The Environmental Turfgrass Outreach Project

By Dr. Eric Lyons, Guelph Turfgrass Institute

The goal of the Environmental Turfgrass Outreach Project was to address the negative perception of turfgrass in society and promote careers in turfgrass industry.

Dr. Eric Lyons of Guelph Turfgrass Institute comparing differences in natural and synthetic turf surfaces.

The ETOP is the beginning of a long-term outreach initiative that aims to be self-sustaining through support of industry partners, school programs, and University outreach. The first year of these activities was a tremendous success. The original project was created as a two-year project that in turn was funded for one year. Significant movement was made toward all objectives. In the absence of administrative stability around the first green program we engaged in a number of high school outreach programs. Beyond the activities listed under the specific objectives the ETOP project was crucial in showing industry support for outreach activities. It also allowed the pursuit of relationships that will further the relationship between university researchers, educators and the general public.

Activities are described under each objective of the project. If an article outlining the activities is desired we can create one for a trade publications with the appropriate word count and visual aids. If any further clarification is necessary for the board please contact Dr. Eric Lyons and he will do his best to provide the information and meet with the board at their request.

Dr. Eric Lyons discussing a turf research project at the GTI's USGA green plot.

Objective 1: Public field day 

Public Field Day was hosted at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute in conjunction with the GTI trial garden on August 17th and 18th 2018. The day included the City of Guelph Healthy Landscapes, Master Gardeners, pollinator education and turfgrass outreach. The turfgrass outreach portion will be expanded in future years.

In addition, garden writers and Landscape Ontario were hosted on August 16th where over 70 Landscape Ontario members and very vocal garden writers toured the plots and learned about turfgrass research. Feedback from the group about the importance of turfgrasses in their gardens and landscapes was very positive.

The days were well attended and were promoted through print, web and radio resources.

Another Landscape field day followed by public field day are scheduled for August 15-17 2019. Improvements will include turf specific activities and reaching out specifically to cater to families. Finally local press will be informed further in advance to cover all aspects of the day rather than just focusing on the city initiatives.

GTI's Cam Shaw teaches students about soil, thatch and turf management.

Objective 2: The First Green program

The goal of the First Green Program is to promote turfgrass and careers in the green industry to young people and educate society about the importance of turf. The relationship with the OGSA and GCSAA was fostered by GTI Communications Coordinator and we are hopeful that in 2019 or early 2020 we would be able to formally be offering the program in Canada in conjunction with the OGSA and GCSAA and other groups.

The importance of outreach to young people about the green industry and turfgrass management as a career is also a mandate of the GTI and of the ETOP. To satisfy the mandate the GTI Communication Coordinator proactively engaged in high school outreach. 

STEM Workshops for High School Outreach:

Interaction with high school students (50-60) and teachers (4) to introduce careers and education in turf through creative workshops and lessons plans. Materials included a short presentation on soils and drainage principles with a discussion about environmental benefits of turf. A hands on workshop about infiltration and drainage of various soils including a demonstration drainage technology and infrastructure  such as weeping tile and drainage design and install.

Hands on Horticulture - Student Outreach Program:

High School students (50+) and teachers (5) with green industry interests were brought to the Guelph Turfgrass Institute to learn about turfgrass identification, pathology, and weeds.  Event was held to engage students in careers and educational pathways.  Inspirational talks were also given to students from industry professionals (Rob Heggie from BMO Field) in order to help them understand pathways and potential opportunities in the industry.  Students were also exposed to horticultural principles and cultivar ID at the GTI trial gardens with our Master Gardener. Workshops on measuring green speeds with a stimpmeter, weed ID, and sprinkler head servicing/wiring helped students gain hands on learning and exposure to real world scenarios that turf managers employ. Environmental benefits of turfgrass poster was distributed for take home materials.

Guidance Counselor and Teacher Education: Opportunities and Careers in Turf

-Meeting with 5-6 high school guidance counselors to discuss career paths, education and professional opportunities that exist in the turfgrass industry. The 1.5 hour meeting helped to introduce and exposed key influencers within the high school system to learn more about the turfgrass industry and how it may be of interest to some of the students in their communities. This meeting led to an additional gathering on the University of Guelph campus with 30+ teachers from the local area where liaison officers and the GTI Communications and Outreach Coordinator were able to highlight careers in agriculture, with specific focus on turf.  This was a fruitful engagement that continued to expose key influencers to the opportunities the turfgrass industry holds for young people.

