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Old Lyme - If the athletic fields have been looking pretty dismal since the town stopped applying pesticides and fertilizers last year, it's no wonder, according to Todd Harrington, an expert in organic land care.
"It's almost impossible to go cold turkey," Harrington, president of the Bloomfield-based Harrington's Organic Land Care, said Wednesday during a presentation on how to maintain playing fields organically. "Most of the people who have tried this have usually failed."
Harrington was invited to speak Wednesday as the town struggles to figure out how best to maintain the playing fields at Town Woods Park, which are shared by the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme.
To transition the fields off fertilizers, Harrington said, you have to wean them off their dependence and set up a system by which the fields can thrive on more sustainable methods of fertilization and pesticide control.
Old Lyme stopped applying pesticides about a year ago after the Pesticide Awareness Committee began advocating organic treatment, arguing that the fields cater to the same children who a 2010 state ban on the use of pesticides on fields at elementary and middle schools aimed to protect.
Town Woods Park was minimally maintained in 2011. At a Board of Selectmen meeting in February, the chairman and vice chairman of the Town Woods Park Operating Committee resigned abruptly, saying the town's decision to ban pesticides prevented them from properly maintaining the fields.
Wednesday, Harrington said that pesticides should be phased out over time, not immediately. When necessary, Harrington said, he uses pesticides that carry caution labels, not warning labels. Harrington's alternative pesticides include corn gluten meal, bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) and vinegar.
Harrington works on fields throughout the country but locally has worked on fields at the Cheshire public schools, private schools in Farmington, and at Manchester Community College, among others.
"It doesn't mean you have to go 100 percent organic with everything, but our objective and long-term goal is to transition from the use of all of these chemicals and pesticides," Harrington said.
The average initial cost of creating a "high-end, quality, sustainable organic athletic turf field" would be $12,000 to $15,000 per 2 acres, Harrington said.
Phil Neaton, one of the two who resigned from the Town Woods Park Operating Committee, said his budget for fertilizers and pesticides for the Town Woods for one year was $15,000. Harrington's estimate would cost the town at least $48,000 initially.
But Harrington said that once the biology of the soil is returned to health, the cost of treating the fields organically would drop drastically.