Don’t Lick the Balls!

Art City L.A.: The Innovation of Sustainable Landscaping

Cassy Aoyagi spoke alongside 23 other Los Angeles-based innovators as part of L.A. Innovation Week 2014’s Art City L.A.

Transcript:  I have an important piece of advice to share with you tonight.  It comes from years of experience and training:  Don’t lick the balls!

I know that many of you hear those words and think it’s the worst advice ever given.  But, please let me explain.

From the age of 5, I played the junior golf circuit here in Los Angeles.  I practiced six days a week, year round.  The fairways were my home away from home.  And, this second home of mine was covered in poison.

When a golfer picks up their ball and licks their finger to clean off the ball — it’s a common practice — they are ingesting all kinds of chemicals from fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides — things that no one, especially a five-year-old kid, should be putting in their mouth.

These chemicals are made necessary by one basic fact — the grasses traditionally used for golf courses and for our lawns cannot grow here on their own.  They are non-native.  They haven’t evolved for millions of years to be suited to our low nutrient soils, — they don’t have a natural resistance to native pests and our local conditions, and they cannot withstand our seasonal dry conditions or drought.  The most common lawn grasses in Southern California are native to Europe!

The good news is that you can find a native counterpart to nearly all of the popular non-native plants and grasses– there are thousands of them –and after doing some homework you can make this change. And, in this instance, innovation means keeping it simple and embracing what is natural. This approach solves a gazillion problems with one little choice that otherwise requires feats of engineering… We can save the world by changing the grass we use. OR we can import water, surf in polluted waters, hire more fire-fighters, cope with mud slides, build more dams, change the structure of our water rights, and on and on and on.

I decided at age 16 that professional golf was not my life’s passion.  Today, I visit Angelenos at their homes to discuss restoring their yards.   We talk about rebates for trading in their traditional lawns for native idealmow meadows and far too often, the push back I recieve is, “Well, it’s not the kind of lawn I had as a kid, and I want my kids to have what I had”.

That’s when I tell them, “I am glad you are thinking about your kids, so before you make that decision, I have an important piece of advice to share with you.  It comes from years of experience and training…don’t lick the balls…”