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What’s with all that Grass?

330842717_0b963e81cd_m The lush green lawn surrounding a man’s castle is a particularly arrogant thing. For one, it supposes that there is no better use for the space, either for yourself, or for someone else. Secondly, it supposes that you have something worth defending, ie your castle, that should have clear areas surrounding it for defensive purposes.

Typically these days, a lawn is seen as a North American right, an irrevocable opportunity to display your status in all things grass related to your neighbours.

Now, I’m the first to admit that a patch of grass is great for the kids to play on, and absolutely necessary for a game of backyard football, but what about the vast swaths of perfectly manicured lawns that are the pride of so many men and their ride-on mowers? What is the real implication of these bowling green lawns dotted across out cities?

More after the jump….

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The Nasties

Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides. None of these are good. People complain about golf courses in the mountains yet some of these same people will let their kids or pets play on a freshly sprayed patch of rapidly dying dandelions in the backyard.

The very fact that there are turf management specialists should raise alarm bells. Some of them use natural products, rather than chemical cocktails, but either way, we should probably be wary of anything, natural or manmade that has the capacity to kill the most tenacious weed in our yard.

People who drive around in trucks spraying unknown chemicals onto neighbourhood lawns should raise your ire. But the average resident of a North American neighbourhood is more likely to complain if someone breaks the character by replacing all of the lawn with something a bit more useful, say grains, or fruit trees, or a whole yard veggie patch.

Another nasty is the massive consumption of potable water for something as fickle as a lawn. As cities struggle to maintain adequate infrastructure to keep supplying water to their residents, it is a significant fact that the days with the most water consumption are those when outdoor watering, predominantly of lawns is at it’s peak in summer. As with the land wasted, there are better things to do with this water as well.

The Food (and Oil) Problem

Here in North America, we don’t think there is a food problem. For the past fifty years we’ve had food, and pretty much anything else we want regularly delivered to the supermarket or Costco at a reasonable price. We get upset if the store has run out of our favourite flavour of icecream, but there’s always fruit and vegetables, bread, milk and other essentials patiently waiting for us to stick them in a plastic bag and take them home.

It hasn’t always been this way.

Before the advent of large scale farming practices and factory production techniques for food, people really worked for their food. Food was slower, and as a result there was typically less of it. Milk was delivered by horse drawn cart, my grandfather was a dairy farmer, and he supplied milk and a limited range of other dairy products to his neighbourhood. To the residents around him, if they didn’t have their own cow, there was no supermarket or other source of dairy product within fifteen miles.

If the theory of Peak Oil is even close to accurate, we’re in for a rollercoaster ride in the next few decades. So much of our lifestyle, food production and means of survival as North Americans relies on oil. From the petroleum based fertilizers,  tractors and combines on the farms, trucks transporting good thousands of miles, to refrigeration of produce for months on end so we can eat our favourites all year round.

It’s all oil. And it just might run out.

If it doesn’t run out, it could get real expensive real quick, and as a result, so will all our food, if they keep shipping it from Mexico, that is.

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The Good Stuff

541644316_71905b46db_mSo what’s a wannabe greenie to do with all that wasted space? Get some gardening books, or join a club, find out about concepts such as permaculture and urban agriculture.

The problem is not just with the lawn, but with the attitude that goes with it. An attitude of consumption and convenience that doesn’t see the value in growing food, because it may take too long, or be too much work.

I’m not suggesting that you rip out all of your lawn in one hit as soon as the snow melts, rather, try a new garden bed, plant something you’ve never tried to grow before. Perhaps a grain, or some corn. Soon enough, all things going to plan, you’ll have a harvest and you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labour.

To grow all of this food, you’ll need water, not much more than you’d have put on the lawn, but now there is a product that is edible and beautiful. I’ll leave the water tips for another article.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.