want to have to do it themselves. We have a program for lawn care companies to use our products and become a “certified provider.” Our goal is to find reputable companies who can work in conjunction with us to allow the consumer to go organic on a service basis. There are so many cross marketing opportunities here, especially with a product that is in such high demand. We sell all of our products in bulk containers as well.

SL — You offer an affiliate marketing program, which is not the same as a multi-level marketing program. Can you explain how that works?

TK — One of the ways in which we are marketing our product is through an affiliate program. We have found that so many people are looking for an opportunity to legitimately make a difference in the world. Many believe that reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and dangerous pesticides is something that is a tangible impact in terms of the environment. Our distributor opportunity allows people to promote a safe method of treating lawns without the use of chemicals, which literally makes a difference right in their own back yards and neighborhoods. We have stay-at-home moms, larger online stores and even a couple of charities that promote our products and get paid a commission to do it. The way it works is that you are set up with your own FireBelly website and can personalize it to a certain extent. You then have the ability to accept credit cards, don’t have to carry any inventory and we handle all of the customer service here at headquarters. It really is a perfect way to make a difference in the environment and make a few dollars doing it.

SL — I want to switch gears for a minute. Right in your own state, New Hampshire, the legislature is debating a couple of controversial bills. One would ban phosphorus fertilizers. The other would ban pesticide applications. What’s your view on these bills?

TK — Specifically in New Hampshire, the ban on phosphorus is a total no-brainer. Having seen literally thousands and thousands of soil tests in my career in lawn care I can tell you that just about every single square foot of soil in the state of New Hampshire is superfluous in phosphorus. There just isn’t any reason to continue to add more because it leaches immediately into ground and surface water causing algae blooms and other environmental issues. The problem is that the phosphorus in the soil isn’t readily available to be used by the grass plants. When the organic matter in the soil is improved and acid levels are neutralized, all the nutrients become much more readily available to support the plants’ growth.

I do support a ban on pesticide applications for cosmetic purposes. The reason I support the ban is because there are currently alternatives available to replace these dangerous chemicals and the public simply isn’t aware of them. Let me use Harvard University as an example. Several years ago they created an initiative to completely eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the grounds through out the university. I can tell you first-hand that the grass at Harvard Yard is among the nicest I have ever seen and has been maintained with out one treatment that involved the application chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

SL — A lot of lawn care professionals and licensed pesticide applicators were at the New Hampshire hearing insisting that their products were safe when used as directed. Care to comment?

TK — I will be brief with this one because I don’t want to offend many of the lawn care professionals out there. I can tell you first-hand that the great majority of lawn care technicians are among some of the hardest working, well-intentioned people I have ever met. On our website, though, I give the example of a story that was told over and over again by an acquaintance, who has been in the industry for a long time. One of his favorite stories to tell was about hundreds of dead birds that were discovered on an athletic field the morning after a pesticide application was performed. He thought it was funny to talk about the means in which he and his coworkers went through to quickly cover up the event. When I think back about the dozens of times I’ve heard this individual tell this story I am literally ashamed of myself for being part of it.

To address your question more directly: I would be interested to know how many of those licensed pesticide applicators willingly use the same products on their own lawns. I’m here to tell you that it isn’t a whole lot of them.

SL — Lawns are becoming controversial because of the pesticides and fertilizers. What’s your view on that? It seems as if FireBelly is addressing a lot of the major concerns consumers seem to be voicing.

TK — The very simple fact of the matter is that any body can have a very nice lawn without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It’s just a factual statement. As I said earlier, go to Harvard Yard or Battery Park in New York City and you will see that by using organic methods you can get incredible results. The goal of FireBelly is to simplify the approach and, yes, address the concerns that are creating a controversial environment. When there is a bona fide solution to a dangerous or controversial issue doesn’t it just seem to make sense to err on the side of caution.

SL — The disclaimer here is that you’ve stepped up to become a big supporter of SafeLawns and our mission, as well as the movie, A Chemical Reaction. Tell us about that decision.

TK — I can tell you I’ve made a lot of people angry in the chemical lawn care industry! I understand that to some I look like a hypocrite because I’ve jumped ship from my own chemical company, but that isn’t the case at all. The chemical lawn care industry, for some reason. goes berserk whey you even mention the fact that you can achieve a nice lawn without using products that many believe to be dangerous. This remains a mystery to me, because the truth is that it’s very easy to make the transition. I truly believe this is the result of some very stubborn and perhaps even ignorant individuals who refuse to accept change.

