Who’s more controversial – Michelle Rhee or Scotts Miracle-Gro?

Who’s more controversial – Michelle Rhee or Scotts Miracle-Gro?

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To most of the media, it’s the famous education reformer Michelle Rhee, ex-DC Schools Chancellor, who’s controversial, unpopular, even reviled by some, especially teachers’ unions. (Interesting read on the subject.)  So when Scotts MiracleGro recently named her as a trustee, teachers called for a boycott of Scotts, and readers were presumably left with the impression that Rhee could threaten the otherwise stellar reputation of this fine company.

One report  concludes that her backtracking from national education reform and accepting a “gig on the board of Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. also won’t hurt her recuperation from years in the trenches.”  Because, I guess, Scotts is just a gardening company.  No controversy there, right?

So to the general media in DC and anyone following the career of this notorious education reformer/union-killer (depending on your perspective; I don’t have a dog in the fight myself), you’ll find reports of plenty of controversy surrounding the company in the archives of Seasonalgardenerlv.  It’s no stretch to call Scotts the most hated company in the gardening world and here’s a quick update on why that is.

Let’s start with a much-read interview with Scotts’ notorious CEO Jim Hagedorn by Wired Mag, aptly called  “Turf Warrior”.

“I’d like to see biotech in every backyard,” he says.

And this Wall  Streert Journal article about Hagedorn’s “Cursing in the Board Room”  includes a video of the ex-fighter pilot describing business as war, among other gems.

Reports of Hagedorn’s cursing were widespread in the business world.  Trustees left over it!  There was an official reprimand.  Googling   “Hagedorn” and “cursing” gets lots of hits.

And though unreported in the news, everyone in the garden center business knows about the F-bombs Hagedorn launched from the podium at their largest trade show, which caused people to walk out in protest or disgust. The guy’s kinda hard to like.

We’re told to want this weird-looking monoculture.

Gardening Products

Oh, where to start? And how to not get sued?  I’ll just point readers to the products themselves, their ingredients, and reports in the media about them, especially the pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.  Let’s just say there are objections.

Then there’s the multi-million-dollar ad campaign to convince consumers that they need those products and in the case of lawn fertilizers, need them to be applied at the time of year when authorities urge us to protect our waterways by not using them.

Moving on, there’s Scotts’ involvement in biotech that Hagedorn is so proud of.  Seems their GMO Roundup-ready bentgrass is out of control, and the company’s been fined by the USDA for inadequate testing of it.  More about that.

Speaking of Roundup, Scotts is the sole U.S. distributor of this Monsanto-made product.  And you know how much love we all have for Monsanto.

Bird-Killing Bird Food

People still on the fence about the company turned anti-Scotts  after one particular event, which was reported widely in the business media, with headlines like “Scotts Miracle-Gro, the Bird-Killing Company” In 2012 they were fined $12.5 million for knowingly selling bird food that was killing birds (the seed had been sprayed with pesticides to increase its shelf life).

That news snowballed into a story about the National  Wildlife Federation’s partnership with Scotts which, unfortunately for the NWF, had been announced maybe two days before the legal settlement and fine were announced.  Many NWF supporters expressed so much outrage that the NWF finally relented and abandoned the partnership (and the $$$).  Here’s our story about that.

More Greenwashing

Giving money to the NWF isn’t the only attempt by Scotts to look good.  They’re also big supporters of the Garden Writers Association, which gives them the chance to parade their “chief sustainability officer” before writers at their annual meeting.  Let’s just say that partnership is very controversial within the garden-writer world and I was happy to see that Scotts spoke to this year’s captive audience of garden writers about something noncontroversial – digital marketing.

Legal Stuff

Under the category of general dickishness is the case of Scotts ripping off garden writer C.L. Fornari’s media campaign, then copyrighting the term she’d made popular. Amy Stewart wrote about it here on the Rant in an aptly titled post:  “Dear Scotts, Just try one time not to be so shitty.” After C.L. started a media campaign about it, they backed off.

In other legal action, Scotts is all over the place.

Best Take-Down

In a wonderful ad styled after Apple’s announcement of the Mac, the organic fertilizer company Espoma conveyed the dominance and general awfulness of this multi-billion-dollar company.


With what’s now known about the company, I wonder if Martha Stewart is rethinking her association with them.  In 2011 she was invited by Hagedorn to speak at the company (fee unknown) and later gushed about him “and his lovely wife Karli”.  Sigh.

Posted by

Susan Harris
on August 22, 2014 at 9:03 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.

    • DC Tropics
    • 13th August 2015

    Come on, Susan, tell us how you REALLY feel!

    • Mary Gray
    • 13th October 2016

    Ha! Michelle Rhee and Scott’s — not a lovable combo! It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that teachers would only now start to boycott Scott’s just because Rhee is on the board. Their products are poisonous with or without her.

    • Mary Gray
    • 18th October 2016

    Yeah, it’s hard to follow and be invested in every issue — there’s not enough time!

    • efavorite
    • 3rd November 2016

    Right — she made DCPS worse. The achievement gap between whites and blacks in DC got worse while she was there. The poor Black kids that she came to help are worse off than before. And she spent millions doing it.

    • Sarah
    • 12th November 2016

    Exactly. And then she convinced a ton of people that had no clue about what was really going on that every other school in the nation had to do what she was doing.

    • Sarah
    • 13th November 2016

    As a teacher, I can tell you why this will make a difference. Most teachers are not gardeners, but they often have little flower plots lining their lawns. Because they are not gardeners, they believe the hype that the big box stores sell: namely, that this stuff is good for your lawn and flowers.

    • Sarah
    • 15th November 2016

    If you truly think unions are blocking reforms, you need to start paying more attention to the real issues, and not just the talking points.

    • Mary Gray
    • 15th November 2016

    Fellow teacher Sarah, I agree that the vilification of teachers has been horrendous. However, teachers’ unions have been seriously damaging the teaching profession for decades now. It’s not Albert Shanker’s union anymore. Look at the crazy ass NY teachers union, who just this month has decided it would be a great idea to rally against the NYPD, for god’s sake! Thank God I live in a right to work state.

    • Simone Bain
    • 15th November 2016

    They are both pretty obnoxious and toxic. Too bad Mary Gray pipes in about the “Anyway, IMHO, teachers’ unions are a much bigger problem in this country than Scott’s. Rhee was obnoxious, but at least she attempted to do something to fix the catastrophe that is DCPS. Unions blocking reform at every turn is not helpful.”
    I’m new to this blog and thought it was about gardening. If I want to hear anti-union right-wing nonsense I’d listen to Fox “News”.

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