Maine Town’s Organic Transition Serves as a Model
“Twenty or 30 years from now, our children will be the benefactors of what we are doing now . . . “
Scarborough will forever be a special place for me in the state I will always call home. It’s where I bought my first house — for a whopping $53,000 in 1984 — with Tim, one of my best University of Maine friends. In later years my two oldest children were days old when they first came from the hospital to that cramped little two-story Colonial on Pine Point Road; I remember my son was so small he slept his first night at home in a wicker Easter basket atop the dresser next to my bed.
The lawn around that home was also the first one I ever fried. Unsatisfied with the shade of green relative to my neighbors’ grass, I figured doubling the recommended dosage of Turf Builder fertilizer couldn’t be a bad thing — until I awoke to a crispy brown lawn the next morning.
More than two decades later I was back in Scarborough, this time as an outspoken advocate against those kinds of chemical lawn abuses. I’ve lectured or presented our film, A Chemical Reaction, to the town south of Portland at least a half dozen times, but there’s one appearance I’ll always remember most. The council chambers at the shiny new Town Hall on Route 1 were literally filled with angry people, the majority of whom couldn’t stand me or my position on a proposed pesticide ban — even though some of them were men I’ve been friends with for years.
In their hearts they didn’t believe organic lawn care was either viable or necessary. In their minds they were fearful of losing a livelihood that some had been practicing since their fathers taught them the trade as children. On their sleeves and in their voices they wore deep-throated emotion.
“Who the hell is Paul Tukey to come here and tell us how to grow grass?”
It’s a refrain I’ve let bounce off me literally thousands of times, but it packs an unmissable punch when it comes from people you’ve known and respected most of your adult life.
But Marla Zando was also in that audience. Inspired by a column I had written for the Forecaster newspaper about the well-documented risks associated with synthetic chemical weed and insect killers, she had become concerned about her child’s welfare. She took action on her concerns by founding The Citizens for a Green Scarborough, finding some allies at the Scarborough Town Office, and ultimately helped spearhead legislation that will phase out synthetic chemicals on town-owned property.
Sitting here in my Rhode Island office today, a new article about Scarborough’s efforts quickly caught my eye on the newswires. Reading it, I have to admit, brought immense satisfaction from 160 miles away — especially one line in particular.
“Twenty or 30 years from now, our children will be the benefactors of what we are doing now and what we continue to do,” said John Cole, a member of the Scarborough School Board, to the local reporter.
Twenty or 30 years, it struck me, just went by really damn fast. Towns across North America shouldn’t let another moment pass without following Scarborough’s example and doing the right thing for their children — today.
The conversations won’t be easy; but nothing worth doing ever is.