I believe that it is important to support these particular vehicles for change when you truly believe that the change in question is for forward progress. SafeLawns is an incredible organization in terms of education and information. When the chemical lawn care spokespeople stand up and say that they are the “true environmentalists,” I’m not sure that they even understand how ignorant they sound and how thinly veiled the rhetoric really is. What SafeLawns does is promote straightforward information about an important subject matter. The SafeLawns message isn’t done in a harmful or distasteful way that insults people’s intelligence. How can we not stand behind that 100 percent? Not only are we happy to support the cause, we are thankful that somebody is doing it in manner that makes sense.

SL — What’s the future of lawn care? Do you think it will be 100 percent organic one day?

TK — I’ve spent my entire adult life performing lawn treatments and researching better ways to create a healthy stand of turfgrass. When you actually think about the whole thing, it really does seem to be pretty meaningless in relation to some of the serious issues that we are faced with today. But having a nice lawn is one of those things that just makes us feel good about ourselves and our environment. Up to this point, in many cases, it’s been achieved using products that have been proven to be dangerous. Now that there are alternatives, there is no doubt in my mind that lawn care will be 100 percent organic. Probably sooner than later.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Andrew Boshears

    Very Nice! I stand to thank and applaud you Mr. Kelly. And great interview Paul.

  • justamom

    I would like to ask Tom if he has ever knowingly seen children get sick from the products he used to apply, or if he ever heard from homeowners who complained that their dogs or cats were made ill by lawn pesticide products. I wonder if he would tell you the truth.

    • WishUponAStar

      Dear JustaMom,
      Check out the following report “RefuseToUseChemlawn” and you will find some personal accounts that pertain to chemical pesticide exposure. The descriptions are lucid and articulate. You can find this document at Toxic Action Center of Boston, MA website. There you can download it for free. Take care.

  • Tom

    Hi Justamom,
    Thank you for your concern in regards to my experiences in the chemical lawn care industry. While I do feel inclined to reply to your question right here I’m not sure it’s the best place to talk about specifics that occurred over the course of my career. I would absolutely welcome the opportunity to talk with you about absolutely anything in terms of specifics as long as it is done on a private one to one basis. Please contact me at 888 445 8041. I’ll look forward to your call and you have my word that I will be completely honest with you.

  • justamom

    Thanks for the offer to call you, but the whole spirit of blogging is the public sharing of information. The “truth” shared between the two of us doesn’t do the rest of the lawn-care movement much good.

    This is certainly interesting for anyone watching closely. The current owner of Lawn Dawg, Jim Campanella, testified in New Hampshire that he is the “true environmentalist,” and you’re saying something quite different here. I respect you for speaking out.

    But, please, if you have other information that should be shared, share it. It will help us all keep the planet safer.

    • It’s Only Natural Landscaping

      There are many peer-reviewed inarguable studies readily available through a simple google search that link common lawn pesticides with preventable disease.

      It’s the reason that applicators are REQUIRED BY LAW to place a POISONOUS SUBSTANCE APPLICATION WARNING on your lawn after using.

      Why take that chance to kill a few dandelions? Especially when there are viable alternatives available? (they do work – contact me for before/after slides)

      Even IF they did not work as well – is the health of your family, pets & community something you’d trade for a putting green?

      The world has a long & disturbing history of practices & substances that were once thought safe but are NOW known as wrong & even deadly.

      Chemical lawn care is one of these. The change to Natural lawn care should be a no brainer.

      • lawntreepro

        Tell me this: where’s the proof that ORGANICS are safe? Where are the peer reviewed studies that show your “alternatives” don’t cause cancer? They don’t exist; you can’t ensure your stuff is safe, so I’ll take my chances with tested chemicals. I’ve read all kinds of reports that show that exposure to the dust from compost can kill you. So give me a break.

        • It’s Only Natural Landscaping

          @ lawntreepro,

          Obviously you are convinced that you are right (or at least ok)

          So let’s just keep on making it a greener world.

          I’ll be careful around the dirt (compost).

          And you please don’t forget to order your Pesticide Application Warning signs.

          • Tom

            Hi Jaide,
            Maybe I should clarify my stance on biosolids. I don’t like them in terms of companies using them and saying that they are “organic.” It’s widely known that biosolids are not accepted by the organic community as being an appropriate substitute in terms of chemical lawn care. There are some companies out there nowadays who use biosolids on a very large scale basis and promote the fact that they are safe/organic. I not only take issue with this in that it is misleading but I also have concern for the lawn care applicator who is breathing in the dust day in and day out….all day every single day.

