Welcome to the first installment of the Food Not Lawns book club discussion post!
Let me first, right off the bat, state that I find this book both alternately inspiring and annoying. What do I find annoying? Mamble like the following:
"In the garden, by stepping outside economic and social constructs for a moment to envision ourselves in the cradle of nature, we can get to know the ecological self."
That kind of yammer just bothers me. And most of the exercises she suggests seem contrived. Particularly the water sports one. I don't envision myself cradling that one.
That said, I will ignore this kind of language and hooha and try not to let it distract me from the task at hand: discussing the actual content. Since this book's format is quite a bit different than the other ones in the book club, I won't be breaking it down by chapters, but just discussing a chunk of the book as a whole and throwing out questions where I see fit.
Okay, let's begin.
Lawns. Big ass lawns. Why do we have a culture of lawns? Well, the 18th century French aristocrats thought it good fun to rub it in the faces of the peasants that they were so darn wealthy than they could just grow grass. Not something functional, like food, but big swaths of green, grassy goodness. That cultural ideal has continued to modern America where a beautifully manicured lawn is equated with wealth and status.
I think of it as those covenants against laundry lines. Growing food, raising chickens and hanging out your laundry = poverty. Austere, pristine grassy nonsense = wealth. Put it another way, 58 million Americans spend about 30 billion dollars every year to maintain more than 23 million acres of lawn. Oh yeah, and use around 270 billion gallons of water a week. That's right folks, we're talking billions to maintain grass.
Let's not forget the incredible amount of pesticides and fertilizers being doused on those lawns that, ultimately, run off into the groundwater, evaporate into the air we breathe or run out into our waterways, poisoning our fish and aquatic life. The gas mowers, edgers and blowers don't exactly help either. Even if you don't water or fertilize your lawn, you still are preventing all sorts of habitat for critters by keeping a lawn.
So, what's an environmentally conscious citizen to do? Well, aside from the obvious alternative of returning the lawn to its natural habitat (by growing native plants and using permaculture techniques*), grow some food!
What to do if you don't have a lawn? Well, you have a couple of options. You can see if you can use a neighbor's lawn, rent a plot in a community garden, volunteer at a local farm (oftentimes they'll offer free produce to volunteers), garden in pots and containers, use the roof, depave a sidewalk or driveway, or (the most radical) take over a vacant lot.
If you do have the space you have some alternatives such as growing in raised beds, vertical gardening (growing up), or just reshaping your yard to take advantage of microclimates, rainflow and runoff and all sorts of other permaculture techniques*.
One of the discussion points in Chapter 3 is water-wise gardening. The author discusses mulching, irrigation, contouring and graywater. I'm a little unsure of the whole graywater thing as I believe it has to be done carefully (graywater can quickly become blackwater) and there are legal issues to be considered. She is extremely cavalier about this aspect, so tread carefully on how you want to proceed with using graywater.
After reading these sections are you inspired to tear up your lawn? What about the community aspects of growing food? Would you be willing to share you lawn with the neighbors for growing food for the community? Do you know your neighbors well enough to ask them to share their yard?
What about some of the suggestions she has for contouring your yard to grow food? Had you thought much about that when considering growing food before or was this new information for you?
Would you be willing to install some sort of graywater and/or pond system to irrigate your food crops or does it seem like too much work or too risky? What about rainwater capture?
Ok, that's it for now. The next book club post will be in two weeks.
*Ms. Flores goes into permaculture techniques in depth in the first section of the book, but I won't cover it here because I like to keep things somewhat briefish.