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Safer lawns, safer world: Paul Tukey at the IMA



Editor's note: To read an extended interview with Tukey, visit


People often hear that the health benefits of organic foods far outweigh those of processed or synthetic foods, but who knew this same principle applied to lawn care?

Paul Tukey, founder of and author of the best-selling book The Organic Lawn Care Manual, knew and started to campaign for organic methods of lawn care for this very reason.

Tukey's natural approach to lawn care can improve the health of your yard, your family and the environment. He says, "We have unassailable evidence that a lot of the synthetic lawn and garden products that we use are toxic for kids and pets. They are certainly toxic for wildlife. They're toxic for water. They pollute the air we breathe, and quite frankly, there's no reason to use those products."

The effects of synthetic weed-killers and fertilizers are astounding. According to Tukey, the health impacts "range from everything from ADHD to autism to cancer to neurological impairment to endocrine disruption."

"If you look at the back of every synthetic lawn and care product every single one of the labels says caution, warning or danger, keep out of the reach of children. The mere fact that it has an EPA-registered label means that it's inherently dangerous."

Synthetic lawn care products, such as Roundup and Weed & Feed, pose the greatest threats to young children because they roll around in the yard and constantly touch their hands to their mouths. "For this reason, it (the Safe Lawns movement) is being driven by young mothers primarily who are very concerned about poisoning their children."

Young mothers aren't the only group taking Tukey's words to heart, though, in the state of New York and in the state of Connecticut, it is illegal to apply synthetic pesticides around schools and daycares and 36 towns in New Jersey have banned the use of lawn and garden pesticides on public property.

These changes in legislation offer hope to those involved in the Safe Lawns movement, but Tukey says that more can be done, and Canada is a shining example of the necessary remaining changes. "In the entire nation of Canada, you can't apply Roudup and Weed & Feed, it's against the law. If you're a homeowner, you have to come to the United States and buy the stuff and bring it back to Canada illegally."

In order to create a safer environment, legislation changes are necessary, but change must also occur on an individual basis. Tukey urges all homeowners to reevaluate their methods of lawn care and consider an organic, soil-based approach.

Although many people equate the term "organic" with "expensive" or "unnecessary", Tukey asserts that organic lawn care can save people money, not to mention time. He says, "When you transition to organic maintenance, you mow less often, you water much much less often and you apply fewer products."

The first step? Test your soil. Tukey says that in order to have a healthy lawn, you need to look at the composition of your soil in order to determine what it needs. "If the soil is completely dead and it's only been growing grass or flowers or vegetables because of the synthetic products you're putting into it and the soil doesn't have the ability to grow things naturally, then you may have to take some remedial steps like adding in compost, adding in lots of organic fertilizer to get your soil back to life. That can be expensive in the first couple years, but if you're averaging out the cost three or five years after the fact, you will save money time after time after time."

Another reason to hop on the organic lawn care bandwagon? The natural products are conveniently located in hardware stores such as Lowes and Home Depot, making them just as easy to purchase as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. And why wouldn't you purchase these instead of toxic chemicals? After all, Tukey says that organic lawn care is "safer for our kids, our pets, and our planet."


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