            On a more personal level I see no problem whatsoever with you using biosolids on your lawn. The fact of the matter is that they really are effective! If you’ve been using them for sometime maybe you can go from the bridge product to a 100 percent biosolid product and see the same results. This would reduce your use of chemical fertilizers that are probably leaching right out of your soil.

            One question though? You aren’t the least bit freaked out that your applying reconstituted human waste to your lawn? That always made me feel a little weird.


    • Tom

      Hi Justamom,
      As much as I would really love to post publicly all of my personal experiences with what we are talking about here the attorneys for my previous employer/company have reminded me (and pretty recently) that I have a legal obligation to be very careful with what I say and do. I hope you are able to understand where I am coming from. The offer to talk privately is always open.

      • BostonShirley

        I was standing next to you after the screening in Boston the other night in Boston when you were having your picture taken with Paul Tukey. You’re a handsome guy, btw, with amazing eyes. But I’d lose the beard . . .

        Anyway, I asked Paul if you were a good guy and he said you were. If he says you are, I believe him. I’ve heard Paul talk in public a few times and he tells it like it is.

        My advice to you is: If you have a truth, speak it. I suspect you’ve seen a lot in your day. If you’re in this to truly make a difference in the organic lawn care movement, you won’t be as effective hiding behind lawyers. And does Lawn Dawg really want to sue you? Really? Imagine the horrible public relations for them.

        They’re just scared to death that you will tell the truth. I guarantee it. Speak out, man. Speak out.

  • jalde

    I was looking at your web-site and read that you don’t like bio-solids for lawns.I have been using a bridge product with bio-solids for years my lawn looks great.Could you tell me or give me proof that this is bad for my lawn.Also I do not spray for weeds because lawn is thick don’t need to.Also my dog is always out on our lawn alot she will be 17 years old this spring.Thanks for any info.

  • Alyssa Owens


    An excellent angle used in the Tom Kelly interview; perspective from a former chemical lawn applicator. Tom learned and is sharing his experiences and growth. I particularly liked Tom’s statement about Harvard and the quality of their lawns from using the organic approach.

    It would be nice to see Tom in television commercials, quite frankly. What people don’t know could be killing them.

  • Paul Holowko

    Hey Tom,
    Congratulations for “coming out of the applicator”. However, I think we have a long way to go. Since everything is economics driven, it will be difficult to move from a product/service money making model to an ecological regenerative system. Would it be nice to use all of the locally produced organic material on a site for regenerating new plant growth on that same site? No importing compost, greens , browns or anything.
    Paul Holowko

  • Scott Reil

    Tom, kudos on the interview and on your move to organics, I hope both are fruitful for you.

    But we can see here before us that there are thosse who will fight to the death for their right to damage soil, water, and human health to continue to make the easy dollar rather than do the right thing. For every Tom there are a dozen LTPs who just want to be left alone. It was this same crowd that told everyone that the Carson womwn was out of her mind, that we’d be overrun with insects, that they NEEDED DDT, that it was safe and where were the studies that said it wasn’t?

    Those studies eventually got done, but only after we nearly lost eagles and ospreys, after countless billions of birds were killed, literally dropping from the trees, after soils and water were damaged in ways that many are still recovering from, and after hundreds of thousands of individuals health was compromised right up to, and past the point of death. And all this had a “clean” bill of health not just from the industry, but from our own government.

    While the toxins we face today are not as toxic as Aldrin or DDT, many of them are the very same ones that Rachel Carson spoke of. She talked about the dangers of organophosphates, and carbamates, and 2,4,D in a very clear voice, with scientific data . And yet today our government is still ignoring the preponderance of data, so LTP can ask for that data as if it does not exist. His choice to ignore it leaves him with a clear conscience; it is a shame it does not leave us with clean soil and water. Read the book, LTP…

  • PeterFK

    Oh, God, another flaming liberal who reads a book and thinks he knows something. Mr. Reil, I see that you’re some sort of “helpful” gardener who has trotted out a prodigious amount of verbal puke presented as gardening information. I’ve also heard you’re a Navy brat with no real education in the subject matter of gardening — but thanks to the Internet, you’re suddenly qualified to be giving our your opinions as if you were. When you have a four-year degree in landscape horticulture — like most of the landscape professionals who put down perfectly safe and legal pesticide products — maybe then you’d have the true right to tell a fellow gardener what to do.

    In the meantime, you just keep reading a 50-year-old book that’s been proven to be full of myths for decades.

