University of Arizona Embraces Organic Lawn Care
TUCSON, AZ — As a turf manager at multiple professional levels including minor league baseball, the summer Olympics and numerous college stadiums, Matt Anderson admitted he rolled his eyes at the organic lawn care trials he inherited when he took over the grounds at the University of Arizona last January.
“I was just about the biggest skeptic you can imagine,” said Anderson last week during a visit to his Tucson office. As a graduate of Michigan State’s turfgrass program, he was a proponent of a synthetic chemical program of inputs.
Prior to his arrival the university had agreed to test a compost tea spraying program with Merlin Organics, a new Tucson-based company based on the science of Dr. Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web. Those trials, he said, opened his eyes.
“Frankly, I was very pleasantly surprised,” said Anderson. “The plots treated with compost tea looked just as good as the plots we treated with synthetic chemical fertilizers.”
The University of Arizona authorized a major expansion of the program this year to include the massive mall in the center of campus, as well as adjacent practice fields and other smaller trial plots. Discussions are under way that would potentially expand the program further.
“The feel-good value of this project is just tremendous for the university,” said Anderson. “There’s a high level of interest in sustainability here and in water conservation especially, so a lot of people are paying close attention.”
That’s music to the ears of Tom Pew, a lifelong organic gardener who recently launched Merlin Organics with his son-in-law Troy Hollar. At a time in life where some folks curtail their schedules and limit their goals, Pew’s passion for organics is contagious.
“When I started fooling around with compost tea on my own gardens, the results were obvious virtually overnight,” said Pew, whose gardens have been featured in numerous regional publications. “With all the problems associated with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, you have to wonder if a business based on the application of compost tea has merit. The reception to our early efforts has been tremendous.”
Tom and Troy still frequently encounter skeptics, but having allies like Matt Anderson invariably gets people’s attention.
“The organic plots on campus don’t look any better or worse than the rest of campus,” said Anderson. “So in this case the tie goes to the runner.”