Viewpoint: Personal responsibility
To the editor:
I was greatly disappointed by a presentation by Monica Zachay at the St. Croix Valley Master
Gardener Association "Garden U" Saturday, March 17. She was explaining to the group about water qualities and the surrounding landscape and touched on some of the biggest threats to the local water quality. In those biggest threats she vilified the farmers making them seem like the greatest source of pesticide and fertilizer contamination in our area lakes and rivers. What she didn't share or even touch on is personal responsibility of the homeowner.
A 2010 article from Columbia University talks about the 30-40 million acres of lawns across the United States and how 10 times the amount of pesticides and fertilizers are used on these acres versus the acreage actually growing our food. And what are we getting for that overuse of fertilizer and pesticides in our own yards? Nothing, except polluted groundwater. The article states that out of this overabundant use of chemicals and fertilizers, most is wasted due to inappropriate timing and misapplication. Homeowners have the wrong notion that "more is better" and fail to apply chemicals when they should or how they should and really have no education or training on what they are doing; 95 percent never have a soil test done to find out what their lawn needs.
A 2016 study showed the main source of knowledge for applying chemicals and fertilizer for a homeowner was "whatever the neighbor is doing." That study also showed that 30-60 percent of urban fresh water is used on lawns with most of it, again, being wasted due to misapplication. Even in a year with above rainfall, homeowners will continue to water their lawns at the same frequency not paying attention to the lawn's needs. With that excessive watering, even more chemicals and fertilizer are leached off, and our water is wasted.
In the 2012 article "Environment and Behavior" it talks about that over the years with careful testing, training and correct applications procedures, the agricultural use of chemicals and fertilizer continued to decline while the household use had dramatically risen. Pointing out that most of the time, applications exceeded both plant and soil requirements. And the main reason for this? Peer pressure. Making sure the neighbors liked how their yard looked.
With all these statistics and information did Monica Zachay, the Director of the Land and Water Program for the St. Croix River Association ever once point out what anyone at the garden seminar could do to help with water quality in their own yard? No! She had the attendees reaching for the farmer's own pitchforks to march against them and punish them for raising our food. Someone even asked how we could get rid of some of these farms in the area. Monica suggested talking to our representatives, treating the farmers like a plague. I call this irresponsible and appalling. In this era of "not my responsibility" it is too easy to point to someone else and ask them to change, while never once looking at ourselves to see how we can be better. Talk of how much we could improve in our own yards or how to stop wasting our resources on the almighty "lawn crop" never entered the discussion.
I hope the St. Croix River Association can use all of its resources to educate and train everyone in the watershed and stop only going after already overregulated farmers. True, it is harder to demand change in an area that is not regulated and they may not be able to evaluate how much they accomplish in hard figures by educating and empowering the homeowner, but I think it is time well spent.
I think it is time we took a long look at what we can do ourselves, and not just what we can make others do. Do your research, get a soil test done, read your labels and ask yourself is a lush lawn a good tradeoff for healthy water.