    • Paul Tukey

      So your take is that you need a four-year degree to hand out gardening information? That would make my grandmother’s advice worthless, apparently, since she only made it through sixth grade — but somehow managed to feed the family, the farmhands and any friends who happened by from the quarter acre garden she grew without pesticides.

      I almost, quite frankly, sent your comment to the trash, because that’s where it belongs, really.

    • Peggy


      I have 4 pets that go out in yard. EVERY landscaping “professional” I have spoken to just tells me the same “verbal puke”. That what is in the bag won’t hurt my pets and it washes away with rain, blah, blah. EVERYONE just tells me to go to Mahoney’s get a bag of whatever and just throw it on my lawn. When I ask them it hurt my pet? Does my lawn need it? They just tell me what I want to hear and I can tell that NONE of them have a clue. What makes perfect sense to me is not throwing “chemicals” on my lawn and letting my pets walk all over it. I don’t care what any of the professional landscapers tell me…that it won;t hurt my pets. It does not make sense to me at all. I picked up Pauls book in the library and it makes perfect sense to me. I choose to follow someone that doesn’t have the 4 year degree and has the experience to prove it.

      ps. Your post is so incredibly hard to read. Raging Anger. You are a Very Scary Man that I hope I don’t ever run into in life.


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  • Chris

    For those worried about harmfull pesticide or herbicide lawn chemicals
    affecting their pets or children, Advantage, Frontline, Harts they
    are pesticides, Advantage is imidacloprid at 9.5 %active ingredient
    that you the pet owner put directly on your pets back? Did you also
    know that the residuals from these flea and tick products stay in the
    fur of the animal who then sheds this in your house. So are you really looking at both sides and reading the label. If your so worried guess what all chemicals fall under the same toxicity guide lines and have to
    use signal words to tell us the consumer of its toxicity. Danger – most
    toxic, Warning- medium toxicity Caution- low toxicity. How many of you
    use WD 40 ? read the label it says danger avoid breathing the fumes,
    How about cleaning chemicals? most bleach or chlorox products say
    danger. If your so worried don’t drive an automobile anymore because
    automotive chemicals almost always say they are carcinogenics on the label. Its okay to condemn chemicals you don’t feel are safe which is your very right as an American Citizen, but on the other hand you feel
    the chemicals you do use are safe because you’re using them.How many of you actually read the label on chemicals you buy. Come on now there is
    2 sides for every argument. How many of you know that the dictionarys
    meaning of Organic actually means with WITHOUT CARBON. What living
    creature on this planet does not leave a carbon trace after it dies.
    And yes to give out recommendations concerning landscape & agriculture you have to be a Licensed Landscape or Agricultural
    Advisor ( well its the law here in California) its the law that you also have to be registered with the County Ag. Dept. to do landscape
    maintenance which is great because you have to have proof of liability
    insurance, and certificatiion at minimum to apply even soap water.This
    keeps the scam artists from giving the landscape industry a bad name
    (it might be to late for that).Oh its great that Mr. Tukeys grand ma
    gardened without chemicals and supported her family but taking care of
    your loved ones is what you are supposed to do, and she probably didn’t
    own 300 acres plus of tomatoes, corn, lettuce that was her livlihood
    so be carful farming is a touchy subject espescially if you have no
    experience of insect pest or disease wiping out your living.Unless of
    course you grow everything you eat.Organic fertilizers hmmmm- hope
    you folks don’t mean manures ( waste bi products from animals) remeber
    the body of the horse, chicken or steer no longer needed this material
    which was turned into feces and dumped. Blood and Bone meal slurries
    okay I can deal with that, please no milorganite (human sludge) from
    Chicago.Verbal Puke hey lady I wouldn’t worry about the landscapers
    chemicals cause if you have 4 dogs or cats and you use any of the pour
    on flea and tick pets chemicals you’re killing them yourself. What ever
    the landscaper puts down most of the time isn’t even 1/2 of a percent.
    Read the Advantage label its 9 and one half percent and for him to tell you its safe well make sure he has all the requirments that what ever
    state you live in syas he need to be in business. Unless you live in
    the same state as Billy The Exterminator on Reality T.V. then look out.
    Gotta go but please people look at yourself and what you are using first
    before you start talking b.s. to eachother. No body knows what another
    persons circumstances are. I don’t intend for this to insult anybody
    as much as some of these comments from uninformed writers on this site
    if theres a disagreement well thats how it is you live where ever and i live here unless you want to take a plane, train or bus ride out here
    to California. And if you do live in our heavily regulated state and
    disagree well step up I will especially with those who feel they are
    the organic gurus and know all about chemicals and safety. Think about
    that the next time you brush your teeth the tooth paste label says do
    not swallow. I always seem to get alittle when I rinse though. Think
    about it when don’t you use some kind of chemicals in your everyday
    Wake up and stop pointing fingers unless you been there

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  • Pauly V

    I have been in the Organic Lawn Care Industry since 1988. I started Organics Plus Co. based in Bristol Ct a few years out of high school.

