Doing the right thing for the health of the planet and its human inhabitants really shouldn’t be a tough sell. But when it comes to America’s infatuation with expansive turf lawns, environmental and health concerns often come in last.
The owner of NitrogenX, a new organic lawn care company in Riverhead, is determined to change hearts and minds on the subjects of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weed control.
Lifelong Calverton resident Jason Perez, a 2000 Riverhead High School graduate who started his own landscaping company while still a college student in 2002, has turned his focus to convincing property owners that organic lawn care can give them the lush green lawn they crave — and it will even produce a healthier, more resilient turf that requires less maintenance and a fraction of the watering, too.
“Everybody has made the switch to organic in the refrigerator,” Perez said. “But as far as going organic outside, the response has been lukewarm and that’s very unfortunate. We need to do a better job of educating the public of the potential risks.”
Perez, 36 and the father of three young children, takes the matter personally. “Our message is preserving the environment for the next generation,” he said.
Nitrogen pollution is a top concern, he says.
“Synthetic nitrogen is water soluble, so it gives you a quick green. The fertilizer pellet breaks down so fast the grass blades take it up instantaneously,” Perez said. “But it also runs off into the street and ultimately into our groundwater and our waterways.”
Synthetic nitrogen does nothing to feed the roots of the plants or improve the soil, which is used simply as a medium for growing grass, he said.
“It’s completely dead — there are no worms in it, no micro-organisms. That’s why our lawns are so susceptible to drought and disease. There is no root system,” Perez said.
“True organic nitrogen works completely different. It’s not water soluble. You apply the nutrients in the organic fertilizer to feed the soil and, believe it or not, the grass will eat from the soil.” The result is healthier soil and healthier grass. Organic lawns have roots that run 12 to 18 inches long, he said — not the inch or two on the typical synthetically fed lawn. As a result, an organic lawn is much more resilient and requires infrequent watering — even during the hottest summers — to stay green and healthy.
The other concern all people should share is the effects of toxic pesticides and herbicides.
“Nobody takes time to read the data sheets,” Perez laments. “There’s 118 pesticides in the groundwater of Long Island. Many of them are found in lawn care products and a lot of them are carcinogenic.”
The herbicides found in weed control products aren’t any better.
“People will say, I’ve invested countless dollars in my golf course lawn and I dont want to see a dandelion. So we’re polluting everything for a few dandelions or clover plants,” Perez said.
He points to the motto of the Perfect Earth Project: “Changing minds, changing landscapes.”
NitrogenX, founded in late 2016, has a full season under its belt now, Perez said. “That’s what we need to do now,” he said. “Educate people, change minds.”
It’s an uphill battle, Perez allows. “It’s going to take some time to change minds.”
But he’s optimistic about the future of his new business. People are slowly becoming more tuned in to the seriousness of nitrogen pollution and the risks posed by chemical pesticides, he said. An all-natural tick control treatment — a combination of cedar oil and peppermint oil — is completely effective and demand for it is growing, Perez said.
“We’re excited about the business going forward.”
Town officials held a ceremonial ribbon cutting outside the company’s new office space on East Main Street Thursday. Perez’s wife Alessandra and their three children were on hand.
“This is really all about them, their health, the next generation and the future of our planet,” he said.
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