College Royal:

College Royal is the largest student-run open house in North America. The grant funded supplies for the University of Guelph Turfgrass Club that hosted a booth within the Department of Plant Agriculture. The students were provided with the Benefits of Turfgrass Poster and handouts for parents while they entertained kids with a putting contest and turfgrass ID/Biodiversity.

Objective 3 Methodology: Regular popular press article submissions

This initiative has proven one of the most difficult as we are creating relationships and trust while trying to achieve regular input on content of golf magazines.

Reached out to Score Golf to explore an opportunity to submit a regular turf related article.  This opportunity would reach a large audience of golfers, homeowners, and public stakeholders.  Articles would cover general interest questions about maintenance and cultural practices on golf courses as well as highlighting land stewardship, environmental initiatives and best management practices for the golf superintendent profession.  This article could be done in conjunction with CGSA and/or OGSA as well as other industry partners such as research funding charities. At this time, we have not received a formal denial but there has been a lack of positive response. 

Wal-Mart interview coordination for article

A best practices pamphlet on recommendations for lawn maintenance in fall.  Interviews U of G turf faculty and short questionnaire was returned outlining various tricks, tips and highlighting the environmental and visual benefits of a healthy lawn to the retailer to promote better management to the homeowners.

CTV - News highlight - weeds on home lawns

GTI communications responded to and coordinated a local news network to come to the GTI and interview Dr. Eric Lyons on methods for reducing weed incidence in home lawns. The short segment aired on the evening news reaching a wide regional viewer audience throughout southwest Ontario.

Objective 4: Editing and material support for industry partner publications

The relationship with local partners has improved immensely with the activities of the ETOP project. The GTI Communications Coordinator who is funded in part through the project was engaged in writing and submitting articles (7) for publication to the OGSA, Sports Turf Canada, ORFA and CGSA. Moving forward support to regional associations to provide them with content and editorial support needs to be expanded. Associations in Atlantic Canada and in the west need to be informed by us more effectively and encouraged to utilize the resources.

There has also been an expansion of the social media presence particularly on turf research being performed at the GTI. The hope is to foster interest and requests for further information about projects that will help regional organizations create content for their publications and web sites that serves memberships and benefits the turfgrass industry.

The work with the local organizations has prompted local green industry businesses to utilize the expertise sustained by ETOP to edit outreach materials this spring leading to cost recovery and ongoing sustainability in outreach.

Cam Shaw and Stephen Fleishchauer, former GTI Director, promoting natural turfgrass at Canada Blooms in Toronto.

Objective 5: Develop communication materials for public and institutional stakeholders

Due to organizational difficulties a green industry advisory council was not developed for the purpose of determining the needs of the turfgrass industry. Instead the GTI communications coordinator attended a number of industry and general public events throughout the year beyond the typical industry tradeshows including Landscape Ontario Congress and Canada Blooms. The booths allowed the GTI to promote the benefits of turf to both landscape professionals and the general public as both shows are attended by both groups of people. The shows also proved to be important to raise awareness of the GTI and initiatives like the ETOP aimed at supporting the turfgrass industry.

In addition to these activities a partnership was formed with the Grass Roots Initiative at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. The stock files for turfgrass promotion used in the Grass Roots display were given to the GTI and the project to create our own initiatives. In addition, the exchange of ideas regarding the importance of turfgrass and how to relate that importance to the general public was fruitful and is ongoing depending on funding of future initiatives.

The project also provided money for meetings to explore educational opportunities to educate volunteers who maintain municipal facilities such as lawn bowls. The initial meetings resulted in a series of seminars reaching engaged end-users who volunteer by taking care of the turfgrass sports surface. The development and offering of the seminars are currently being funded by the Ontario Lawn Bowling Association on a cost recovery model. The initiative of ETOP allowed the initial seminar to be offered as a core goal to reach out not just to the industry but end users and the general public. We hope this may serve as a model for other sports groups to become more interested and involved in the maintenance of turfgrass for sport.

Objective 6: Field Study Expansion

School yard and turfgrass areas for students at school boards was mapped for every school in the Upper Grand School District by hand using google maps using labor that was subsidized by the Experience Guelph program. 

The data is still too preliminary to write any reports as certain data on school size has been difficult to garner although we now have data on average turfgrass yard size per student across an entire region of Ontario. We are beginning to contact partners in Geography in order to create correlations. Some preliminary data shows that Rural schools have greater turfgrass play areas for public schools (JK-8) (Figure 1) although this does not hold true for high schools where suburban schools have more turfgrass area than downtown schools (Figure 2). Our research showed that most schools have 50 square meters of turfgrass per registered student.