    I rode the wave..early on with much networking with Lou Carta and Todd Harrington. I can firmly state that having an aesthetically beautifull lawn with 0 pesticides/herbicides is done quite simply. Proper cultural practices and using the right varieties of grass blends for your site make it even easier. It is not rocket science. Its basic. I find the Cost factor to be the main snag in going large scale.

    Late 80′s we purchased product in Lebanon CT, from Earth Gro- an 8-2-4 all natural product. They grew as a company..untill Scotts bought em out and ran them into the ground..$$$$$

    I support all the comments in Toms interview..and wish him the best of luck in the future.

    • John Light

      Tom Kelly certainly is milking this “I-used-to-be-a-bad-guy-but-now-I’m-a-good-guy” angle for all its worth. And all of you losers who can’t make any money at organics because it’s too damned expensive want to fall in line right behind him. It’s galling.

      Is Tom Kelly willing to give back the money he made from selling his share of Lawn Dawg? I’m guessing not. But he’ll bleed it away anyway by trying to sell organic products that the general public could care less about.

      At the end of the day, customers want green lawns and no weeds. You can’t sell your overpriced (your words, not mine) organic crap because it doesn’t work!!

  • Kerri W

    I have read quite a bit on the benefits of organics in the lawn and garden at the urging of my husband… I married a bit of a hippie :) Prior to my marriage, and quite uninformed, I was a Round-up kind of gal that went for instant gratification in removing trouble spots in my yard. After spending the past weekend digging up about 400 sq. feet of lawn, a/k/a creeping charlie, I can tell you that I’m a changed gardener.

    In any case, the long term statistics on reactions and events from the use of pesticides in the lawn is alarming. I’m certainly not risking potential sterility in my children to be free of a few dandelions. Further, I’m not willing to openly poison the groundwater, and I’m quite fond of my garden toads, which would likely be the first noticeable critter to disappear.

    Currently, we have a race with our children every night… “who can collect the most yellow flowers from the lawn?” (to prevent them from going to seed, of course) and the winner gets to steer the pedal firetruck to the park, or if it’s raining, choose the books for bed time. So far, so good (my 2 and 4 year old children are quite competitive) My husband and I of course finish up the remaining by moonlight when the kids are asleep. Once a weekend we find any of the now flowerless dandelion bunches and either dig them up by the root, or use our 10% vinegar solution. We’ve had quite amazing success in doing so. We’ve eradicated about 90% of our dandelion population… Yes, it is labor intensive, but I find that it’s far more rewarding to have a beautiful lawn that I worked on, versus a beautiful lawn that may forever change our species and more importantly, our water sources in the near future.

    I will eventually rid myself of a lawn for a more environmentally sustainable option, but funds require the slow implementation of these ideas… in the interim, however, we will continue to safely battle these little yellow creatures.

  • nomadicnorman

    Hey, Tom, Scott, Paul and all the other people that the chemical industry likes to pick on: STAND TALL! Like the line in the A Chemical Reaction says, “We’re on the right side of history here.”

    And as for me, the chemical guys can go kiss my hairy white ass because I think they’re all a bunch of delusional losers.

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  • thelawnblog

    I have known Tom Kelly as a boss and colleague for the better part of 8 yrs. I can honestly say that Tom is a straight shooter and he says it like it is. I have never known him to take advantage of a situation in any professional setting, and I would trust his input in any shape it came. To those that think that this type of change came easily are very sadly mistaken. Good luck Tom!

  • happy ladybug

    Kudos. Keep the organic push going. I was a responsible chemical applying golf course superintendent managing as much as 300 acres of turfgrass since the late 90s. I took a job managing a course closer to home at a new course, then 2 months into the job my ownership demanded we convert to organics. Of which I conceded as long as I had the final say if a chemical application needed to be done to save the turf-afterall it was my job/reputation on the line. Through proper management practices, some strange(to me)treatments, and some extra costs in the first few years, we are now only treating for snow mold in the winter and no more than one application per year for dollar spot, otherwise no chemical applications.
    We do use Milorganite which is not technically not considered truely organic( for food producers) because it is manmade and in theory there is a chance of accumulation of metals. We believe using the sludge product on turfgrass is a good alternative to putting it in a landfill. I believe it also helps with our disease resistance dramatically while providing a slow release form of fertilizer.

