|Out and About with AOLCPs - Cathy Bilow
Creating "Kid Conscious Lawns" in Illinois
By Kathy Litchfield - Cathy Bilow is interested in making the world a better place to live, which is why she chose a career in landscaping over 30 years ago.
"The organic land care takes creating beautiful outdoor spaces to the next level," said the new NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP). Bilow braved major blizzards and airport delays to attend the 5-day course in Newburyport, MA last January. Traveling from her hometown of Roanoke, Ill. to Massachusetts was worth the effort, she said. "I truly enjoyed attending the OLC class and meeting some great people. I know that I will reap many rewards from it. I learned a lot and it strengthened my commitment to practicing and teaching sustainable land care," said Bilow.
For 16 years, Bilow has worked for Grieder Sod and Landscaping in Bloomington, where she is a landscape designer/project manager and manager of the landscape maintenance division. The company has been in business since 1970, began as a sod farm and grew to a full service design build, garden center and maintenance company, with 50 employees in peak season.
"I have been working in the landscaping industry for over 30 years and have tried to quit several times only to return to what I truly love. It's a love hate relationship. It is so hectic and stressful at times, and some clients have unrealistic expectations, she said. "But mostly love, when I can concentrate on and communicate the 'good' things we can and do provide for our clients and the community."
In 2003 she co-founded Kid Conscious Lawn Care with her husband, Ken, also a horticulturist, and Dennis Grieder.
"We began rebuilding soils one lawn at a time, and are now servicing over 300 customers (about 70 acres) in Central Illinois using Kid Conscious Lawn Care," she said. "We market our company as safer for kids and pets today while improving and protecting our soils for future generations."
This season marks the first year they are applying beneficial nematodes to their lawns for grub control.
Long before the "trendy green" movement began, Bilow was investigating how to improve soil problems without stripping all the grass, digging out the soil and adding new black dirt. "We discovered working with liquid compost teas and extracts to improve the soil biology, rebuild organic matter and cycle nutrients (worked)," she said.
Since becoming accredited, Bilow has been trying to incorporate rain barrels and composters into every landscape design and landscape plan. "When anyone has a drainage problem I try to talk them into a rain garden instead of drain tiles," she said. "We use organic based fertilizers and bio-stimulants in our entire lawn care program. I also have been training my employees in OLC using some of the training material I received (at the NOFA 5-day course)."
Bilow teaches sustainable lawn and landscapes at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill. This spring, she taught a class at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Ill. And another at the Morton Arboretum. She has also given talks at the Master Gardeners' Home, Lawn & Garden Days and through the Illinois Green Industry Association educational program.
Bilow has four children and one grandson, loves to travel when time and money allow and runs a seven-acre farm that they are developing into an ecological recreation area, called FunnE Farm. They have planted five acres of prairie, set up a bee hive, planted some fruit and nut trees and are working on a mini golf course in the meadow, she said.
For more info, contact Cathy at email@example.com.
Organic Lawns and Landscapes Refresher Course
Friday, August 12, 8am-Noon
UMass Amherst Campus Center 904-908, Amherst
With Chip Osborne
Friday, August 19, 9am-1pm
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newburyport
With Javier Gil
How do I interpret, and then do, what a soil test recommends? What do I do with a grub-infested lawn? Where do I get organic products and how do I use them? What is the systems approach to organic landscaping and how do I start doing it?
Answers to these questions and many more will be discussed in depth by Chip Osborne and Javier Gil, during the NOFA/Mass "Organic Lawns & Landscapes Refresher" workshop, happening Friday, August 12 from 8am to Noon at UMass Amherst, Campus Center Room 904-908; and again Friday, August 19 from 9am to 1pm at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport.
Practical skills and problem solving will be the focus of these four-hour intensive workshops. Beginning with an overview of the systems approach to organic landscaping; soil testing; soil amendments; managing nutrition; grass types; and compost tea, Osborne and Gil will then delve into practical solutions for real-life landscape problems. Case study examples will be explored in depth within small groups, with the goal of boosting students' hands-on knowledge of organic lawns and landscaping and how to transition to organic management with success, cost-efficiency and grace.
Re-accreditation credits available. Workshop cost: $100 general public; $75 NOFA members and AOLCPs. To register visit www.nofamass.org or contact coordinator Kathy Litchfield at (413) 773-3830 or Kathy@nofamass.org.
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