Maine landscapers have opportunity to gain organic certification

Landscapes such as this one reflect a commitment to organic principles, such as the elimination of invasive plants. Photo: Edamarie MatteiLandscapes such as this one reflect a commitment to organic principles, such as the elimination of invasive plants.
Photo: Edamarie Mattei

The proliferation of restrictions on pesticides and herbicides used in Maine, where local governments have jurisdiction over such matters, has increased the demand for alternative ways to protect landscapes, especially the use of organic practices to combat infestations.

That’s why the Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) is taking its four-day course leading to the Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP) certification on the road. It has never been offered in Maine.

The University of Southern Maine in Portland will play host to the NOFA Organic Land Care Program course. Classes will meet from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 15, 16, 22 and 23. If you register by June 30, the cost is $695. Go here to register or learn more.

Some 2,000 landscapers have taken the course since 2002, according to Jenna Messier, director of NOFA-Connecticut’s Organic Land Care Program.

In addition to lawn-care and landscape professionals, Messier said, the course – and the credential to which it leads – is often sought by landscape architects and environmental educators.

“We normally stay close to home,” she said. “It takes a lot of effort to offer this somewhere else. For everyone to go to Maine is a big project.”

The decision to do so comes in the wake of local government action in about 30 towns and cities in Maine to restrict or ban the use of pesticides and herbicides.

“There’s a lot of concern,” Messier said, “especially near the water, so particularly along the coast.”

For the Organic Land Care Program, any use of pesticides is limited to products approved by the Organic Materials Research Institute.

“Every year, new products come along,” Messier said. “However, we don’t advocate for a direct product swap. You’re trying to reduce the need for them” – say, by taking care to choose native plants whenever possible – “and just by following good practices, such as not watering too much or too little.”

The course leading to the AOLCP credential is designed for landscapers with at least five years of experience or for someone who has studied science at the college level.

Many of the instructors are landscape professionals, Messier said, noting that they are not only outstanding in teaching the standards but can also share information on how they made organic practices work for their own businesses.

Messier said some landscapers choose to open a new division to concentrate on organic methods for clients who are particularly interested in sustainability, while others incorporate the organic land care expertise into their existing operations.

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