by Heather Jo Flores
Excerpted and revised from Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community (Chelsea Green, 2006).
French aristocrats popularized the idea of the green, grassy lawn in the eighteenth century, when they planted the agricultural fields around their estates to grass to send the message that they had more land than they needed and could therefore afford to waste some. Meanwhile, French peasants starved for lack of available farmland, and the resulting frustration might well have had something to do with the French Revolution in 1789.
Americans spend $30 billion every year to maintain over 40 million acres of lawn. Yet over 40 million people live below the poverty level. Even if only ⅓ of every lawn was converted to a food-producing garden, we could eliminate hunger in this country.
The lawns in the United States consume 800 million gallons of fuel every year and about 300 billion gallons of water a week. Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland. These pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides run off into our groundwater and evaporate into our air, causing widespread pollution and global warming, and greatly increasing our risk of cancer, heart disease, and birth defects.
In addition, the pollution emitted from a power mower in just one hour is equal to the amount from a car being driven 350 miles. Lawns use more equipment, labor, fuel, and agricultural toxins than industrial farming, making lawns the largest (and most toxic) agricultural sector in the United States.
But it’s not just the residential lawns that are wasted on grass. There are around 700,000 athletic grounds and 14,500 golf courses in the United States, many of which used to be fertile, productive farmland that was lost to developers when the local markets bottomed out. Turf is big business, to the tune of around $45 billion a year.
The University of Georgia has seven turf researchers studying genetics, soil science, plant pathology, nutrient uptake, and insect management. They issue undergraduate degrees in Turf. The turf industry is responsible for a large sector of the biotech (GMO) industry, and much of the genetic modification that is happening in laboratories across the nation is in the name of an eternally green, slow-growing, moss-free lawn.
These huge numbers are overwhelming,but they make the point that lawns are not only an inefficient use of space, water, and money; they are seriously contributing to the rapid degradation of our natural environment. If we truly feel committed to treating the earth and each other with equality and respect, the first place to show it is by how we treat the land on which we live.
It is time to grow food, not lawns! The reasons include reducing pollution, improving the quality of your diet, increasing local food security, beautifying your surroundings and improving your mental and physical health. You will save money, help the planet and enhance your connection with nature, your family and your community.
What have you got to lose besides a few blades of grass?
to learn more about the Food Not Lawns network, find a local chapter, and connect with the online community, visit www.foodnotlawns.com