Eight benefits of natural grass: From Lawn & Landscape Magazine

From Lawn & Landscape Magazine on April 8, 2016:     Eight benefits of natural grass

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After celebrating Earth Day just a few days ago, we return to the subject of environmental protection and improvement by looking at the benefits of natural grass.  

By: Jerad R Minnick

Turfgrass can be found on lawns, athletic fields, golf courses, parks, roadsides and many other natural and recreational areas. It accounts for over 50 million acres of maintained, irrigated natural grass in the U.S. alone. Ongoing research continues to uncover previously unidentified environmental, economic, health and safety benefits of natural turfgrass.

Below are eight benefits of natural grass:

1. Air quality
Turfgrass is a living organism. Each plant takes in carbon dioxide and converts it into simple sugars to use as food through the process of photosynthesis. As a byproduct of photosynthesis, oxygen is released into the atmosphere.
A turfgrass area measuring 2,500 square feet produces enough oxygen for a family of four to breathe. An average sized healthy lawn can capture as much as 300 pounds of carbon per year and a golf course fairway can capture 1,500 pounds per year. One soccer field can offset the carbon produced by a car driving 3,000 miles.

Because of this, Dr. Thomas Watschke of Penn State University states in “The Environmental Benefits of Turfgrass and Their Impact on the Greenhouse Effect” that “the strategic use of turfgrass is the most sensible and economically feasible approach to countering the greenhouse effect in urban areas.”

In addition to reducing carbon dioxide, turfgrass traps an estimated 12 million tons of dust and dirt released annually into the atmosphere.

2. Pollution filter
In 2013, an EPA Chesapeake Bay Program panel of experts concluded, based upon a review of extensive research, that a “dense vegetative cover of turfgrass” reduces pollution and runoff. More precisely, the average soccer field can absorb 50,000 gallons of water before runoff occurs. The fibrous root system stabilizes soil to reduce erosion and prevents the movement of sediment into creeks and rivers.

Additionally, studies have found the noise absorptive capacity of turfgrass is a significant part of how landscapes are effective in reducing noise pollution.

3. Stormwater management
Landscaped areas reduce pollutants from leaching through the soil into the water supply or from entering surface water runoff. Turfgrasses filter stormwater excess and reduce sediment and pollutants from entering water bodies. Turfgrass plants also redirect the flow of water, slowing it and allowing more water to be absorbed by the soil, which aids in preventing soil erosion and flooding.

Did you know a healthy, sodded lawn absorbs rainfall six times more effectively than a wheat field and four times better than a hay field?

4. Heat
Environmental heating is reduced by turfgrass. On a hot summer day, a well maintained turfgrass area will be at least 30 degrees cooler than asphalt and 14 degrees cooler than bare soil.

The overall environmental cooling effect of turfgrass can be understood by comparing it to air conditioning. The average home has an air conditioner with a three or four ton capacity. The California Energy Commission has found the cooling effect of an average size lawn is equal to about nine tons of air conditioning. A single high school baseball field provides up to 70 tons of air conditioning. This cooling effect is beneficial for athletes and for reducing electrical needs for buildings and homes.

5. Wellness and stress
Green spaces have been shown to improve wellness and reduce stress. There is growing evidence that horticulture and natural grass found on sports fields and lawns is important on a human level. Plants lower blood pressure, reduce muscle tension related to stress, improve attention and reduce feelings of fear and anger or aggression.

In 2002, The University of California – Riverside conducted research to support that hospital stays are positively affected by turfgrass and green spaces. Patients in hospital rooms with a view of nature and lawns recover more quickly than similar patients in rooms with a view of building walls.

Similarly, people who live and work in an environment with a view of lawns and nature compared to an urban view, were found to recover from stress more quickly. Employees with a view of landscaped areas experience less job pressure, greater job satisfaction and fewer headaches than those who do not have a view or can only see manmade objects. Green spaces are also proven to increase work productivity.

Also related to wellness and stress, two surveys on Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder have shown that children active in green spaces, such as lawn areas, experience less severe symptoms. Another study published in “Environment and Behavior” indicated green spaces can enable children to think more clearly and cope more effectively with life’s stress.

6. Therapeutic
The care of turfgrass and plants can have a positive, therapeutic effect and is included in many rehabilitation programs. These programs have been successfully used to treat certain illnesses, aid in the recovery of disabled people and help the elderly stay mobile. Programs have even been successfully implemented in prison systems, allowing inmates to acquire new, marketable skills that they can use when they return to civilian life.

