Office of Energy and Sustainability

Sustainable Turf Pilot Project

Oberlin College and Conservatory, in partnership with Re:Wild Your Campus, is working to pilot a new organic landscaping project. With funding from the Green Edge Fund and an Oberlin alumni, we will transition three sites on campus (one section of Tappan, part of Wilder Bowl, and a section south of the Mary Church Terrell Library) towards a more sustainable and biology-centered management approach.

Organic land care is a holistic method of maintaining and managing landscapes using natural and sustainable practices that avoid the use of synthetic chemicals. It promotes the health of the soil, plants, and ecosystems through practices such as composting, mulching, aeration and mechanical pest control. The goal of organic land care is to create healthy, sustainable, and resilient landscapes that are in harmony with the local environment. This is a soil based, science backed approach that uses soil test results to inform the design of a holistic management plan.

Although we do not currently use any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides on these pilot sites, we believe embracing an organic management approach will help us rehabilitate the lawns on campus. We are working with national turfgrass experts at Osborne Organics to perform tests of soil structure, pH, nutrient content, and biological life. Starting in April 2024, we began the suggested management plan to rehabilitate three lawn areas with this organic approach. We will be implementing processes such as aeration, overseeding, and addition of compost to help improve the soil structure and loosen the soil where it has been compacted. By creating healthy soil, we create turf that crowds out weeds, resists pests and fungal disease, and promotes soil life. Based on our results, we plan to expand the pilot project to other areas on campus in the future. This project is particularly relevant to help our campus landscape recover from construction impacts from the Sustainable Infrastructure Program

The management changes will be combined with educational opportunities, such as workshops and research, for students interested in sustainable land management. Biology Professor Dr. Andrew Pike will conduct research comparing changes in the three pilot sites to nearby traditionally-managed sites. The research will explore the changes in insect populations and soil microbes due to the new management practices. In addition, we will measure changes in the soil carbon sequestered on these sites, as a part of The Soil Inventory Project, a national effort to understand soil carbon across various regions and types of landscapes.