Central Park May Soon Be Free of Pesticides

Plans call for organic maintenance of parks in communities nationwide.

Friends relaxing together in Central Park
Relaxing in the grass at Central Park. Johner Images / Getty Images

Kids and pets will soon be able to play in the grass at some of the country’s largest parks without being exposed to pesticides.

Yogurt company Stonyfield Organic is continuing a major initiative to convert parks and playing fields nationwide into organic grounds. The recent effort includes Central Park in New York City, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and Grant Park in Chicago. The company is working with a coalition of organization to pass a bill to allow the transition to take place in New York City parks.

The goal is to transform these famous parks and many other local parks by the end of 2025 as part of the company’s StonyFIELDS (emphasis on “fields”) #PlayFree initiative to keep harmful pesticides out of parks and playing fields around the country. Grant Park will be the first of the major parks to begin the transition by the end of this month.

“At Stonyfield, we are obsessed with fields. Since 1983, we have prioritized providing green and organic pastures for our cows to roam and graze – always free from harmful pesticides,” Kristina Drociak, director of public relations for Stonyfield, tells Treehugger. “However, we realized that organically maintained playing fields and parks can have an even bigger impact on our families and pets.”

That’s why the company launched the nationwide initiative in 2018 to have parks, playgrounds, and playing fields managed organically.

"Whether you eat on them, get your food or ingredients from them, or play on them – we believe all fields (both farms and parks!) should be free from harmful chemicals," Drociak says. 

The Dangers of Pesticides

In a 2012 study of managers of 66 athletic playing fields, about 65% reported applying pesticides. The majority used herbicides. Managers of rural fields were more likely to apply pesticides than managers of urban and suburban fields.

An American Academy of Pediatrics statement on pesticides says: “Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems. Related animal toxicology studies provide supportive biological plausibility for these findings.”

The group supports integrated pest management to minimize or possibly replace the use of harmful chemical pesticides.

But it can be difficult to get governments and communities to make those changes.

“There are policy challenges in transitioning parks to organic grounds management,” Drociak says.

Stonyfield is working with a coalition of organizations, she says, to pass a bill that would ban all New York city agencies from applying toxic pesticides, including glyphosate, to any property owned or leased by the city, including parks and fields.

The most widely used herbicide in the U.S., glyphosate is the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), however, has consistently maintained that the pesticide is safe.

The bill, called Introduction 1524-2019, has the support of City Council members but is waiting for a vote.

Once the pill is passed, Stonyfield’s donation will help the coalition to work with the city to provide training and begin organic maintenance.

“Sometimes a city is hesitant to move to organic management because there is a learning curve, and it takes time to transition," Drociak says. "Sometimes, organic maintenance can be more costly at the start of a transition until the soil is brought back to its natural health."

She adds: “Eventually though, we’ve seen in many cases that by year two or three costs can actually decrease for a city. A great way to get over some of these challenges is to start with a pilot park which many of the cities we’ve worked with have done.” 

How to Transition a Local Park

Since the program’s launch, more than 35 parks have been converted to organic grounds management and Stonyfield has contributed more than $2 million to the initiative.

“The ultimate goal is to help keep families free from toxic persistent pesticides in outdoor spaces across the country," Drociak says. "We also want to empower everyone to make changes locally and at home to protect the health of children, their pets, and the environment."

The program allows people to visit an online “pesticide portal” where they can tag a local park for review. If chosen, community officials will be given tools to test for harmful pesticides and the resources to transition to organic grounds management.

“In the end, our real goal and dream is to inspire and ignite a movement — where all cities and families manage their parks and backyards organically and free from harmful pesticides," says Drociak.

View Article Sources
  1. Drociak, Kristina. "A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the use of pesticides by City agencies." The New York City Council.

  2. Gilden, Robyn, et al. "Potential Health Effects Related To Pesticide Use On Athletic Fields." Public Health Nursing, vol. 29, no. 3, 2012, pp. 198-207, doi:10.1111/j.1525-1446.2012.01016.x

  3. "Pesticide Exposure in Children." vol 130, no. 6, 2012, pp. e1757-e1763, doi:10.1542/peds.2012-2757

  4. "IARC Monograph on Glyphosate." World Health Organization.

  5. "EPA Finalizes Glyphosate Mitigation." EPA, 2020.