To better help new campaigners, we asked some of the advocates with the Organic Land Care Project a few questions about their experiences. We hope you find their answers helpful and inspiring!
What is one thing you wish you knew when you began campaigning for organic land care in your community?
“I wish I'd had a better understanding of the Department of Pesticide Regulations and the state agencies that regulate pesticides and their jurisdictions.”
“I wish I had the knowledge that organic land care is a process and that it’s not as simple as just asking to stop synthetic pesticides.”
“I wish I had understood that decision makers and landscapers do not necessarily believe synthetics are harmful and that there is an underlying belief if the product is on the market, then it must be safe.”
“I wish I had the understanding that decision makers and landscapers are more concerned with looking at costs as opposed to the science of harmfulness of pesticides.”
“In the very beginning, I wish I had realized that the ultimate decision on changing practices to organic was not up to the maintenance department, at least in our case. “
“I wish I had understood that proposing organic methods on some level strikes fear in the guys, because they only understand the chemical system- and that is (in most cases) the entirety of their training. But communities vary, and some are successful working directly with the staff. So, perhaps the best approach is to consider working both ways- from the bottom up and the top down. Feel it out to see which way might be more effective.”
“I wish I knew right away about the community of advocates and experts that have been doing this work for so long. It would have saved me a lot of time and energy that was spent compiling resources and doing research on herbicide studies and alternatives. It took years for me to obtain the knowledge I know now, if there had been these types of resources available, that would have sped up the learning curve greatly!“
What was your biggest challenge?
“Assembling all the materials/binders for the city council members was a bear of a project.”
“My biggest challenge was finding a landscaping company that truly understands soil health and how to transition to organic land care.”
“It was a challenge to pull together resources in a timely manner to enable me to create change at a faster pace.”
“Organizing people and building a dedicated team was a challenge.”
“Having the patience to allow the time necessary for groups/leaders/decision makers to become educated about why organic landscaping is beneficial to all. “
“Conveying to others others how extremely low the bar is for our EPA and other governmental agencies. Everyone assumes the government agencies are protecting us and that regularly used chemicals are approved by the EPA because they have been proven ‘safe’.”
“The biggest challenge is working with people who do not share your same mindset. Transitioning to organic is a commitment that requires a shift in thinking. It's tough to communicate with people that feel defensive about their use of chemicals. It's all about finding common ground, but this is not always easy.”
“Bureaucracy can be very challenging. As an organizer, it can be difficult to know when to work with administration, and when to organize and push them to do better. You never want to hurt anyone's feelings, but sometimes organizing work requires pushing people to do better and that can be uncomfortable.”
What did you find was crucial to your success?
•Having an online petition with hundreds of local signatures/statements of support.
•Guidance to stay measured, respectful and sober in our tone, when addressing decision makers - never accusatory.
• Support from our local pediatric cancer community.
•The professors who presented on the health risks of pesticides.
•Understanding the position of decision makers, landscapers and community are all different, and having the knowledge to speak to each of these entities to meet them where they are at.
•It was crucial to create positive, long-lasting relationships with decision makers to be viewed as someone they can trust and work alongside. That meant staying away from being combative and threatening by making friends and offering solutions and support, as opposed to telling them what to do.
•Getting a critical mass of people together so that our voice was heard by officials, both in the school district and the city departments.
•In terms of the school district, I was on my own, but I used my position as a leader in our district’s PTA to bring in speakers and letters from scientists to educate our board and all of our city’s PTA presidents. Having the PTA ask the school board to stop using pesticides was very motivating for our school district officials.
•With our city, the first part was building a skilled team of people who had various connections, knowledge, and skills to professionally and diplomatically put out a petition to gain a large following of supporters. It helped to have local university professors who confirmed the importance for children’s health.
•Most crucial, was obtaining the grant for training of our staff on pilot projects.
It was free for our city to have the initial training. Cost is always a primary concern for officials, and if the training is free- that helps!
•What helped us greatly was how we shifted our approach to work with our Grounds Manager to get him on board.
At first, we were a bit too aggressive, wanting to know what was sprayed and why his crew was spraying.
When we shifted the way we approached him and came at it more with an offer to help and support him, he was much more willing to engage with us.
From this day forward, we put worker rights at the core of our mission.
Also, I think a student-led movement is inspiring for people and feels refreshing.
We found that community members really wanted to jump on board and support us.
We also had so many calls and meetings for months before really getting somewhere, and it was definitely worth it for us to build our network and form relationships with people.