At the Santa Monica Community Gardens, we struggle with weeds and pesky creatures as all gardeners, farmers and agrarian societies do. We do our best to deal with such challenges by practicing organic gardening, guided by long-standing, sophisticated understandings of productive cultivators in tune with Nature’s processes.

As we are dedicated to active, sustainable living, our rules and regulations state that, “Santa Monica Community Gardens are organic gardens, and therefore, the use of commercially available synthetic or chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or amendments is prohibited.” Organic gardening is defined as the practice “…of food production with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics or pesticides.”

Last weekend I went to a large home and garden center for a new weather-tight box to hold my garden tools and other supplies. The customer in front of me in the checkout line had just one item in his orange shopping cart: Round-Up! My first thought was, “Really? Can’t you just pull that weed?!”

The main ingredient in Monsanto’s Round Up, is glyphosate. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as minimally carcinogenic comparable to carcinogenic levels in red meat. Ironically, the current EPA website describes glyphosate as a “widely used herbicide that controls broadleaf weeds and grasses,” which is deemed safe, “practically non-toxic for fish, aquatic invertebrates and honeybees.”

The Monsanto website states that glyphosate, “does not present an unreasonable risk of adverse effects to humans, wildlife or the environment.” What does “unreasonable risk” mean? Not explicit in Monsanto’s literature is that glyphosate is most effective when used with transgenic crops. Monsanto has a great stake in transgenic crops, which are genetically modified crops, whose seeds have been genetically altered to be resistant to glyphosate. Crop seeds that are genetically modified, by Monsanto’s trademarked processes, include canola, corn, cotton, soybeans, sugar beets, and wheat. In effect, Monsanto has developed an herbicide specifically designed to assure that their modified seeds can dominate crops that have not been genetically modified.

So, given Monsanto’s emphatic and thorough defense of their product, and the EPA’s endorsement of the, ‘practically non-toxic’ pesticide, why not just spray on the weed killer or pesticide freely? Because weed killers are indiscriminate, chemically eliminating plants that would not be considered invasive were there not food crops present.

Similarly, pesticides kill beneficial insects along with those that are considered destructive to food production or determined to be pests. Large, chain garden stores sell an overwhelming amount of weed killers and pesticides, in particular, neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids, such as Ortho Bug and many other Bayer products, are pesticides that are chemically similar to nicotine and affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death. They were developed by both Shell and Bayer in the 1970’s and 1980’s as an alternative pestcide that was less toxic to birds and mammals. However, more recent research has attributed the honeybee colony collapse to the use of neonicotinoids.

Santa Monica’s Sustainable City Plan has a goal of minimizing or eliminating, whenever possible, the use of hazardous or toxic materials. Our community gardens allow only products that are labeled as OMRI Approved (OMRI.org) or as USDA Organic Approved (USDA.gov).” OMRI is the Organic Materials Review Board, an “international non-profit that determines which input products are allowed for use in certified organic operations under the USDA National Organic Program.” (OMRI Products List) There are many organic products and fertilizers such as organic compost available to gardeners.

There are also many natural practices that are effective for pest control, such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM minimizes the damage done by insects and other pests by introducing natural predators, controlling the environment to discourage pests, physically removing them and using organic pesticides only when absolutely necessary. A common example of IPM is introducing ladybugs into the garden to control aphids.

It may not be a quick or easy thing to strategize about how to eliminate weeds or pests unless a gardener observes closely and relates to what is going on in the interplay of the biodiversity and keeping life in balance.

Round Up is certainly a quick way to get things done, but it’s clearly not a sustainable solution. Plants will not grow in areas where the weed killer has been sprayed, nor will beneficial insects survive neonicitinoid pesticides to perform their essential role as pollinators of trees and flowers and in food production.

To be a healthful, sustainable city, it is essential that the backyard gardener, the community gardeners and small farms commit to using only organic products. We must be committed to sustainable practices in our own backyards and gardens if we hope to protect and preserve the natural environment and our community.