Green Turf Pilot Program Examines Environmentally-Friendly Methods to Treat Campus Grass

Last summer, little holes were punched into the grass in front of Abbot Campus to prepare the soil for a custom blend of compost containing worm castings, kelp and organic matter. Part of the Organic Turf Pilot Program established by Andover’s Sustainability Office and planned to be completed this spring, the initiation will aid research for a more sustainable method of maintenance for Andover’s lawns.

Using organic chemistry to determine the specific needs of Abbot’s soil in order to produce specialized compost for optimum health of the lawn, the pilot program may provide a more environmentally-friendly solution that is less costly than current methods of grass maintenance, said Paul Wolff, Sustainability Coordinator. The current grass at Andover is not sustainable and requires considerable resources for maintenance.

“Organic turf care allows the lawn to grow deeper roots, to have fewer weeds and requires less water and maintenance,” Wolff wrote in an email to The Phillipian. “The integration of soil chemistry creates a healthier ecosystem and reduces the impacts of our landscaping operations.”

The compost is entirely organic and provides little risk of environmental harm, said Wolff. He and Russell Stott, Grounds Manager, are leading the efforts in conjunction with PJC Organics, a Massachusetts based family-run company specializing in environmentally-friendly lawn solutions.

At the end of the pilot program, the Sustainability Office will present the data collected to the community and the Board of Trustees. In presenting its report, the Sustainability Office will consider the cost, aesthetics and viability of the project’s implementation on a larger scale.

“If all goes as we hope, we would like to look towards implementing the program campus-wide,” said Wolff. “In the long term, we hope to be one of the first of our peer institutions to implement a system of sustainable turf across many acres of manicured lawns.”

The vastness of campus and numerous lawns pose a challenge for implementing the system on a large scale. Each lawn will likely need its own specialized compost to meet its specific needs.

The Abbot Campus, specifically the lawn in front of Draper Hall, was chosen for the project because the smaller area is manageable to monitor and assess in great detail.

“Another benefit of Abbot is that it isn’t right in the middle of campus,” said Wolff. “If the project does not meet expectations, it won’t be as out in the open.”

On the ultimate goal of the program, Wolff said, “We want to improve landscaping and introduce a brand new way of thinking about the lawns.”