The American obsession with perfect, green carpet lawns has taken a heavy toll on the environment, and may be contributing to high cancer rates. These days, a movement is growing to manage yards in a less chemical-intensive way, with organic techniques, as the News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) reports.
Homeowners are increasingly asking for natural fertilizers made from manure, processed sewage and bone meal, instead of petrochemical-based treatments. A 2004 survey by the National Gardening Association reported that 5 percent of households used only organic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. But 9 percent of respondents said they would go organic by 2009.
Even the big players are starting to take notice. In January, industry leader Scott's Miracle-Gro introduced an organic lawn fertilizer, soon to be followed by Bradford Organics from Land O'Lakes Purina Feed. Walk into nearly any big box retailer, from Home Depot to Sears, and you'll find organic landscaping products.
Fueling the interest is concern about studies that increasingly link pesticide exposure to a variety of illnesses. A Harvard School of Public Health study last year found that people exposed to pesticides had a 70 percent higher incidence of Parkinson's disease. A University of Iowa study in the mid-1990s found that golf course superintendents died of cancer far more often than average.
People are also increasingly worried about the quality of waterways, which have been overburdened by fertilizer and pesticide runoff, causing algal blooms that choke out native wildlife and result in fish kills and dead zones. Scientists have recently warned that two of every three U.S. estuaries, comprising 80% of the coastline, are threatened by the runoff of fertilizers.
The good news is the organic lawn industry is growing and maturing. As more people show interest, prices keep coming down and availability increases. Professionals and consumers are becoming more educated and aware of their options, and services are springing up to help people manage their yards. People are learning that the choice doesn't have to be all or nothing: So-called "bridge" services are gaining popularity, in which lawns are weaned off petrochemicals over several years, replaced with organic alternatives. Every pound of pesticides not used means less toxic chemicals in the air, soil and water.
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