7. Community appeal
Turfgrass and green spaces increase community appeal and improve property values. SmartMoney magazine indicates that consumers value a landscaped home up to 11.3 percent higher than its base price. Additionally, it says one of the most cost effective ways to boost a home’s curb appeal is by attractively landscaping the yard. Well-manicured plots of land are one of the most important factors individuals and families consider when deciding where to live.

Green spaces create close-knit communities, which increases safety. Residents in landscaped areas tend to know their neighbors better, socialize more often and have stronger feelings of community when compared to residents living in more barren areas. Communities with trees and green spaces have lower crime, decreased police calls for domestic violence and decreased incidences of child abuse.

8. Recreation and sport
Turfgrass is used extensively for recreation and sport as well as providing places where adults, kids and pets can spend time outside the home. About 80 million people in the U.S. over the age of seven play sports on turfgrasses. The majority of professional athletes prefer to play on natural grass surfaces.

Providing places for recreation and encouraging activity is especially important with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting over one third of U.S. adults and 17 percent of American children and adolescents as obese. Recreational activities also provide children and adults leisure time in a positive and safe environment.

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Welcome to the Future?!

As part of “ThinkDifferent”, I have repeatedly made the statement that “within 5 years, there WILL be a natural grass alternative to synthetic turf.”  That is a statement that the natural grass industry is closer to than any of us realize.  Through combining the best technologies and techniques with creative thinking… we are close!  No one has any idea what the future holds!

During a recent visit to France, I got a peek into what the future does hold for natural grass fields and us as Grass Field Managers.  For possibly the first time ever, two grass field agronomists (Mr. Chris Hague from Denmark and myself) spent several hours in a NeuroMusculoskeletal Biomechanics lab with some of France’s top research and medical specialists.  Country and western singer Brad Paisley’s 2009 hit “Welcome to the Future” played in my mind as we were exposed to research on the interaction between players and the field surface from a scientific, biomechanics perspective. Or maybe the more proper song would have been the introduction to the “Twilight Zone“, as we truly were introduced to an entirely new dimension in which grass fields soon will be moving.  Either song is fitting.  And the opportunity Chris and I had to be introduced to some exciting new ideas technology for natural grass fields was game changing.  Let’s take a quick look:

The group Natural Grass is responsible for the game changing ideas and research taking place in France.  Their concept revolves around the use of granulated cork in a sand root zone for a natural grass sports field.  The cork mixed in sand absorbs energy displaced into the sand from each step a player running takes.  The energy is being absorbed, lowering the injury potential.   The cork in the field gives, not the player’s ligaments or tendons.   What a great idea yeah?!?  Wow.

Granulated Cork Pieces

Granulated Cork Pieces

The agronomic benefit is similar.  With the energy absorption, the compaction potential in the sand root zone is lowered/ eliminated.  The result is an air-filled root zone in which strong, healthy grass roots can always exist.  Strong, healthy roots allow the grass can always continue to grow and recover.  And a grass sward that is always growing and recovering can take an increased amount of traffic without an increased amount of maintenance.

THE FUTURE!?!?

4" Width x 8" Profile Sample

4″ Width x 8″ Profile Sample

The research behind the cork concept is being done at the George Charpak Institute for NeuroMusculoskeletal Biomechanics.  The institute has 3 teams for research:

1) Musculoskeletal Modelling and Clinical Innovation: Oriented towards patient-specific biomechanical modelling of the musculoskeletal system, this research aims to improve the understanding of pathologies resulting from degenerative processes, traumatism or handicap, as well as develop computer aided diagnosis and therapeutic tools, or design implants and technical aids
2) Biomechanics and Nervous System: Motion Analysis and Restoration: This research is based in clinical site (CHU Henri Mondor Creteil). The aim is to better understand relationships existing between motion muscular actuators and their neurocontrol command.  Analyzing and modelling motion disorders that happen subsequently to a neurological handicap, leads to design and objective evaluation of rehabilitation protocols.  
3) Biomechanics: Sport, Health and Safety: This research, carried out in clinical site (CHU Avicenne-University Paris 13), copes with three issues: inter-relationships between sportive practice and musculoskeletal remodeling in order to optimize performance while reducing induced pathology; mechanisms of injury after impacts (road crashes, sports) to improve protection devices; tissues and structures characterization at various loading speeds

(*Information from the Institute information sheet provided us)

The Institute has completed 4 years of testing on different concepts for sports field and how they react to energy absorption and the human body.  The work is amazing.  And the results are eye-opening.  There truly is a relationship between the shock from players legs and the field surface.  Not only does the data expose the need for absorption in the soil, but also for we as grass field managers to embark on an aggressive surface testing program.

