You may have seen a healthy yard project or program sprouting up in a neighboring community and been inspired to take action in your own town. Or perhaps you care for your yard using natural yard care techniques and wish your neighbors would do the same.
How do you make a change beyond your personal property? It may seem too difficult or you have no idea where to begin. I’m here to tell you that you can do it, even on a shoestring budget.
As chair of Rye Sustainability Committee, I and my fellow volunteer committee members created a Rye Healthy Yard Program (RHYP), which “promotes awareness about the health and environmental benefits of using natural landscaping practices.”
RHYP has been a success in our community and continues to grow. Over the years, I’ve been asked to help other groups and communities start their own programs. It got me thinking: Why not share what I’ve learned with everyone?
So whether you’re planning a healthy yard project for your neighborhood or envisioning a community-wide transformation, these lessons should get you on your way. And, as always, I’m here for any further questions you may have.
Table of Contents
- Healthy Yard Project Priority: Organization
- What’s the Message? What’s the Goal?
- Who’s Your Audience?
- Spread the Message in Different Ways
- Power of Partnerships
- Plant More Healthy Yard Projects!
Healthy Yard Project Priority: Organization
Organizing the Team
Size. As always, designate a leader who’ll oversee your program. The team doesn’t have to be large, but it should include one or two who have a background in natural landscaping.
Structure. Rye’s healthy yard project was formed within another group, Rye Sustainability Committee. It’s helpful to build off of the infrastructure of an existing organization, but certainly not essential. A few eager neighbors or residents are enough to form a group.
We put together a small, core committee of RSC members with a RHYP committee chair. When necessary, we call upon willing residents to help with specific events and tasks.
Partners? RSC also has a RHYP partner, the Rye Nature Center. Consider partnering with or adding a representative of a local environmental/conservation group to your team. I write more about the importance of partnerships, below.
I’ve been teased by family and friends for being compulsively organized. My response: What could be more gratifying than categorizing tasks, creating spreadsheets, and checking off items on to-do lists?
Seriously, though, staying organized is critical. Keep notes, split up the tasks, and assign roles to committee members. File away those to-do lists and notes from various events so you can easily replicate an event in the future. Become intimately acquainted with Google Docs so you can easily share information.
When members step down, instead of scrambling to reinvent the wheel, you’ll have the paperwork to pass along to the next volunteer.
What’s the Message? What’s the Goal?
What’s a Message that Resonates?
RHYP’s message is to promote awareness about the health and environmental benefits of using natural landscaping practices. It aims to show that, unlike a yard treated with synthetic chemicals, a healthy yard is both beautiful and safe for all.
I bet the message for your healthy yard project will be similar, but whatever it is, it should embody these principles:
- Make it personal. For a message to stick so that people change their behavior, it needs to get personal. Show why people should care about making the switch and how the change will ultimately be better for them and their family. Show how it’s the right thing to do for one’s family but also for the neighborhood and community.
- Make it positive. This is essential. Educate people about the health risks associated with synthetic chemicals, but avoid lengthy lectures on the terrible things that’ll happen if someone doesn’t make a change. Resist the temptation to chastise or judge. Instead, focus more on offering achievable solutions. Offer resources for further reading and let people decide how much they want to dive in.
- Make it local. There’s a reason why we have the word “Rye” in our healthy yard project. It connects residents, businesses, and organizations to the cause.
- Make it simple. RHYP’s message is really simple: Make the switch by taking a RHYP pledge and you can be part of a community that’s committed to a healthy Rye.
What’s the Goal?
RHYP’s goal is to encourage as many residents, businesses, and organizations to make the switch to natural yard care. Our measurement tool is a Healthy Yard Pledge. It’s easy to complete and we deliver a free Healthy Yard sign to the respondent.
Who’s Your Audience?
Who are you trying to convince to make a change? The most obvious group is residents. But you can (and RHYP has) target other groups, listed below.
Encourage these groups to take your pledge or make a commitment to your cause. Acknowledge and celebrate that commitment as a way to enlist others to join in.
- Organic lawn care professionals
- Civic, faith-based, and community organizations
- Business community
- Local government
Spread the Message in Different Ways
There are so many ways to spread your message and encourage people to join you in making the switch. Ideally, you’ll get the message out in a lot of different ways and via different platforms.
