Down in the park

Down in the park

A life-altering event led Bernadette Giblin into the world of environmentally-friendly land care.

March 6, 2013
Brian Horn
Bionutrition Today sponsored by Lebanon

Look Park Pines Theater



When Bernadette Giblin awoke one crisp October morning in 1996, she discovered something that would change her life forever. Her husband and father of her two kids had died of a massive heart attack. Not only would she be faced with the challenge of being a single mother, but she also took control of her husband’s lawn care company, where she had worked in the past.


“My days abruptly shifted from filling sippy cups and rolling out Play-Doh snakes to pulling the cords on loud power equipment and driving around in a muscle-truck,” said Giblin, who now is an organic lawn care consultant with Safeground Organic Landcare. “My winters entailed climbing into the cab of a plow truck and careening along dangerous roads against the advice of the Weather Channel’s repeated warnings to stay inside.”


While juggling a business and two kids, she would go to Look Park with her family to watch puppet shows as a way of getting away from thinking about how much she had to do.

While at the park, she met the head of grounds at the park. After talking a shop for a little, they would continue to see each other around town, and then bumped into each other years later at a UMASS Turf Field Day. There, the two talked about organics, and Giblin mentioned she would be interested in doing an organic demonstration in the area.

That’s when things came full circle.

“Before long that grass I had been sitting on watching a puppet show in those difficult early days in lawn care was now the site of my first grant funded organic lawn demonstration project,” she said. Here’s more of what Giblin had to say about working on government projects and organic lawn care.

What advice would you have to secure government work or what advice would you give to create a better working relationship with government client?

I was an entrepreneur for over twenty years when I had the opportunity to serve in the public sector in 2010 as a municipal sustainability coordinator for the Town of Southampton, New York. I learned that the folks who work in public sector, and really any nonprofit, do so because they're dedicated to the mission and committed to serving their community.

Yet today, these folks, like all of us, have more work to do with fewer support staff and less resources to get it done. Thus, a good relationship with a government client is the virtue of patience. The wheels of government move slowly. I always keep in mind that the public process was put in place to ensure transparency and fairness. I also try to remember that government clients really need a lot of support. Contractors may have hundreds of clients. Governments have thousands of constituents to answer to and many diverse viewpoints of their communities to take into account. Patience and time for extra support are the key.

How long does writing a grant/working with government take?

Honestly, everything takes longer than you think. I think these two grant projects (Creating Safeground: Transitioning Five Parks in Western Massachusetts to a 100% Pesticide Free Organic Land Care Strategy in 2010-2011 and Creating Safeground: Transitioning Look Park’s Pines Theater to a 100% Pesticide Free Organic Land Care Strategy in 2011-2012 ended up taking double the time I expected. I usually get an inspiration for a project and then start visioning if it’s feasible for a couple of months. Next, I start to research potential funding and having tons of conversations with potential partner(s) to flush out how to bring the vision into reality.

Usually we come to a consensus on how their needs dovetail with the vision or we modify it and find some common ground. In the case of the park, the funding offset the cost of the organic products and seed for over seeding. They in turn provided great community outreach events to raise awareness and showcase the park's organic initiative in alignment with the TURI at UMASS Lowell mission of teaching communities.

Two heads are always better than one. I co-wrote these two grants with my colleague, and husband, who successfully received grant awards in the past. The grant cycle for both of these projects was one fiscal year and began in September concluding in June. I submitted another grant application that will have a two year grant cycle.

What kind of plants were used in your projects? What would you recommend for organic projects?

Turf type tall fescues, perennial rye and Midnight Kentucky Bluegrass. Less fertilizer needs along with resilience to compaction and drought stress make Tall Fescues the predominant choice of OLC Professionals. The diversity of some rye and bluegrasses for quick growth and disease resistance is also essential.

What were the challenges during the project and how did you overcome them?
Fall is always the best time to grow grass. A proactive organic program is all about making the most of the fall season. In accordance with Organic Land Care Standards we needed to start with baseline current soil testing to determine the current health of the soil before making any applications. Many of the municipalities didn't have purchase orders in place with the University of Massachusetts soil test lab so that took some unexpected time.

We got rolling and then a historic record snow storm hit western Massachusetts. 700,000 people lost power. Thousands of roads were closed as a result of downed trees and power lines. Our region was hit hard and grounds crews were working around the clock dealing with damage. The project appropriately took a back seat and we got some lime down but fertilizing and overseeding we had hoped to complete in the fall got moved to the following spring.

Anything else you want to add?

I'd like professionals reading to know that at the heart of these grant projects was education. We taught professionals about organic land care best practices to reduce stormwater runoff. We also educated the homeowner as a consumer on what to look for in terms of safe and effective organic landscape products and services.

I respect landscapers and know firsthand what they're up against because I've been there. The profession isn’t just changing its evolving to include a greater emphasis on issues that many industries are having to look at deeper, too such as greater energy efficiency, environmental quality compliance and local sourcing. I'm here to help people work together and learn how to thrive in this evolution of our marketplace.