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Intuitive, Organic "Earth Care" for Block Island's Delicate Ecosytems
Ned Phillips works for an island-wide ban on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers
By Kathy Litchfield
BLOCK ISLAND, RI - With his trained photographic eye, Ned Phillips has watched his beloved island habitat disappear over the last three decades. Along with large land development came land degradation, stormwater runoff, erosion, poor landscape maintenance practices and acres upon acres of lawns.
"Unlicensed pesticide applicators and unenlightened land care companies began maintaining properties with no idea of the damage they were doing," he lamented. "Our small island is a self-contained, isolated habitat dependent on a sole source aquifer for its water, surrounded by a pristine, crystal clean ocean, with the great salt pond filled with clams, oysters, scallops, lobsters and fish. Synthetic weed killers and fertilizers applied on the land can ultimately run off into the sea and affect fresh water ponds."
Phillips worries about the health of children on the island - his twin sons are eight years old - and about the health hazards of synthetic pesticides and herbicides on the seven-mile by 21-mile island's precious land, water and air.
"With organic land care (OLC), I see a way of maintaining and preserving, in a responsible, non-degrading way, a special, finite, very visible ecosystem," said the three-year NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (RI course, 2009).
For 17 years, Phillips worked as a freelance photographer in New York City, where he helped run a flower shop and took classes at the New York Botanical Garden. He also holds a bachelor of arts degree in zoology from George Washington University.
Phillips moved to Block Island in 1985 and started his business as a landscape design build firm. He also opened a garden shop called the Glass Onion and continued his education with Rhode Island certifications in arboriculture, pesticide application, horticulture, forest and coastal invasive plant management and organic land care.
In 1997 he graduated with a master's degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Over time, his company evolved into an overall landscape design and maintenance firm.
"My company has grown over the years in its size and scope of maintenance and new projects. My clients are more sophisticated," he said, "and appreciate our commitment to sustainable land care."
"The pressures to maintain properties are growing and sometimes in the wrong direction. Our firm enjoys the challenge of educating our clients to balance their landscape needs with the safe, sustainable landscape practices we offer."
Today, Phillips is chairman of the Block Island Conservation Commission. One afternoon two years ago, he noticed 80, 50-lb. bags of 2-4-D enhanced fertilizer at the dock with the town's recreation department name on them. He did some quick research and discovered the bags were destined for the new Heinz athletic field where students play soccer and baseball.
"Working with the Block Island Land Trust and Scenic Block Island, the Conservation Commission hired Chip Osborne, who gave a presentation to the town council and we got the town manager to halt the spreading of the 2-4-D pesticide enhanced fertilizer on the field. A big fire storm erupted in the town council, but along with the town first selectman Kim Gaffett, we were able to win a majority vote (3-2) banning pesticides and synthetic fertilizers on town properties and town playing fields," he said.
He said the Conservation Commission, the Block Island Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy on Block Island, the Ocean View Foundation and the Committee for the Great Salt Pond (full of oysters, mussels, flounder, lobsters and other fish) were each instrumental in the Town Council's passing the no-pesticide law on town property including school yards, parks, recreational fields and town highways. Of the 500 miles of stone walls on Block Island, those maintained by the town road crew are no longer treated with Roundup or other synthetic herbicides, he said.
While a definite victory, Phillips still envisions an overall island-wide ban on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
Approximately 43 percent of the island is protected open space, owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Block Island Land Trust and the Block Island Conservancy. Of them, Phillips said, only Fish and Wildlife allows the use of pesticides, and usually as a cut stump application.
"My goal is to protect and increase the natural appeal of the Block Island habitat. My landscape designs strive for restoration of wildlife habitats, using native plants and low maintenance using organic land care," he said. "I also believe in the romance of the traditional pleasure garden and take great cares to design beautiful aesthetic gardens, filled with fragrance and life, using only organic garden practices."
Phillips previously served on the Block Island Library board of directors and on the Block Island Historical Society. He collects rare Block Island maps, loves pitching baseballs to his sons, plays the five-string banjo, as well as blues guitar and bass.
"The most rewarding thing to me about OLC is knowing that we are not (focusing) on 'what if' and 'maybe' regarding the health hazards of synthetic pesticides and herbicides and unsustainable land care practices, but practicing correct and intuitive right earth care using OLC," he said.
For more information, contact Phillips here.