Did you know homeowners use up to ten times more chemicals per acre than farmers do? These chemicals travel from our yards into our water supply. Because they do not degrade, they accumulate in our bodies impacting us today, and for generations to come. Yard chemicals have been linked to endocrine disruption, which hurts adults, but is especially harmful to children’s developing bodies.
Dr. Diane Lewis launched The Great Healthy Yard Project in 2014 to help homeowners understand their role in protecting our water supply. In this edited interview, she explains how to create and maintain a healthy landscape.
How do you advise parents and parents-to-be about protecting their children from toxins that may be in their water system without panicking them?
It is scary. I narrowed my focus to water quality just for that reason — it’s so easy to make a significant change for our families. Working together to protect our water is a great thing to do with your neighbors. People need to realize that bottled water isn’t a solution. You can’t easily filter a myriad of chemicals out of your tap water, but you can stop using chemicals. It is the easiest thing to fix.
What is the most significant mind-set change that people must make when they pledge to forgo chemicals?
Men feel the value of their home is linked to an outdated model of their landscape. Women have always been at the forefront of family health. Women get it and need to lead a change in aesthetics: Monoculture is not attractive.
People have learned about lawn care from the back of a bag from a chemical company. We can use simple information to change that. Our website has materials that help give homeowners and lawn companies information about how to care for lawns and gardens without chemicals.
How can we eliminate garden hazards like poison ivy or ground wasps without using chemicals?
To eliminate poison ivy, you can use natural weed killers like horticultural vinegar or citrus oil. Or you can have someone who’s not allergic, pull it out, or cut it back and suffocate the roots.
To kill ground wasps in a vegetable garden, take a clear bowl, and turn it upside down over the hole either early in the morning or late at night when they are in the nest. Put some weights around it so it doesn’t move. Because they see the light they will come out and not tunnel, but without air or water they won’t survive. Spinosad will kill wasps, too, and is safe for organic farming – but it will kill beneficial insects so use it in a directed manner.
If the nest isn’t in a garden, and in gravel or sand, you can add Orange Guard to the Spinosad. It is all natural, and amazingly effective on ants, but it will also kill plants.
I just moved to a new house and will be landscaping the yard. What are the most important things I should consider?
The biggest one is soil culture. It may take a while if people who had the house before were spraying, but if you have a good soil culture, good fungi and bacteria will help your plants. So test your soil, and make sure it has all the right nutrients and micronutrients. Most synthetic fertilizer has just nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Plants need micronutrients like zinc, iron, and magnesium and calcium. Calcium is really important. Compost is an easy way to provide micro and macronutrients.
My neighbor uses chemicals in his yard, how do I talk to him about the impact of those chemicals on our city’s water?
One of big purposes of the Great Healthy Yard Project is to help people do that. You can download mailbox cards from our web site. They are friendly — not confrontational. There’s a three-minute video on the web site that you can show your neighbor. Get a couple of girlfriends together who understand this, and invite the neighbor. Tell them that we were all raised this way, but look at what we know now. We all have to work together on this.
How we can help our children develop healthy habits and environmental awareness?
Teach children where their water comes from. What goes into your yard, goes into your water. If you stop using chemicals in your yard and keep track of the butterflies and birds in the yard with your children, they will love that. If you go fishing with them, explain that if you keep chemicals out of the water, the fish will be happier. If you have streams near your house, look for frogs and salamanders.
What is The Great Healthy Yard Project’s main focus for 2018?
We’re going to concentrate on the Mississippi watershed in 2018 because it’s the biggest watershed in the country. Seventy cities get water from it. It will have a big impact because it runs through some red states. If more people in those states understand the chemicals in the water and how those chemicals impact their bodies, there will be people from both sides of the aisle advocating for healthy water.