Edwina von Gal
Edwina von Gal

The North Fork Environmental Council and the North Fork Audubon Society are pairing up this Saturday for a special seminar on how to kick the toxic chemical habit when it comes to taking care of your lawn and garden.

The free event will be held at Southold Town’s Peconic Lane Community Center at 1170 Peconic Lane, next door to the Peconic Lane Recreation Center (where it was originally scheduled to be held) this Saturday, April 8 from noon to 3 p.m.

Beginning at noon, representatives from organizations such as Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Peconic Estuary Program, National Audubon and Perfect Earth Project will be on hand to discuss ecologically sound lawn care and landscaping. 

At 1 p.m., Perfect Earth Project Founder Edwina von Gal will discuss organic lawn care practices for beautiful landscapes, healthy bodies and clean water.

At 2 p.m. Kelly Knutson from the National Audubon Society will highlight ways in which we can establish bird-friendly communities in our own backyards.

North Fork Environmental Council Programs Director Debra O’Kane, who also serves as the president of the North Fork Audubon Society, said she believes this program, titled “Making your Lawn and Landscape Healthy and Toxic-Free,” does a great job dovetailing the two organizations’ missions.

“I don’t think homeowners are still fully aware of the consequences and impacts that toxic chemicals and fertilizers they’re using on lawns can have on groundwater and public health, and also on birds and other wildlife,” she said in an interview Thursday afternoon.

Ms. O’Kane said NFEC held similar workshops, which were extremely well-attended, at Suffolk County Community College nearly two decades ago.

Kelly Knudson
Kelly Knutson

The event is also in part a kick-off for NFEC’s contribution to a Long Island-wide environmental campaign beginning Earth Day called I❤️LongIsland, to encourage homeowners to learn more about how their landscaping practices can impact their own health and that of the island’s ecosystem.

“It’s about getting homeowners to understand how easy it is to convert to organic maintenance practices,” said Ms. O’Kane. “It seems daunting and overwhelming, but a lot of it involves cultural practices — how high you mow your lawn, how often and deep you water, how deep you encourage your roots to grown. It’s getting back to basics, getting people to understand that dandelions and clover are beneficial. They’re really good for putting nutrients back in the soil, and for wildlife and pollinators.”

Ms. O’Kane said there are more organic lawn care products available to consumers than ever before, and that, even if system-wide ideas about organic lawn care seem daunting, the human health aspect is very personal.

“When you see a commercial for lawn care and you see kids running across the lawn, they’re not giving you the full picture that your kids are being exposed to chemicals that could potentially harm them, and your pets as well, and yourself,” she said. “A lot more landscapers are adhering to organic practices. The water table isn’t that far from the grass on your lawn. So many of us rely on wells under our lawns. There are acceptable levels of contamination in drinking water, but there are no real studies on the interaction of chemicals.”

If you have a private well, she added, it isn’t being tested for chemicals unless you order the test.

Kelly Knutson will discuss the National Audubon Society’s new campaign called “Plants for Birds, which encourages people to seek out plants that would naturally grow in their backyard.

“It’s about getting back to the mindset where native plantings work best because you don’t have to use chemicals on them. They have natural defenses. They’re plants that have developed a tolerance and ability to grow in this climate,” said Ms. O’Kane. “Because they are meant to be here, they are meant to be a food source for the wildlife that lives here and also passes through here such as migratory birds. Nature has way of taking care of itself. We have the ability to put it totally off kilter.”


Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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