One Person Can Make a Difference

by Charlotte Adelman

I’m one of those annoying people who is always looking for ways to improve the world; and I’ve succeeded, in some small ways. Neither tact, nor coalition building is my style. Hardheaded, do-it-alone persistence is my secret weapon. Being in the right place at the right time also helps.

Pesticides on Public Spaces

One of my battles involved a specific pesticide use. It began when the village library refused to stop pesticiding a lawn, on which were hosted children’s reading events. I took my quest to the board of health. They told me to pursue the issue on my own. I contacted the village president who told me to take a hike. This I did via the Freedom of Information Act and sending voluminous pesticide records to the not-for-profit Chicago-based Safer Pest Control Project. The Project prepared a chart for me, free of charge, linking pesticides to cancer, genetic defects and reproductive difficulties.

Armed with my chart, I testified before village committees until a village trustee finally took my point. The board of health asks residents not to use pesticides – but the village uses pesticides, he observed. This is inconsistent. The battle was won. It took a full six years.

Mowing Roadside Prairie Plantings

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, things aren’t going to get better, they’re not!
Dr. Seuss

The sight of miles of yellowing windrows of mowed grass is annoying, especially when the state mows roadside prairies planted using federal funds. I approached all and sundry who witnessed the damage to the prairie planting to sign my petition asking the Department of Transportation (IDOT) to stop routine mowing. For a few years, IDOT ignored the dozens of petitions I sent. At a fair, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk noticed me collecting signatures on yet another petition. He facilitated a letter to IDOT from a local state senator. IDOT apologized and promised not to mow. Spring came and the mowing continued.

I called IDOT, asking them to let my husband and me show them the offended areas. Shocked by “mowed-out” areas, they promised to do better. I will be watching.

Garlic Mustard Pull

When garlic mustard invaded a park, I asked the park district to let me organize a garlic mustard pull. Three years of requests later, a commissioner called with good news! The park district would allow me to pull garlic mustard. A couple of friends and I vanquished tons of the pernicious weed. We asked the park district to make this an annual community event. Last year, joined by the local Sierra Club, we conducted the First Annual Garlic Mustard Pull. We are working on the second. The three-year delay permitted the garlic mustard to gallop around the five-acre park at will. The task is a daunting one now, but we are on our way.

Our Own Back Yards

Each of us has immediate access to our own backyards. Here we can ensure pesticide- and gas-powered-engine-free landscaping. Here we can exclude Eurasian lilacs and burning bush, Mediterranean tulips and daffodils, Japanese shrubs, trees and vines, Siberian irises, Argentinean pampas grass, Oriental lilies, day lilies and hostas from China. Here we can plant native trees, shrubs, flowers, sedges and grasses.

Every small step helps our environment and produces beneficial changes for the butterflies, the birds, and the myriad other organisms that share this land with us.

Charlotte Adelman, Greater DuPage (IL) Chapter, transformed her own backyard from lawn into a butterfly and bird nurturing prairie/savanna. She and her husband, Bernie Schwartz, co-authored Prairie Directory of North America – U.S. and Canada. For more information check the web site at