Look Park in Northampton begins using organic fertilizer
Published: Wednesday, July 27, 2011, 3:00 PM Updated: Wednesday, July 27, 2011, 3:02 PM
NORTHAMPTON – It has hosted Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Crosby, Still and Nash and a Woodstock retrospective. Now, like many an aging hipster, the Pines Theater at Look Park has gone organic.
The lawn where countless music lovers have laid their blankets and set their beach chairs on summer nights is just about free of synthetic fertilizers, joining a regional push towards organic landscaping. During intermission, if you listen carefully, you might even heard the sound of worms doing what they do best.
“You’ve got an amazing microbial system under your feet,” said Bernadette Giblin, the park’s consultant on the organic project. “If we can get into the process of restoring it and working with nature, it’s just a much smarter approach.”
Giblin, the proprietor of Safeguard Organic Landcare, teamed with Look Park last year after having a vision of it as a pesticide-free public space. The Northampton resident had already worked with Baystate Medical Center to makes the grounds at the Damour Cancer Care Center free of pesticides and saw Look Park as a natural setting for organics.
“Parks have a unique role in our culture in terms of conservation stewardship,” she said.
With Giblin doing the grant-writing, Look Park was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Toxic Use Reduction Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Starting last fall, groundskeepers began instituting organic practices in Pines Theater. The process is on-going.
“It was pretty much a perfect fit,” said Greg Malynoski, the park’s director of development. “We have weddings and concerts there. There tends to be large groups of people in the green lawn space.”
Giblin, who is organic with a passion, talks about the practice in the broader context of land conservation and healthy living. As she explains it, synthetic fertilizers contain synthetic nitrates that leach into groundwater and dissolve oxygen, creating algae blooms and killing fish. Organic landscaping stops that process and let’s nature to its work.
As part of the grant, the park is educating the public through signs and workshops. Giblin is also teaching people how to test soil and balance the minerals with it. The park has even brought in students from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School to learn about “green” alternatives in landscaping.
The Look Park project is part of a broader effort by the Organic Land Care Program of the Northeast Organic Farming Association to spread the word about organics. Kathy Litchfield, the program’s coordinator, said the non-profit group had concentrated exclusively on organic farming and gardening during the earlier part of its 30-year history, but decided to expand into landscaping a decade ago.
“Our goal is to offer education in organic landscaping to as many professionals, home-owners and consumers as possible,” Litchfield said.
To date, the program has accredited 300 people throughout Massachusetts to do organic landscaping. The association is offering a workshop on the topic at the University of Massachusetts in August.
Although some people are scared off by the higher cost of organic landscaping, Giblin believes it saves money in the long run.
“The goal with an organic program is you start to build up stability in your soil,” she said.
Giblin is currently working with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission on another grant that will include Look Park and several other parks in the Pioneer Valley, possibly in Longmeadow, Ludlow, Easthampton, Springfield and Westfield. Although the 157-acre Look Park is still a long way from being completely organic, Malynoski said it remains a long-term goal.
“Hopefully someday,” he said.