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Organic Field Maintenance Champions

Football season is upon us, which means it's time for pro and college gridiron experts to prognosticate who will be the best performers on the field this season.

You won't find quarterbacks, receivers or linebackers on our list, rather groundskeepers, visionaries and environmentalists, who see the value in installing, managing and maintaining healthy natural grass fields with organic lawn care, free of pesticides and chemicals.

At the NFL and major college level, players prefer playing on natural grass fields rather than artificial turf fields mostly because of the higher risk of non-contact injuries sustained on man-made surfaces. And many artificial fields have been found to contain "forever" substances that are in some cases carcinogenic.

But there are a growing number of colleges, high schools and municipal facilities that appreciate the value and safety of building natural grass fields that can withstand heavy athletic and community use without relying on products that have been proven to cause substantial environmental and health concerns, particularly to children.

The Toxic Use Reduction Institute, at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, released several case studies between 2019-21 highlighting multiple facilities that chose to make the switch to organic, pesticide-free field management.

Here are a few:

*A host of schools and municipalities in the Pittsburgh area manage their athletic fields by focusing on aerating and fertilizing, and have eliminated or minimized the use of pesticides.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools, the Fort Cherry School District, Heidelberg Park and Bethlehem-Center each, in its own way, has formulated a way to maintain their natural grass facilities in an environmentally-sound manner throughout southwest Pennsylvania.

*Since 2017, a host of communities on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Mass., including Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury, have been working with The Field Fund, a non-profit group that focuses on providing quality grass playing fields that can stand up to youth and adult recreational activities, and at the same time increase community access to pesticide-free play spaces.

Elements of organic management utilized by The Field Fund includes frequent aeration, frequent mowing, soil testing and the use of organic fertilizer and soil amendments.

*The city of Springfield, Mass., began an organic program in 2014 and since has doubled the number of properties in the program, with a substantial increase in recreational use, thanks to improvements in soil and grass conditions.

Springfield's organic maintenance plan, which again calls for aeration as a key function also includes application plans based on performance needs and soil testing. That management of its natural fields has eliminated the need for pesticides, at the same time providing a practical, healthy playing surface that meets and exceeds athletic and community needs.

These municipalities and programs have proven that natural, sustainable and chemical-free care literally leads to a winning product on the field, and hopefully inspires a continued movement for others to follow suit.



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