A recent proposal has the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee contemplating a procedural change in lawn care. Under the proposal, brought forth by the Physical Environment Committee, university groundskeeping would take an all-natural approach to the care of grass on campus.
Ryan Sorenson, a member of the Physical Environment Committee, says the change will be beneficial to students.
“I think if the lawns are well kept, students will have an increased experience. Not only will the grass look nicer but students will be able to enjoy it more,” said Sorenson. “It will be nice for students to study or just relax on the lawn.”
The university’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kate Nelson, who also serves as a member of the Physical Environment Committee, agrees with Sorenson.
“I know kids who if you give them a patch of green will just lay down in it,” Nelson said. “I want the grass to look nicer, but I also want it to be healthy. I want students to enjoy the lawn.”
Unlike the current method of lawn care, which kills weeds through the application of chemical fertilizers and herbicides, all-natural lawn care aims to reduce weed growth by creating healthy soil. The process which includes aeration, over seeding and composting, allows the soil to become rich with bacteria, microbes and nutrients needed for thick, green grass.
Currently, the department of Finance and Administrative Affairs is evaluating the proposal. All-natural lawn care is three to four times more expensive than the current method of lawn care. Nelson says the extra expense is worth it.
“While direct cost is greater, the indirect cost in terms of sustainably, is much less,” Nelson said. “All-natural lawn care is better for our waterways, our insect health and ultimately our health.”
If university administration approves the proposal, the new lawn care protocol may begin this semester.
“I would love to see it [all-natural lawn care] be enacted this spring,” said Nelson.
Nelson understands the importance of implementing all-natural lawn care correctly.
“If we are going to do it, we need to make sure it will be successful,” she said.
All-Natural lawn care has been implemented at other campuses around the country. To ensure that all-natural lawn care would work at UWM, a study was conducted on the lawn surrounding Merrill Hall in 2009.
“I have been doing studies ever since I first got here, five or six years ago,” Nelson said. “To me, this change has always made sense.”
Nelson does express one concern about the coming change.
“My only worry [with all-natural lawn care] is that we don’t have enough resources.”
University grounds keeping is responsible for caring for over 23 acres of lawn and 110 total acres of campus grounds. With only five full-time staff members, manpower might arise as an issue.
“This is a very labor intensive process,” said Nelson. “It will take a lot of training.”
Although all-natural lawn care isn’t yet practiced, Nelson is encouraged by the direction UWM is moving.
“This is a time when leadership is open to new ideas. It’s really great to have their support.”
Sorenson is also pleased.
“I think we’re taking the right steps to become a more sustainable campus,” Sorenson said.