In many countries today, well-maintained, closely cut, green lawns seem to be almost everywhere. In fact, lawns are the single largest crop in the U.S., covering 32 million acres.
But what if we grew edible gardens, not lawns?
We’ve got about 16 million acres in the United States now growing all of our fruits and vegetables. This means the space American lawns occupy could provide enough land to grow more fruits and vegetables than are now eaten by the entire nation’s population.
Problems with lawns
Lawns aren’t natural, and they’re very demanding — of our time and money. So why do we tend to them at all?
Lawns began in Europe, where the moist, mild climate is good for grass to grow. The spaces around the homes of the wealthy were cultivated with grass — and became status symbols.
When early immigrants came to North America, they brought lawn culture with them. However, the North American climate doesn’t generally support lawn growth. Yet for many Americans, maintaining the perfect lawn continues to this day to be a status symbol and a sign of money and success.
The typical American lawn uses 10,000 gallons of supplemental water (not including rainwater) annually. This a serious problem, especially as we see more and more areas facing water shortages and droughts.
Of course, edible gardens need to be watered, too. But data pulled together by Urban Plantations from the EPA, the Public Policy Institute of California, and the Alliance for Water Efficiency suggests that gardens use 66% less water than lawns.
Another serious problem with lawn maintenance is the huge amounts of harmful chemicals sprayed on them each year — about 80 million U.S. households dump 90 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides on their lawns each year, according to the EPA.
To put this into perspective, an article in Rodale’s Organic Life says, “lawn care is as much of a danger to our health and the environment as conventional agriculture is.”
Here are some problems caused by lawn pesticides:
They contaminate our water supply. A study from Virginia Tech found that most homeowners apply chemicals to their lawns in ways that pollute our drinking water.
They create serious health risks for wildlife and pets. A 2013 study published in Science of the Total Environment found that dogs exposed to lawn care chemicals can have a higher risk of bladder cancer.
They get into our homes and present health risks. They are correlated with increased risk of a variety of cancers, nervous system disorders, and other illnesses.
Children get exposed to them. Research in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that exposure to lawn pesticides can increase the risk of childhood leukemia almost 7 times.
When thinking about lawns, mowing is another concern. Americans use about 8 million gallons of gas mowing their lawns each year. And the EPA estimates that gas-powered lawn and garden equipment is responsible for 5% of our air pollution, not to mention the noise pollution these machines cause.
Growing food, not lawns
If you want to keep a lawn, then choosing an organic lawn maintenance system will likely be a better choice for your health and for the health of the planet.
But more and more people are ditching their lawns. Many are choosing to spend their time, energy and money growing food, instead – improving the health and sustainability of their family and their community in the process.
And even if a small number of people chose to replace their lawns with gardens, it would make a big impact.
Looking for an inspiring example? Check out David Young, an urban farmer in New Orleans, who grows food for people in need for free or at low cost.
Here are 9 of the top benefits that come from growing your own food:
You and your family will be more likely to eat fresh vegetables and fruits — and that’s a very good thing for your health.
The fruits and veggies you eat will have more nutrients. The average plate of food travels 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate, and nutrients are lost during this process. Fresh, and local, are best – and you can’t get more fresh or more local than your own garden!
The fruits and vegetables you eat will be safer. Food safety is an increasing problem, from Salmonella to E. coli, and if you grow your garden organically, you can also avoid pesticide residues on your produce.
You will save money. Organic food is healthier and better for the planet – but it can be costly to buy. When you grow your own, you can save money on groceries. One couple in South Carolina saves up to $24,000 per year by growing their own food in their yard.
Vegetable gardens are ecologically responsible. They reduce your carbon footprint, save the environment, and are more efficient and less wasteful than lawns or flower gardens.
They’re good for your spirit and your health. Gardens increase your time outdoors, relieve stress, make you more relaxed, and even boost your immune system.
Gardens increase community. Americans are increasingly disconnected, but getting together with family, friends, and neighbors to grow and share food and knowledge can bring people together.
Vegetable gardens teach children vital life lessons. Kids love to garden and can learn important lessons, including the ability to grow their own food and take charge of their health.
Food independence and food security. There’s a wonderful feeling of freedom and self-reliance that comes with growing your own food.