Lawn conversion initiative looks to support pollinators, improve soil health

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-29-2023 5:37 PM

Thanks to a state grant, the Franklin Conservation District is partnering with three towns to support pollinators, improve soil health and beautify the region by converting mowed spaces into native plant gardens and meadows.

For its first year working with funding from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the Franklin Conservation District has partnered with Charlemont, Deerfield and Leyden to pilot the Yard-by-Yard lawn conversion program. District Administrative Coordinator Meghan Siudzinski said organizers plan to partner with more towns next spring and will apply for another grant to keep the program going in the years to come.

In Charlemont, Hawlemont Regional School will install a 1,400-square-foot native garden on its grounds this fall; Deerfield will create a native plant meadow off of Upper Road and on the town-owned section of Bloody Brook; and Leyden will convert lawn space outside the Town Offices, as well as expand the existing pollinator garden at Robertson Memorial Library.

To kick off the initiative in Deerfield, residents are invited to stop by Town Hall, 8 Conway St., on Saturday, April 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. to get free materials for their own home projects. Owen Wormser, of Leverett-based Abound Design, will be speaking about healthy soil and sustainable landscapes.

“The idea is to make this a fun and informative event and get people excited to make a difference,” said Deerfield Selectboard member and Conservation District Chair Carolyn Shores Ness.

Native plants, Siudzinski explained, have deep root systems that allow the soil to better capture water, which is especially helpful in communities like Deerfield, where the water table has significantly risen in the last few decades. Pollinators benefit from these plants as well because not only do they provide food, but native plants can also provide shelter for laying eggs.

“The water table is at the highest it’s ever been in Deerfield and whenever there’s a major weather event, there’s really nowhere for that water to go,” Siudzinski said. “Native plants help create these channels for their root structure so water can get in there and the soil can act like a sponge.”

Shores Ness said Yard-by-Yard plays into the town’s Deerfield 2030 plan, which is focused on increasing the community’s climate resiliency through healthy soils and carbon sequestration. She added that Deerfield is a pioneer in soil health initiatives, as it is the first in the state with a Healthy Soils plan, which won a planning award in December 2022.

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“It’s like recycling — you just need people to be conscious of their yards and, cumulatively, if everyone does this stuff … it’s really going to matter,” Shores Ness explained. “We’re trying to get people perked up about it and introduce it.”

Residents of the three towns are eligible to contact the Franklin Conservation District to apply for a design consultation of their yard and a starter set of native plants so they can undertake their own lawn conversions. If you’re not a resident of those towns, you can email the district at franklinmaconservationdistrict@gmail.com to help guide the district in creating a partnership with your town.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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