We need a conversation as a city to determine if we are comfortable asking park employees to take risks with their own long term health in order to perform landscaping tasks. Are the risks to waterways, insects, animals, and people worth it?
Pesticides are used to manage numerous issues and problems within our park system, in this way they are a tool at our disposal which helps us perform certain tasks. Pesticides are also cause for great concern when it comes to their effects on the health of pollinators, soil, water, wildlife, pets, and people. We really don’t have any way of knowing what the combined (synergistic) effects of multiple pesticides used in the city environment might have on the health of the people and ecosystems of Minneapolis.
Caution and wisdom can be gained from looking back at the arc of products like DDT and Glyphosate. These products which manufacturers promised were healthy, safe, and good to use have been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to cause widespread harm to the ecosystem and to human health. Park employees who are asked to utilize pesticides are currently asked to bear a special type of risk of exposure to carcinogenic poisons in carrying out the duties of their jobs.
But what about the issues that pesticides are solving? Is it possible to deal with the issues we face in managing over 6500 acres of parkland without using pesticides? As an organic landscaper who’s owned and operated a pesticide free company for 11 years, I believe it is.
As a park board member I’d call on the MPRB commissioners to vote with me on establishing a Pesticide Free Parks Transition Committee. The aim of this committee would be to transition the entire Minneapolis park system off of pesticide use over the course of 3 years. The committee would be made of experts and activists who work on pollinator, pesticide reductions, and organic land management, as well as rotating staff from the various Park Board departments responsible for managing different aspects of land.
A prioritization process would need to be undertaken by the committee in order to determine the pesticide uses to transition away from first. Next working with the departments in order of priority to develop sound alternative practices, understandings, and approaches to soil health management the committee would provide us with a way to transition departments one at a time in an orderly manor that builds a system for supporting departments through transition.
A wiser man than myself once said, “if you’ve got 3 rocks to move, move the biggest one first, the rest are easy”. I’d like to see us aim at transitioning our golf courses and premier fields first. This will require us to build and sharpen the tools we’ll need to be able to manage other areas in the park system without pesticides.
One day the Minneapolis Park System will need to transition away from pesticides. With ever more awareness of the harm caused to pollinators, local soils, waterways, and human health we can’t continue to pile on more dangerous products over the years. Transitioning away from pesticides will be a process that will empower communities, neighborhoods, residents, and the Minneapolis Park Board to grow health from the ground up, let’s start that process. Together we can transition to pesticide free parks.