In February 2018 Dover unanimously passed a resolution called Commitment to Organic Land Management Practices. Sadly, this “commitment” was short-lived. Just a couple months later when it came time to choose a bid proposal, the city allowed submission of conventional bids, and then all but two members of the city council (one voted no and one absent), chose the cheapest conventional option when it came time to vote. A grave disappointment.
We were contacted by numerous residents this spring, who were shocked to see yellow signs all over the city announcing the application of several different toxic pesticides.
All of this was in direct violation of Dover’s resolution.
On December 5th we received a response to a 91-A request made looking for documents relevant to pesticides, fertilizers and all other turf treatments used during the 2018 season. Much of what we found was no surprise.
One issue did stand out with regard to fertilizer. In addition to the toxic pesticides being used this year, the city vendor also used fertilizer containing municipal waste sewage sludge, referred to here as “biosolids.” It’s been used for the past three years according to the winning turf treatment bid proposal.
It is worth noting, Acelepryn was switched to as a result of the city responding to resident concerns about neonicotinoids being used for grub control. This was not the vendor’s suggestion, in fact they opposed the need for an alternative and defended the use of neonics in an email forwarded to us by the city at the time. The ease with which the vendor takes credit for this, and misrepresents the word organic to the city is alarming. We saw this same type of deception in the bid proposal by the school district’s subcontractor.
When someone says the words “organic fertilizer”, the majority of people are expecting that this is a natural fertilizer that would be used in an organic land care program. When a vendor states that “we started using organic fertilizers” and “your program has been organic” these words are expected to mean organic management methods. What does it mean then when the vendor states they have been “utilizing synthetic organic products including a strong content of biosolids and iron”? Is this something that would be preferred or allowed in organic land care?
Luckily this is easy to answer by looking at the NOFA Standards for organic land care. Here is an excerpt from the section on fertilizer.
These Standards are crystal clear that along with conventional toxic pesticides, all synthetic fertilizers and biosolids are prohibited in an organic turf program. Unless we are talking chemistry, and we are referring to these fertilizers as an organic (vs inorganic) form of nitrogen while being clear that they are prohibited from an organic (method) management program, this can only be considered deliberate deception.
And in addition to the inexcusable dishonesty, the use of this biosolid containing fertilizer is very concerning because this municipal waste is heavily contaminated with things like PFAS, flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, pathogenic microbes, PCBs, triclosan and everything else that washes down the drain. Even the 9 heavy metals which are the only contaminants tested for, can build up upon repeated use. This stuff has no business being used in public areas including parks, playgrounds or athletic fields where our kids play!
We must make sure that this does not continue. The examples of city and school district vendors misrepresenting what organic is just underscores the need for supervising city and school district employees to be properly trained in organic land care so they can recognize these misleading tactics. Now that we have an organic resolution in place we ought to seek to hire vendors who have been AOLCP accredited, and follow NOFA Standards. Four day accreditation training based on the Standards is readily available to any vendor or city staff.
Fortunately, we are on the right track now as the city has accepted help from a leading organic expert and a nonprofit organization. Chip Osborne who is a board member of Beyond Pesticides is drawing up a free multi-year organic plan for the city’s turf sites and Beyond Pesticides will also be assisting the city with putting together a new bid to solicit organic turf proposals that will be based on soil tests taken this fall. This is in addition to the grant money donated by Stonyfield Farm to convert the baseball field behind Woodman Park school playground to an organic program.
As a community we have a lot to look forward to in regards to the way our public spaces will be maintained starting next year. We have an organic resolution in place now, and we no longer have to tolerate vendors peddling pretend organic programs, and using toxic compounds on our city and school athletic fields.
Dover taxpayers deserve land care services that are transparent and prioritize the health of residents and the environment.