Plan to use organic fertilizer will save city money, protect waterways

Dec. 17, 2015 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – The plan to use organic fertilizer for the city’s green spaces hasn’t just brought an award to the city, it will ultimately save money and prevent chemicals from entering the city’s waterways.

The city received an Organic Leadership Award from Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (NOFA) Organic Land Care at the 10th annual Gathering of Organic Land Care Professionals on Dec. 14 in Sturbridge.

Patrick Sullivan, executive director of Springfield Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management, told Reminder Publications that over the next three years the use of organic fertilizers would spread to 50 school properties and 900 acres of public land.

He expects this spring 22 sites will come on line for the treatment. Right now the organic plan has bee used at the Frederick Harris School grounds, Sweeney Athletic Field at the High School of Commerce, Forest Park athletic field, Tree Top Park, Camp Wilder and the terrace at Mason Square.

Sullivan called it “just a different approach” that does come with some dividends. By preventing chemical fertilizers from entering the city’s streams, ponds and lakes algae blooms can be prevented. The algae is usually treated with additional chemicals, he noted.

While the cost now is comparable to chemical fertilizers, Sullivan said as the program continues the treated properties will require less organic fertilizer and the cost to the city would decrease.

“Springfield is one of only a few U.S. cities that has taken action to change their protocols and practices surrounding land management in order to reduce exposures to toxic materials for the citizens of Springfield, as well as to protect their natural resources,” Chip Osborne, founder and president of Osborne Organics in Marblehead, and lead project consultant to the city, explained. “Springfield was awarded a UMass Lowell Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) grant which funded horticultural consulting, staff training and soil amendments, but the city shifted its own budget expenditures to purchase the equipment and products needed to build healthy soil and reinvigorate their turf without chemicals.”

With funding from TURI, support from Sarno and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as extensive work with community representatives Maryann Jules and Barbara Giammarino with support from Better Life Whole Foods, the pilot project became a reality.

Sarno said, “This project helped them begin to address the active interest expressed from their residents. Other communities have contacted Springfield to learn from the project. The project consists of eight pilots on a variety of sites to use as a basis to develop a transition plan for meeting our ultimate goal of transitioning all of the city’s 900 managed acres in the next three years.”

The mayor hopes that Springfield homeowners will also make the switch to organic fertilizers to further decrease chemical runoffs.

“I encourage everyone to take the time to learn how simple, financially competitive and sustainable it is to implement an organic lawn care program. Yard by yard, park by park, we can ensure our environment will be healthier and stronger,” Sarno said.

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