There is no denying that the lawn is deeply rooted in American culture. Grass is the most expensive and by far the most cultivated crop in the US. A well kept lawn is tied to success, home value, and self respect. Everybody gets their own isolated piece of nature to maintain.
A lawn does have inherent value. There is a positive psychological effect of being around life. The open space allows for gathering, athletics, and recreation. Lawns reduce littering, act as filters, prevent soil erosion, and cool urban environments. Grass is the popular choice for directing attention to signage and enterprise, providing a clear distinction of public and private territory. One must question how these points could also be applied to human relationships to plants as a whole.
Landscape design seems to me an opportunity for self expression with a detectable undertone of conformity. How has this status quo developed where edible plants have become a drastic minority? The ability to devote space to grass gives the perception of a suburbia that is doing alright.
No lawn is an island. All choices have consequences that affect the livability of this planet.
An industrial lawn, without weeds, always green and cut low requires pesticides. These lawn care pesticides are now present in all rivers and groundwater. While levels are below what has been deemed harmful to human health, persistent dripping water will eventually wear hard stone. Pesticides also damage the ecosystem by harming beneficial microbes and pollinators. How is the marketing of better living through chemistry still convincing in this case?
Humans manage plants. We control nature by removing and nurturing plants for our own benefit. There has been a separation from the common observation of the life cycle of our food. I believe that this separation creates misdirected labor, in turn developing the perception that nurturing food is too much work. Perhaps there is a connection between the use of these pesticides and a fear of the unknown, as though nature is inherently unmanageable. Meanwhile, horticulture remains in an ivory tower, and agriculture is reserved for hundreds of acres.
Turf is now inextricably linked to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs providing a service that people want, or are expected to have. I advocate for a shift in cultural desire and aesthetic, moving dollars from synthetic fertilizers and poisons towards edible landscaping and soil building entrepreneurs.
Turf is also now inextricably linked to fossil fuel usage. Noisy polluting machines start the process and trucks haul off the excess. Fertilizers, Irrigation and Pesticides all have fossil fuel demands. Finite resources are consumed, creating a cycle where resources must continue to be used to create the desired effect. Our lawns, and our agriculture, have become chemically dependent.
With one barrel of oil equating to years of work of an individual, it becomes necessary for humans to begin to work with natural processes and design with wisdom. With around half of all potable water used to irrigate lawns in the Intermountain west, climate appropriate edible landscaping deserves to be a part of the discussion.
To develop an ecologically appropriate yard, some decomposition will be necessary to create the foundation for healthy soil. A cultural change must occur where composting happens on site. Lawn clippings do not need to be driven to the landfill or centralized composting system. All organic waste is a resource that requires human creativity to transform these materials into value.
I believe that by shifting attitude and behavior, homeowners could have the benefits and aesthetics they seek from a lawn without the environmental toxicity and excess resource use. This will require wisdom in our work and lifestyle, and a greater understanding of the accumulation of small choices to the larger picture. Planting edible landscaping now will pay off with huge returns by making the transition into the future much smoother.