Author teaches about natural lawn care, pest control

Carole Rubin held an attentive audience spellbound at Klehm Arboretum on Tuesday night, June 16.

Rubin has a background in fine arts from the University of Toronto, Ontario. In the 1970s, when the air was getting dirtier, Rubin developed allergies. She was working at an art gallery, and in the summers she would go to a nearby lake. In summer 1979, she went fishing and noticed the lake was beautiful, blue and sparkling. But the reason the water was so clear and blue was that there were no living organisms in it. The lake was dead from acid rain. Rubin called her sister in British Columbia, and in summer 1980, she moved to B.C. This area is on the Sunshine Coast north of the peninsula, and Rubin made it her new home.

She was walking in a forest, Rubin recalled, that was so neat and tidy, it was incredibly clean. But as she was leaving, a helicopter swooped down, and Rubin was sprayed. When she phoned the local forestry office, she learned that the area was being sprayed with 24D, hopefully heavy enough to hit the “target species”—the broadleaf species competing with the conifers. She found that not only was it not banned, but 24D is still the most widely used herbicide in agriculture. The Vancouver Institute had tested for several chemicals and found DDT.

Rubin learned that pollution is everywhere. She wanted to stand up and learn about these issues. Her brother took her camping on the Britain River, where salmon were spawning. Not long afterward, she found a classified ad from the same company that had sprayed her. They were going to spray the forest adjacent to the fjords. She started getting involved in politics and began working with forestry and agriculture, looking for alternatives. In the ’80s, a woman contacted her to write something. The woman told her, “While your work is wonderful, the highest volume of pesticide runoff into the Great Lakes is from lawn care.” The woman sent Rubin some money and asked her to do some research.

The Ontario government printed more than a million copies of her publication and distributed them in district offices. This was the seed money for the book How to Get Your Lawn & Garden Off Drugs. The new edition came out in 2003. When Rubin wrote the first version in 1989, she expected the volume of pesticides would decrease drastically because the governments of the U.S. and Canada had stated they were made to be toxic. “I thought the public’s dependence on these harmful chemicals would decrease,” said Rubin, quoting from her book. “Not so. They continue to be used. When a product is taken off the shelf by the government, three new chemicals come online until 50 years from now, they, too, are possibly removed from the shelf. The U.S. EPA estimates that 2 million pounds of chemicals were applied to U.S. lawns and gardens. Pesticide residues can now be found in every living thing, in everyone’s tissues. Even the polar ice cap contains DDT. There is not a water body, tree, animal, bird, fish or human on the planet that does not have some pesticide contamination.”

However, she believes all is not lost. “The good news is that some people are taking time to learn about alternatives that design pests out of the equation in the first place or deal effectively with a problem… that do not harm beneficial organisms or the soil itself. Alternatives that are not potion-based, but are instead based upon cultural practices that build the soil… that are not toxic to humans or wildlife… Even more startling, municipalities across North America are implementing or considering by-laws that ban the use of pesticides within city limits. But this is still savagely opposed today by the pesticide manufacturers.”

Rubin’s second book, How to Get Your Lawn Off Grass, was published in 2002. The book tells how people can replace grass with native plants that are more suited to their area. Locally, people can search out plants native to the Midwest. Rubin also showed slides of some examples of native landscaping around the country.

After the program, she took questions from the audience. One question raised was, how can you have native landscaping if the city administration is hostile to plants above a certain height? Two people had received notices about this regarding their property. Rubin asked whether there was an ordinance and was told there was one. “Then lobby!” she replied. “Get those laws changed. If the aldermen won’t listen to you, vote them out. There is always something you can do.”

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