Applewood residents make strides to eliminate pesticides

By the members of HAL

Picture a white-haired senior citizen dashing outdoors, coffee cup in hand, trying to be dignified as she asks the person spraying her garden to STOP.

This was the beginning of the HAL (Healthy Applewood Land) group here at Applewood, an independent living community in the slope of the Holyoke Range in South Amherst.  It was also the beginning of our first project:  to stop the use of pesticides for the health of the soil, the birds, the humans, in fact for all living things here.

Nearly two years later, that project has been successful and for the first summer, the grounds here will not be treated with pesticides to kill broad-leaf plants.  Instead, the lawns are flourishing with dandelions, violets, and more.  A significant step.

Removing pesticides from the earth and air enables pollinators to flourish. As E.O. Wilson, the American biologist, has said, “If all of mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, then the environment would collapse into chaos.”

Broad-leaf lawn plants for pollinators (Photo credit Anne Cann)

What are pollinators and why are they essential? Pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps and hummingbirds, are essential for the functioning of our terrestrial world. They convey pollen to the stigma of a flower, thus pollinating plants that are the basis of almost all food chains for most living things. Creatures, including us, eat the plants directly, or eat other creatures that eat the plants.

Pollinators are keystone species. Many other species depend on them. They maintain the integrity of the ecosystem.

Plants are not optional. Nearly every living thing depends on plants for life. With the help of pollination, plants turn sunlight, water, soil, and air into food.

How We Can Help Support Native Bees.

While the non-native honey bee is the most familiar pollinator, native bees are often adapted to the specific needs of local plants, making them very effective pollinators. We need to encourage native bee populations. Each of us can help support native bees in our own gardens and grounds by:

  1. Creating a diversity of plant blooms, mostly native, that provide pollen and nectar from early spring to late fall;
  2. Providing nest and egg laying sites by leaving open ground in our gardens for nests and leaving leaves, twigs and stems over the winter and beyond for homes for pollinators (note that native bees dwell mostly in ground tunnels, not hives, so allowing them to have ground cover is crucial);
  3. Avoiding the use of any pesticides;
  4. Providing a source of clean water;
  5. Sharing this important information with others who visit our gardens, so that visitors will carry the idea along and assist in supporting native bees and other pollinators in their own gardens.
Ground-dwelling native bee (Photo credit Anne Cann)

The HAL group has also introduced Applewood residents and its neighbors to the basic concept of why native plants are key to a healthy local environment. The plants and insect life of caterpillars that live off the plants have evolved together and in turn become food for the young nestlings of a large majority of our native bird populations.  By successfully lobbying to eliminate the use of pesticides on our extensive lawns, we have taken Step 1, and are now linking that progress to promoting the use of native plant species in our garden spaces, since native plants are the required primary food source in the food web. 

“Every person on earth depends entirely on the quality of earth’s ecosystem,” says- Douglas W. Tallamy, a professor of entomology and environmental science and author of Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard and The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden.

Other topics the HAL group has introduced at Applewood are healthy soils, the role of fungi, and nighttime light pollution.

HAL began in March last year when seven women gathered because of their alarm over the spreading of toxic pesticides on gardens and lawns outside their apartments. With a wealth of experience in environmental activism over lives ranging from 79 to 90 years, they adopted a strategy of resident education, leading to a survey on whether to continue landscaping practices designed to groom putting-green-style lawns.

At Applewood, many residents are environmental activists. They have joined together in various groups that meet regularly and have specific missions. The Climate Change group delves in to the multi-issues of this serious problem.  HAL, the Healthy Applewood Land group, focuses on pesticide elimination, healthy soil, pollinators, and native plants. The Sustainability committee deals mostly with recycling, while Gardens & Grounds is a hands-on group that works on landscaping.

All of these groups are active, with many residents belonging to more than one. There is a great deal of overlap and cross-communication, and our executive director, Lou Iannuccilli, has been supportive of efforts to protect and restore the natural environment on the Applewood grounds.

Coming to Applewood from as far away as Montana and Georgia, all seven members of HAL contributed to this article and are long- time environmental activists. Well- known in this area for their work are Anne Cann, who has served on the Hitchcock Center board and as a Friend of the Orchard Arboretum at Applewood, and Judi Pierce, who retired from Mass Audubon as a regional director and continues to volunteer at Nasami Farm nursery and Kestrel Land Trust. Other members of HAL are Fran Bancroft, Carol McNeary, Lenore Miller, Val Parsegian, and Mimi Sauer.

4 thoughts on “Applewood residents make strides to eliminate pesticides”

  1. I’m glad Applewood has all these environmental actors. I wonder if you are seeing fewer insects this year than usual – I am, so I keep asking other people about their experience. Not “no” insects; fewer.


    1. I am glad there are so many active environmentalists at Applewood. I wonder if you are observing, as I am, that there are far fewer insects than we’ve had in previous summers.


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