Go for an Edible Estate …the case against lawns
Why do we dedicate so much property to something that requires precious resources, endless hours and contaminates our air and water?Posted Jan 28, 2009
We grow a lawn the same way anywhere in the world, but when we grow our own food we have to start paying attention to where we are. We experience our weather and climate in a personal way: they have a direct impact on us. The subtleties of sun, wind, air, and rain are meaningful.
A functioning democracy is predicated upon an informed populace of citizens who are in touch with each other. A democratic society suffers when people are physically out of touch. An Edible Estate can serve to stitch communities back together, taking a space that was previously isolating and turn it into a welcoming forum that re-engages people with one another.
There was a time when the effect of a town on the land around it was clearly in evidence within a radius of a few miles. For the most part the town depended on the materials, food, trades, and other resources that were available in the immediate region. The detritus of that consumption would stay within that same sphere of influence. Today the entire story of the impact of any city has become invisible because it is global. Cheap factory labor, foreign oil, circuitous water distribution systems, industrialized agriculture, and remote landfills all contribute to a general ignorance of the effects that daily human life has on the planet. What happens when you graft agriculture onto a city? The more we keep ourselves in touch with the byproducts of our daily lives, the more we are reminded of how it is all connected. Edible Estates puts that evidence back in our cities and streets, back in our face.
Edible Estate gardens are meant to serve as provocations on the street. What happens when we share a street with one of these gardens? The front-yard gardeners become street performers for us. Coming out the door to tend their crops they enact a daily ritual for the neighbors. We get to know them better than those who have lawns. We talk to them about how their crops are doing. They often can’t eat everything they are growing, so they offer us the latest harvest of tomatoes or zucchini. We go out of our way to walk past the garden to see what is going on. Just the act of watching a garden grow can have a profound effect. When we observe as seeds sprout, plants mature, and fruit is produced, we can’t help but be drawn in. We become witnesses, and are now complicit and a part of the story.
What happens when an Edible Estate garden is not welcomed by the neighbors? Why do some people feel threatened by it? Anarchy, rodents, plummeting property values, willful self-expression, wild untamed nature, ugly decaying plants, and winter dormancy are some of the reasons that have been given. More to the point is a general sense that Edible Estate gardeners have broken some unspoken law of decency.
Public tastes still favor conformity when it comes to the front yard, and any sort of deviation from the norm signals a social, if not moral, lapse. The abrupt appearance of such a garden on a street of endless lawns can be surprisingly shocking, but after the neighbors watch it grow in, they often come around. Perhaps the threats evoked by this wild intrusion into the neighborhood will eventually be a catalyst for questions. How far have we come from our the core of our humanity that the act of growing our own food might be considered impolite, unseemly, threatening, radical, or even hostile?
Private property and in particular the home has become the geographic focus of our society. When we take stock of the standard American single-family residence, it becomes quite clear where the priorities are. It is within the walls of the house that the real investment and life of the residents occur. The land outside the walls typically receives much less attention, and can even become downright unwelcoming. Any activity in the yard will typically happen in back, where there is privacy. We are obsessed with our homes as protective bubbles from the realities around us. Today’s towns and cities are engineered for isolation, and growing food in your front yard becomes a way to subvert this tendency. The front lawn, a highly visible slice of private property, has the capacity to also be public. If we want to reintroduce a vital public realm into our communities, those with land and homes may ask what part of their private domain has public potential.
Just the act of spending an extended period of time outside with our hands in the dirt is a profoundly deviant act today! There is no rational or practical reason to do it. We can get anything we need at the store, right? The mortgage company refers to the physical house we live in as one of the “improvements” to the property. Pretty landscaping may be considered another improvement. But as far as the bank is concerned, the actual fertility and health of the dirt in our front yards has no economic value. Wouldn’t it be great if a chemically contaminated lawn made a property impossible to sell, while organic gardening and thirty years of composting would dramatically increase our property values? Alas, today you can chart the exact economic stratum of any residential street based exclusively on the state of its chemically dependent front lawns.