  • SocialNetworkSoftware

    Thank you for this article. We are looking for organic ways to manage our landscaping after learning that most landscaping companies are spraying deadly chemicals without our approval.

  • Ryan W

    I have a B.S. in Turfgrass Science from NC State University, ranked #1 in Turfgrass Management in the US. I serve on the NC Turfgrass Council board, I am also an NC Certified Turfgrass Professional with over 12 years on industry experience.

    So with my credentials down, I feel that there is a HUGE misconception here with the general public on what organic lawn care actually is and what the difference is, other than the “think” it is better. There is some proof to organic lawn care but don’t expect the same results in treatments overall. For starters, good turfgrass starts with good soil, and soil varies greatly in structure, texture and density. Your neighbors lawn may even have major differences in their soil as opposed to yours, so comparing your lawn to the Jones’ is not always realistic. Think of your soil as a bank that holds not money but nutrients. The grass needs to be fed with the proper amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium, among many other micro-nutrients . Soils are depleted with these nutrients through plant uptake, leaching, runoff, and the cation exchange capacity. Leaching and run-off of traditional fertilizers is generally not an issue if you know what you are doing and practice Best Management Practices, such as myself, creating buffer zones between waterways, drainage, etc. Fun fact: Turfgrass is one of the best filters for environmental waste and nutrients. My research at NCSU proved that turf will pick up over 90% of harmful chemicals and excess nutrients from runoff and leaching into the soil, so this issue is sort of made up in my opinion, as a selling point for organics. Also, Tom said he saw many soil reports with too much Phosphorous, I would bet money that says he doesn’t know how to 100% read a soil test, with that degree in English from Syracuse, he has zero agronomic background, but I’m sure he could critique my redneck written response here.

    Anywho, due to the cation exchange capacity, soil samples may even show that there is Phosphorus in the soil but often times, like here in NC, the Phosphorus is unavailable to the plant for uptake because it is too tightly bound to soil particles (like a magnet). This is why you should keep feeding your turfgrass plant its nutrients that it needs based on your soils needs.

    Now for organics, Tom does make some correct remarks on microorganism response and how organics increase activity and so on. In trials that I have seen from a good friend of mine, btw he used to be the head superintendent of AUGUSTA!, organics have shown to reduce the amount of inputs needed for healthy turf especially fungicides for disease. So many benefits to organic but jumping on the granola train won’t solve all of your problems. I think that once organic products have proven themselves (there are too many snake oils out there) then they can be incorporated into a traditional program for reduced inputs.

    My suggestion is to try Fire Belly and see if your weed pressure is reduced or if your lawn stays vibrant green all year, the proof is in the puddin, but with my 15 years of experience and turf background I can bet it won’t be the same. Unfortunately, the public doesn’t understand soil and the vital role turfgrasses play in cleaning up our waters. Just be careful about what you read and what you see on the news. Schools like Harvard, with their ‘experiment’ on the turf, don’t hold water, they are not an agronomic school. Go ask Clemson, NC State, Penn State, Georgia Tech if you want turf research and proven methods.

  • Rog

    I do lawn care for a living. No more chemicals for me. I tell my customers it’s time for people to change their expectations of what a nice lawn is. Nature abhors monoculture and these manicured, weed free lawns require too much input to stay that way. What’s wrong with a few “weeds”? Most people don’t even spend that much time on their lawns. Keep the soil healthy, water and mow regularly and everything will be just fine.

  • What do I know?

    Our small gated community has well water. We have 2 tests high in arsenic. I did some research on what we might be doing to cause that. Our neighborhood flows downhill to a cup-de-sac so water runoff gets shared downstream. There are a few neighbors who instead of pulling weeds, straps on the chemical spray tank and sprays weed killer. They do this to keep their large gravel ditches clear of weeds – after the sprayed weeds turn yellow then finally die and “go away”. I have not found much information on spraying insecticides and herbicides and the danger to our wells. It is scary to me and frustrating since our ditch is full sun and would be a fantastic spot for planting granny smith apple trees along. However, because of the connected stream down from those who use herbicide, those trees would never be organic and safe for me to want to eat. Any information on ground water, well water and chemical use? Cheers and thanks for what you do!

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