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Without Weed ‘n Feed and Roundup on Playgrounds, the Children of Yesteryear Still Played

This photo, from 101 years ago, shows families gathered on the organic lawn of the White House for an Easter Egg hunt.

Raise your hand if, like me, you’re over the age of 50. If your hand is in the air, that means you recall a different time and place with a whole lot less stuff. You probably remember not having a cellphone, a Wii or an XBox, and you probably spent a whole bunch more time outside than your children do today. The statistics, in fact, tell us today’s youth spend 75 percent less time outdoors than we did.

But that’s another rant altogether from the point of the day.

When we were outside as children we played everything . . . from soccer, to baseball, football, kickball, dodgeball, field hockey, Frisbee and you name it. We played, for the most part, on lawns that were green and mown. They were, at least as far as I recall, mostly grass.

And we had fun. We won and we lost, occasionally collected blue ribbons and trophies, and occasionally went home disappointed. But if you take away all today’s electronic gadgets and other distractions, we played outside pretty much the same way that our kids play outside — when they actually get out there. We played hard; we tried to win. We laughed, sometimes cried, and bonded with our friends.

One thing was different, though:

Our playing fields were not coated with weed ‘n feed. They weren’t sprayed with Roundup. They probably weren’t even fertilized. And yet we played. Our families gathered for picnics. We made memories.

Inspired by a trip I’m taking to Colorado on Monday in support of a pesticide reduction bill for the city of Durango, I started digging out some historic photos this morning. There’s one, top, from the White House lawn in 1911. This next one, above, is from New York City at the turn of the last century. The one, below, is from a Colorado playground in the 1950s, about 20 years before widespread use of weed ‘n feed came into vogue in cities and towns across North America. Other than some ridiculously cumbersome outfits, it appears that the folks of yesteryear were having fun.

From what I’ve been told, some folks in Durango have their heels dug deeply on this issue of a new law to reduce pesticides. They’re afraid if the weed ‘n feed and Roundup are taken away, except as a last resort, then costs will go up, property values will go down and weeds will overrun the place.

Yet none of those fears, frankly, make a bit of sense when you look at both history and modern times. No one in Colorado is asking to take away lawn mowers and weed whackers. No one is asking to reduce the number of new products that DON’T have a Caution, Warning or Danger label. No one is asking that the children stop playing on the parks and playgrounds.

In Canada, where the Precautionary Principle has been adopted and 80 percent of the population now lives in municipalities where weed ‘n feed and Roundup are banned outright, kids still play outside. In Marblehead, Mass., where weed ‘n feed and Roundup were banned 15 years ago, the playgrounds are still beautiful. The examples of well-kept and unsprayed parks and playgrounds are endless in the U.S. as this movement continues to gain momentum.

Typical questions have been coming from the media in advance of my trip. One reporter observed: “No one is getting sick in town from the pesticides, so people see this as a non issue and they see this attempt at a pesticide bill as overreaching.”

And that is, sadly, the prevailing American attitude. Out of sight, out of mind. When confronted with weed killers, insect killers and fungicides, children don’t generally fall over dead like the enemies they play in their video games.

The synthetic chemical products that the Durango bill proposes to reduce lurk in the shadows, over and under the blades of grass, on the soles of shoes that track through the house, and on the uniforms, skin and in the hair of unsuspecting soccer and football players. Our children today have more autism, more ADHD, more asthma, more cancer and more health issues across the board — and the facts prove that pesticides contribute to this — yet the citizens who are afraid of weeds on the playgrounds refuse to admit any children are getting sick.

And so I’ll be on that plane Monday to remind people that 50 years ago, when childhood cancer was virtually non-existent compared to today, the kids played outside on the lawn and had a hell of a good time.

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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