This is not normal

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To the Editor:

“Folks, this ain’t normal!” To steal a phrase from a favorite farmer, Joel Salatin, I’m not only appalled at the idea of our young athletes running around on a sheet of plastic, but also at the thought of dumping this giant artificial turf mat into a landfill once its life is over in approximately four to eight years (plastic “grass” does not biodegrade, even if there’s some coconut husk mixed in).

If we care about carbon footprints, let’s take note that our community will need to plant and maintain well over 1,000 trees to offset this turf. That number could swell to over 4,000, since three more turf fields could be installed at the high school in the near future. Once turf is in, returning to grass is difficult, since the soil underneath becomes damaged by a lack of oxygen, thus killing bacteria, insects, and worms (not to mention the leaching of toxic maintenance chemicals).

While I applaud the group MV@Play’s noble intentions of upgrading some high school athletic fields which are in terrible disrepair, the process and plan for doing so have since gone awry. After attending both public forums, I watched, stunned, at the end of the second one, as the school committee hastily decided to approve the installation of turf, even after they had decided earlier in the evening that it was too soon to vote. With no long-term plan for maintaining the new fields and not enough regard for the environmental and health hazards presented, I can easily picture the next set of crises facing the school committee: For starters, they will be wondering what to do about the falling-apart turf as early as 2021.

The Island community values a natural, simple lifestyle. Our athletes can experience fancier facilities when playing Norwell or attending college. But for now, they can learn an important lesson: to adapt. As a high schooler in Florida, I practiced tennis on less than perfect courts, but still competed against the elite Saddlebrook and Palmer tennis academies; it was just part of the game to be able to play on cement, clay, or grass courts. Plus, a humble beginning is not a bad thing.

Let’s also acknowledge the pure joy of grass. There is the delicious smell of dirt and earth to savor. There’s happiness in a fan’s heart when watching children run across a bright green, May-kissed grass field under a blue sky. The entire sensory experience of grass is not to be underrated — from mud-stained uniforms to grass-streaked knees to learning how to skillfully dribble around a patch of dirt. Additionally, our earth’s rhythms are pronounced as the field browns and then greens again; kids already spend too much time indoors, and are in need of all possible experiences in nature.

West Tisbury School’s lovely fields are already giving our youth an idyllic start to their soccer career. Every fellow mini-kicker parent I surveyed expressed dismay at the idea of relocating to the high school turf field(s), as the newly approved plan plans suggests.

As a former college lacrosse and soccer player, I fully appreciate the importance of athletics. But let’s not go too far and lose our community’s core values for the quick fix of artificial turf, while ignoring its copious red flags.

With all due respect to the school committee, I am encouraging them to create a more thoughtful plan that improves the high school’s grass fields for the long haul, while leaving youth soccer out. It is indeed possible to fundraise for safer and nicer fields. And many of us are standing by to help.

Let’s hope our towns, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and other community partners can also help us keep our fields truly green, not synthetic green.

We Vineyarders tend to do things that are a little harder — from hand-painting street signs to composting dinner scraps — but are ultimately worthwhile. Let’s get this one right, too.

Folks, playing on artificial turf ain’t normal, but working together as a community to keep our kids playing on natural grass is.

Moira Silva
West Tisbury