Transitioning 12 Acres of Western Mass Parks to Organic: Bernadette Giblin Shares Vision for Being Part of the Solution

“Out & About with AOLCPs”

Transitioning 12 Acres of Western Mass Parks to Organic:

Bernadette Giblin Shares Vision for Being Part of the Solution

 

BY KATHY LITCHFIELD

NORTHAMPTON, MA – Longtime community activist Bernadette Giblin has returned to her native Northampton with a vision in mind: to raise awareness among people from all walks of life about how important it is to change how we care for our lawns.

            “I’m grateful whenever I have the opportunity to wake someone up to the reality of how hazardous traditional lawn chemicals are,” said the Smith College graduate. “I’m even more grateful when I have the opportunity to provide solutions and support to homeowners and grounds manager to get them on the path to change, and stay on it!”

            Giblin, a NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional since 2005, is presently working with four municipal parks departments in Western Massachusetts, helping them transition a total of 12 acres of parks to organic management plans. She is partnering with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, with financial assistance from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

In 2010, Giblin wrote and received a community grant from TURI to transition the Pines Theater, an outdoor ampitheater at Look Park in Northampton, to an organic land care program. Last summer, TURI awarded her a second grant to replicate the Look Park demonstration project at four other parks in Agawam, Holyoke, Longmeadow and Ludlow. She recently held a mid-year grant organic training and community outreach workshop with the five participating DPW and parks crews.

            “It’s exciting because all of the participants are really dedicated to spreading this message in their communities,” she said. “Each town has expanded the size of their project areas because they’re so dedicated to the mission.”

            Giblin graduated from Smith College with a bachelor’s degree focused on environmental history, policy and education. She minored in psychology and was en route to a Ph.D. in health psychology when she delayed it a year. During that year she explored how she could put health psychology in practice in her lawn maintenance and snow removal company, by researching organic practices.

            She began working with her late husband in his lawn maintenance company in 1986. Upon his untimely death in 1996, she became the owner and operator of the company.  She renamed it Safeground Organic Landcare to focus on environmentally friendly landscape solutions “that didn’t pose any threat to human or environmental health.”

            Following the NOFA 5-day course, Giblin said she was surprised she was already incorporating many organic principles in her business, including leaving clippings on the lawn, and mowing high and infrequently.

“Several of my customers who had the company formerly known as ChemLawn switched to organics. I felt like Ms. Frizzle, from my kid’s favorite show 'The Magic School Bus,” who challenged her science students to ‘get messy and make mistakes,’” laughed Giblin. “Thank goodness for the NOFA colleagues who I could reach out to for support.”

            Giblin’s company rapidly expanded beyond the borders of Northampton to include organic lawn care, ecological landscaping and organic pest reduction strategies. She began working for organizations like schools, hospitals and governments looking for safer strategies. She continues to works with residential, commercial, institutional and municipal clients who are trying to transition lawns and landscapes to organics.

            “Interestingly, my company has evolved today into a consulting practice that provides the very thing I relied upon early in my career: one on one support services for those newly on the path to transitioning lawns and landscapes,” she said.

            In 2010, Giblin served as a municipal sustainability coordinator for a local government. She said she witnessed first-hand “how slow the wheels of progress turn in government” and came to her present goal of raising awareness and educating consumers about how to achieve sustainable organic lawn and landscape practices now.

            Giblin is presently collaborating with Smith College on a case study to look at how lawn chemicals contribute to the degradation of storm water quality.

“Two Smith College engineering students are interning with me on the project and helping to get the campus abuzz about the need for pesticide reduction on college campuses in 2012,” she said.

Giblin has taught at the NOFA Summer Conference, the Ecological Landscaping Association conference and has lectured at Smith College and Springfield Technical Community College as well as numerous libraries, garden clubs, sustainability events and homeowner trainings. She was a lead teacher during NOFA/Mass Statewide Organic Lawn Days held in April 2011 and she has represented NOFA at turf industry events including the UMass Field Days and the Northeast Regional Turfgrass Foundation conference in Providence, R.I.

            “The truly most amazing part of this job is witnessing our interconnectedness with the Earth. When we work together we can nourish and heal each other."

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