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Chelsea Green Blog

Food Not Lawns: Full Frontal Gardening

A recent article on NewYorker.com had some illuminating things to say about the birth of the modern American lawn:
In 1841, Andrew Jackson Downing published the first landscape-gardening book aimed at an American audience.… [He] was dismayed by what he saw as the general slovenliness of rural America, where pigs and poultry were allowed to roam free, “bare and bald” houses were thrown up, and trees were planted haphazardly, if at all. (The first practice, he complained, contributed to the generally “brutal aspect of the streets.”) His “Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening” urged readers to improve themselves by improving their front yards. “In the landscape garden we appeal to that sense of the Beautiful and the Perfect, which is one of the highest attributes of our nature,” it declared.
The result of all this longing for Beauty and Perfection? A lush, verdant lawn in every front yard—neutered of its ability to sexually reproduce, robbed of regional peculiarities or interesting imperfections, and maintained with gas-guzzling, smoke-belching lawnmowers, carcinogenic pesticides and dangerous chemical fertilizers; a placid oasis of perfect, sterile conformity. Sure, your children aren’t allowed to go near it—let alone play on it—but by God is it green!
Recently, a NASA-funded study, which used satellite data collected by the Department of Defense, determined that, including golf courses, lawns in the United States cover nearly fifty thousand square miles—an area roughly the size of New York State. The same study concluded that most of this New York State-size lawn was growing in places where turfgrass should never have been planted. In order to keep all the lawns in the country well irrigated, the author of the study calculated, it would take an astonishing two hundred gallons of water per person, per day. According to a separate estimate, by the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly a third of all residential water use in the United States currently goes toward landscaping.
Chelsea Green’s own Heather Flores has been advocating the conversion of lawns to food gardens for years. Potentially, every lawn-to-garden project is a good source of cheap, fresh, organic produce. You can get your exercise, connect with your community, and rock your iconoclast cred at the same time.
Over the years, many alternatives to the lawn have been proposed. Pollan, in his book “Second Nature” (1991), suggests replacing parts—or all—of the lawn with garden. In “Noah’s Garden” (1993), Sara Stein, by contrast, advocates “ungardening”—essentially allowing the grass to revert to thicket. Sally and Andy Wasowski, in their “Requiem for a Lawnmower” (2004), recommend filling the yard with native trees and wildflowers…. In “Food Not Lawns” (2006), Heather C. Flores argues that the average yard could yield several hundred pounds of fruits and vegetables per year. (If you live in an urban area and don’t have a lawn, she suggests digging up your driveway.) “Edible Estates” (2008) is the chronicle of a project by Fritz Haeg, an architect and artist, who rips up conventional front yards in order to replace them with visually striking “edible plantings.” Haeg calls his approach “full-frontal gardening.”
Now, if only we could do something about those golf courses…. Read the full article.


The New Farmers’ Almanac: A Collection of Essays for Beginners

What agrarian future can we realistically build together? This is a question the Greenhorns hope to answer in their latest book, The New Farmers’ Almanac 2015. Greenhorns is an organization for young farmers—a non-traditional grassroots network with the mission to promote, recruit and support the entering generation of new farmers. It exists to celebrate young […] Read More..

How to Achieve Resiliency Through Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening

In today’s world the marketplace distorts our values and our dependence on petroleum keeps us from creating truly sustainable agriculture. So, how can we achieve true wealth and at the same time make society around us more resilient? The answer, Will Bonsall believes, is greater self-reliance in both how we grow our own food, and […] Read More..

Bramble On: The Ins and Outs of Growing Raspberries

Fresh, ripe raspberries picked straight from the garden in the morning. What could be a better start to your day? According to Michael Phillips, author of The Holistic Orchard, growing your own berries is entirely possible for anyone with a bit of space and a passion for the fruit. Brambles grow from the north to […] Read More..

Turning Meat into Money: How to Raise and Sell it Ethically

The consumer demand for grassfed, pasture-raised, and antibiotic-free meats is on the rise, putting farmers and ranchers in a unique position to make a decent living on meat that is produced ethically. But, how exactly do you turn meat into money without resorting to the large-scale industrial techniques of today’s confinement-operations? Look no further than […] Read More..

How to Grow Strawberries Indoors

It’s strawberry shortcake season, which means strawberry harvesting season. But for those of you with no outdoor space for gardens, fear not—you can plant, weed, and harvest all from the comfort of your own home! That’s right: it is possible to grow strawberries indoors, from small spaces. According to R. J. Ruppenthal, author of Fresh […] Read More..