In light of the lovely weather, I spent the last couple days outside, planting zucchini (a little early), tending my peas, and tilling the last of my unplanted beds. As I worked in my garden, I was blown away by the potential such a tiny amount of land has in regards to producing food. It struck me that if I converted my entire lawn into garden space, I could probably feed the whole household (myself and five other roommates) year round. I had to ask myself, why is so much of our property devoted to useless grass?
Nothing says U.S.A. like a freshly manicured lawn. Grass lawns have become a staple of the American culture, a status symbol for those who can afford to water and care for their plot of green pillowy grass.
Right here in the Willamette Valley, we are known as the grass seed capital of the world, and a huge piece of our economy is based on this American dream of a hundred square foot plot of grassy goodness. Thousands of square acres in some of the most fertile land in the United States dedicated to the national pursuit of the perfect front yard.
According to a report by Scienceline, lawns in the U.S. make up more acreage than the eight largest agricultural crops in the country combined. Imagine how much food could be grown if those lawns were converted to gardens.
For example, during World War II, citizens were encouraged to grow “victory gardens,” to ensure against domestic food shortages in the U.S. At their peak in 1944, there were over twenty million victory gardens in the U.S., producing over 40 percent of all vegetables grown in the country — according to the National WWII Museum. The end of the war heralded the beginning of American suburban consumer culture and the decline of the victory garden.
The lawn has ascended in the American mind as synonymous with success, representing the wealth required to purchase ones’ sustenance in the store. Gardening has become a “hobby” for those with spare time, rather than a subsistence strategy, as in the days of yore.
Is this a means of control? An idea spread by those in control to further subjugate our bodies? The cult of the lawn in the U.S. was constructed by those who were in a place to benefit from the dependence of Americans on commercial agriculture.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The benefits of the switch from grass to gardens are innumerable. According to H.C. Flores’ Food Not Lawns, the average urban lawn could produce several hundred pounds of food a year, enough food to feed a family of six. This isn’t to mention the health benefits of eating a diet centered around organic, homegrown produce.
There are also the economic and ecological benefits of home-gardening to consider. Rather than supporting fossil-fuel based industrial agriculture, and buying produce that was flown or driven thousands of miles, we have the option of growing that very same produce in our backyards. This reduces not only our cost of living, but also the impact that our subsistence is having on the environment.
The simple action of converting a lawn into a garden is an act of rebellion. A bold statement of independence in a society in which the means of production are controlled by the hyper wealthy. We must reclaim our relationship with the soil to liberate ourselves from our dependence on unsustainable commercial agriculture.