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Maine Town Considers Pesticide Ordinance

A scene played out Tuesday afternoon that I’ve probably witnessed 50 times across the U.S. and Canada in the past two years.

I was among about 75 people in town council chambers in Scarborough, Maine, where the fast-growing municipality was considering an ordinance to ban the applications of pesticides around schools and other public property.

The three councilors and mayor were clearly stunned at the crowd of people, most of whom immediately exited when the hour-long debate ended. Although several residents spoke out in favor of the town taking action, the lawn care industry seemed to be at least half the audience that was clearly scared.

“I had no idea that this would bring industry response so swiftly and in such a large way,” said councilor Karen D’Andrea, who openly supported an anti-pesticide ordinance. Two other councilors stated they needed more information before making a decision.

While some members of the industry acknowledged that organic lawn care was the future, and that more education was needed, others denounced organic practices outright.

“Two years ago I was given a mandate by boss to treat all of our customers properties using organic methods and products,” said arborist Tim Lindsay, the manager of the local Bartlett Tree franchise. “I’m here to tell you that it failed miserably.”

Having known Tim and many in the room for years, I’m certain they’re sincere in their beliefs. Their biggest emotion to me, however, is misguided fear and lack of information and understanding.

Evaluating an organic program’s success or failure after one year is, in fact, dooming it to fail. The transition is not a product-for-product swap, but rather a switch to an entirely different system that focuses on soil health. Results can be subtle rather than swift; a conversation with the customer about expectations is absolutely necessary. The truth is that organic landscape care can be wildly successful on so many levels — including a cost savings rather than budget overruns, which are always widely predicted by the industry.

Ultimately, however, the chemical lawn care industry will continue to fight like it did on Tuesday. Town by town, night by night, they’ll be there to resist change.

And if we evaluate our results on that daily basis, we could feel like we’re losing.

Just like organic lawn care, however, the final conclusion will be obvious.

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.

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