Healthy Yard Sign Design Contest
This deserves its own post as it was pretty involved. For now, I’ll give a brief overview of the one we organized with tips for you. Although it took time, it was an extremely effective way to spread the message and had so many levels of engagement.
What is it? We knew we wanted a healthy yard sign, but we needed a design. The solution: Put it out to the community to come up with a design and have representatives from the community judge the entries.
Plan Ahead. Start planning early and have a dedicated design contest committee.
Participants. Decide who can participate. Ours was open to all ages with multiple age category winners.
Enlisting Partners provides your group with support and buy-in from these groups. Some ideas:
- Venue partner. I asked our local arts center, Rye Arts, to provide us with space to exhibit all the design entries. They generously offered a large room and the opportunity to have a location to hold a reception to announce winners and exhibit entries.
- Local Schools and youth groups. We worked with teachers and girl/boy scout troop leaders so that they’d make an activity out of creating a design while teaching the benefits of healthy yards.
- Community leaders were judges and the mayor announced the winners.
- Business Community. A local restaurant donated refreshments and a few businesses donated prizes.
Promotion. Document every step of the process. I posted all entries in a photo gallery on our website.
Healthy Yard Signs
Once the signs were created, we had a perfect vehicle to promote our message. A few tips here:
Make them free for residents, if possible. Rye Sustainability was fortunate to benefit from the generosity of the Rye Nature Center, which underwrote all design and production costs. Approach one of your local organizations and supportive citizens to see if they’ll help defray costs. It also ties that organization and group to your cause.
Document the signs in their new home. Use the photos to encourage others to make the pledge.
If you’re on a budget, promoting your healthy yard project via social media channels is an economical solution. I regularly post news and photos on the Rye Sustainability Facebook and Instagram pages and send out a periodic newsletter.
Healthy Yard Project Photo Gallery
This is a really easy one: Ask healthy yard participants to send photos of their yards to include in a photo gallery. They can send any shot of their naturally landscaped yard or the product of that yard (for example – cut flowers, vegetables). Photos with pets and children are very popular.
It’s a simple and free, yet immensely powerful way to convey the message that a healthy yard is both beautiful and safe for all. And if your neighbor can have a beautiful, healthy yard, you can too.
I prefer photo submissions that aren’t staged or taken by a professional. They’re more authentic and it’s wonderful to see the variety of styles.
Take a look at Rye Sustainability’s gallery for ideas and inspiration.
Neighborhood Coffees. A great way to spread the message in a small setting where everyone knows each other. Here’s the way it works:
- Morning coffee event lasting no more than 1 ½ hours.
- Hosted in a home with a healthy yard.
- By invitation only to neighbors and friends.
- A brief presentation by an expert in healthy yards, followed by Q&A.
- Encourage people to make the pledge or at least learn more about natural landscaping.
Workshops and Presentations. We’ve had many over the years and they’re always free to the public. Some topic ideas from our past presentations:
- How to talk to your landscaper about making the switch to natural lawn care
- Starting a pollinator garden
- Healthy yards, healthy pets
- What’s in and under your soil?
- Leaf mulching
Be a go-to source for questions about natural landscaping. I set up a healthy yard program page on the RSC website that includes resources, FAQs, gardening tips, and a local organic landscapers’ directory. We’re also available to answer individual questions.
Power of Partnerships
As I’ve mentioned, Rye Healthy Yards Program is a partnership between Rye Nature Center and Rye Sustainability. This partnership is vital to the ongoing success of our healthy yard project.
In addition to a primary partner, consider other ways you can partner with local and area organizations, groups, and businesses. A few ideas based on our partnerships:
- Garden clubs
- Historical societies
- Lawn care professionals and designers
- Chamber of commerce
- Faith-based organizations
- Neighboring environmental organizations
- Local businesses
- Your local government
Plant More Healthy Yard Projects!
Share Your Experiences
Don’t stop with your neighborhood. Share your positive message of what’s possible with other groups, organizations, and communities.
Talk to your local elected officials and encourage them to adopt natural landscaping practices on your town’s public lands.
The only way to make meaningful change is to share what you know with others. With any luck, they’ll start their own program in their community and healthy yard programs will spread and grow.
Keep it Local
I firmly believe in local programs, lead by locals for locals. That’s not to say your healthy yard project can’t be under the umbrella of a regional or national organization, but your chapter should be run by people from your town or neighborhood. It lends the program a level of authenticity as one that’s created by residents for your community.