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Again….  THE FUTURE!?!?

Will it become common for grass field managers to be communicating with fitness experts and biomechanical experts?  I think YES!  Outside experts becoming involved in research and innovation for natural grass create entirely new possibilities for the limits of natural grass fields.  EXCITING!

Chris and I also had the opportunity to visit Aube Stadium in Troyes, France.  Aude is the first stadium to install the “AirFibr” system on their field (summer of 2013).  Thank you to Aube Head Grounds Manager Eric Robin for hosting us!

R to L: Chris Hague, Eric Robin, Jerad Minnick

R to L: Chris Hague, Eric Robin, Jerad Minnick

(As you look through the Natural Grass website, yes there are a few more components/ parts to the first Natural Grass product, “AirFibr”. The additional of synthetic microfibers helps with stability of a weakened root zone for winter time play, and silica sand helps with superior drainage in the French market.  And yes, some of the information Natural Grass has is commercial, as they believe in their product and want to sell it.  

But let us focusing on the concept of the cork and the energy absorption.  Let us see the creativity and importance of the Natural Grass relationship with some of France’s best researchers in the biomechanics field of study)

Here is another snap shot of the particular “Air Fibr” product: 

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Background on Organic Sand Amendments… and How Global Communication is Improving the Industry 
During a tour of the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) last fall (October 2013) with Mr. Simon Gumbrill of Campey Turf Care, STRI’s Dr. Christian Spring lead us past an abandoned trial on sports field root zone mixtures involving coconuts husks.  Seeing visible squares of live and dead grass, Simon’s inquisitive mind asked the question of what was happening.  The plots containing coconut had survived the uncommon summer heat of 2013 better than the plots without, even with the trial abandoned.  

That experience left me curious about the possibilities of organic soil amendments for sand to increase durability and decrease compaction potential without introducing something like peat.   Peat is great for golf.  Why do we always have to follow golf?  For sports peat is expensive and can lead to compaction potential.  

With those thoughts on my mind, later that week I was meeting with Premier Pitches Mr. Carl Pass and Mr. Russell Latham and discussing the topic of sand reinforcement and sustainability for high traffic fields. Carl and Russell had recently visited Paris, France to see a new reinforcement  product with cork called “Air Fibr”.  There and then the connection to France and the USA via England was made.  Now our United States marketplace has another idea for innovation and natural grass durability for the future.  Communication and sharing is changing our world…  Thank you to everyone involved in sharing, communicating, and idea exchange.  Together we are re-defining our FUTURE! 

 

Growing the Revolution!

IMG_3445From Growing Green Grass Founder Jerad Minnick:

2014 is off to an amazing start!  The STMA Conference in San Antonio was one of the most exhilarating events I have ever had the privilege to attend.  New ideas are everywhere.  People are excited about new possibilities.

The Grass Field Revolution is Alive!

With the Revolution growing, I am making a professional change to dedicate more to the possibilities of natural grass fields.  Starting March 10, I am moving into the role of President at Growing Innovations full-time.  Growing Innovations (www.GrowingInnovations.Net) is an education and support firm founded for one mission:  Establishing that Grass Fields CAN Take More!

Additionally, I am heading the Grass Stain Preservation Initiative to soon be introduced.  This initiative is designed to educate about the possibilities of grass fields at the grass-roots level: coaches, players, parents, and administrators.  This blog, Growing Green Grass, will also be expanding to provoke more thought. Growing Green Grass will provide additional free information about the possibilities of natural grass fields to those in need, in particular at the grass-roots level.

Leading the Grounds Management team at Maryland SoccerPlex has been an amazing experience.  Over and over again, our SoccerPlex team has achieved the “impossible”.  I am proud of how the SoccerPlex organization has been able to re-defined what is possible for high traffic natural grass fields.  There is no doubt the team and the facility will continue to improve and grow, and I am excited to be able to continue working with them in an agronomic support capacity.

Next week I am off to Japan to collect and share ideas, followed with a trip to Germany and France the following week as well.  Stay tuned for updates sharing the successes with high traffic fields in those countries and join the discussion on creating new possibilities for natural grass fields.

Happy Friday!