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Trial run to replace pesticides underway

TALENT — Community members will take on a yearlong trial effort to see if they can maintain the grounds at Talent Elementary School without using pesticides. Success could lead to adoption of the practice for the entire Phoenix-Talent School District.

"For me, it's a win-win," said Superintendent Teresa Sayre. "They came to us really wanting to do something. With the new laws and regulations, we try to do as much as we can before using pesticides."

A 2012 Oregon law regarding pest management in schools requires that, whenever possible, schools eliminate synthetic pesticides, although they can be used to control noxious weeds that don't respond to other treatments. Various types of pesticides are used to control weeds or insects.

Community members involved with the effort, dubbed the Talent Elementary Pollinator Project, have also worked to eliminate synthetic pesticides at city sites and to encourage pollinators. Volunteers will hold monthly work parties and the district has committed to a gardener working at the school one day per week.

"It's been an exhibit of how community can come together to make some changes," said Meadowsweet Levi, who with four others proposed the idea to Sayre and district officials in late May.

Volunteers will develop a plan for landscaping changes that will aid the effort. That may include more mulching and planting of native vegetation and drought-resistant plants, as well as the use of organic pesticides, said group member Jamie Hickner.

"The response from the school district was extremely supportive," said Hickner. "They were committed to eliminating synthetic pesticides. They loved the idea of the Talent Elementary pilot project and were ready to review the district integrated pest management plan."

A first "gardening party" was held June 20, when 25 volunteers gardened and 25 children took part in activities in the school's Great Green Garden for three hours.

The work included evaluating the landscape. Flowerbeds in the parking lot, which had been sprayed previously, were weeded, Hickner reported. Volunteers agreed to form an advisory committee to help direct the Talent Elementary Pollinator Project.

Activities for kids at the event included making beeswax candles, weeding raised beds, adding worms, planting corn and releasing 1,500 ladybugs. An education component of the project will be developed for incorporation into the school's curriculum.

Results will be evaluated in quarterly meetings. Sayre informed the School Board of the trial and said districtwide adoption of a pesticide-free plan would require the board's approval.

For two years, Levi and her son Levion have urged the City Council during public comment periods to have pesticide-free areas. Those efforts helped lead to pesticide-free areas around the library, City Hall and the skate park.

A committed group that numbers five to 10 people shows up twice a week to weed the areas, Levi said. Weeding tools are stored behind the front counter at City Hall.

Talent Commons, near the library, has been pesticide-free since May of last year and is now informally called Barefoot Park. The single-acre area has play structures for kids.

Landscaping around City Hall is also pesticide free. In April, a two-month pesticide-free trial was initiated at Old Town Park, site of the city's skateboard area. That park now hosts the Talent Market on Friday evenings.

"We did a test on a herbicide that was citrus based — another with vinegar," said City Manager Tom Corrigan. "It's cautiously favorable in dealing with a small section."

Talent's Parks and Recreation Committee is scheduled to discuss pesticide use in parks when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 9, in the Community Center.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.