The grassy areas at Sandy Pond Beach for stretching out beach towels and having picnics are green in more ways than one: their root system is in the process of becoming healthier and stronger, thanks to new techniques the Ayer Parks Department has begun using to care for them. And when you walk barefoot on the grass or swim in the pond, you’re not getting a load of toxic lawn chemicals you weren’t bargaining for.

These changes are putting Sandy Pond in the spotlight as an organic lawn demonstration project for the Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter. The project aims to let homeowners from here and surrounding areas see firsthand how organic methods and products work at a place they know and use. The ultimate hope is that those who visit the beach throughout the project (Ayer has committed to maintain the space organically through at least June 2013) will decide to apply what they learn to their own lawns.

NOFA/Mass celebrated the kickoff of the demonstration project on Saturday, June 5, at Sandy Pond Beach, where residents were out enjoying both the lawns and the water on a hot weekend day. Among those on hand for the event were Kathy Litchfield, NOFA/Mass Organic Land Care Coordinator, who is in charge of the demonstration project; Liz Harriman of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute of UMass Lowell, which granted the funds for this project (as well as a similar project underway in the town of Stoneham); Jeff Thomas, Ayer Parks Supervisor, and Laurie Nehring, president of People of Ayer Concerned about the Environment.

The Parks Department has been partnering for much of the past year with NOFA/Mass’ Land Care Program to go organic on Sandy Pond’s lawn. TURI’s recent grant is allowing the town to consult with John Coppinger of the Coppinger Company Inc., a North Chelmsford-based NOFA Accredited Organic Lawn Care Professional, as part of the demonstration project. Coppinger also attended the kickoff event, taking questions from a few interested locals who wondered about some of the techniques involved.

Thomas has been taking courses through NOFA/Mass for the past few years, partly in response to the concerns of some of the town’s environmentally-oriented groups, which have been anxious to reduce the use of commercial fertilizers and other toxic lawn care products near town waterways. “The NOFA courses taught me to view grass as a plant, not a product,” he said. “If you want a product, you might as well put down a carpet.”

He added, “We’ve been using these techniques for the past couple of years, trying to limit ourselves to no more than a single application of fertilizer each year, as well as stopping the use of insecticides. At the same time, we’re using methods like soil aeration and proper irrigation to help the lawn develop a proper root system.”

Liz Harriman, who represented TURI at the kickoff event, reminded the crowd that it’s not just the products that end up on the lawns here that are of concern, but the upstream places where lawn chemicals are manufactured as well — places that often suffer dramatically; for instance, manufacturing towns with increased cancer rates. “When you make a difference here, you make a difference there,” she said. She applauded those involved in the project, noting, “You’re showing the town residents that if you can go organic with lawn care here at Sandy Pond, they can do it at home.”

Nehring said, “I’m so pleased the town is doing this.” PACE, the Ayer Conservation Commission and the Ayer Greenway Committee are among the town groups that have been urging the town to green its lawn care methods.

Litchfield said, “We are very happy to be an educational resource to homeowners in the town of Ayer and beyond.”

For more about this project and ways to go organic on your home lawn, visit or