Food Not Lawns: A Smarter, More Sustainable Use of Space

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” ― Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution

I’ve been thinking about space lately; how much of it we have, what we use it for. In particular I have been thinking about all the space that goes unused, both inside and out. In a world where our numbers are growing, and our space is diminishing this isn’t just something we should think about, it’s something we have to think about.

When it comes to food, my mind turns to lawns. Maybe it’s because I live in a small apartment, with only enough space for a handful of balcony plants, leaving me dreaming of raised beds and the chance to build a trellis to grow runner beans, but whenever I see a bright green lawn, I see wasted space (not to mention the wasted water). A space that hasn’t had the chance to thrive.

There’s a growing movement of people who think the same. Founded in 1999, the Food Not Lawns, also referred to as Grow Food Not Lawns, movement grew out of the Food Not Bombs movement. The idea behind it all being that we could maximize on space and replace urban lawns with urban farms, in turn providing the surrounding community with better food security.

When it comes to growing food, often we are intimidated by the space issue; we’re intimidated by the fact that we don’t have enough. But every small act counts. I was reminded of this while visiting a friend’s home in Boulder, Colorado. It was a simple town house, facing a big street on one side and a large parking lot on the backside. There was no spacious garden, or expansive lawn. But there was a little patch of concrete out back, and my friend had taken it upon himself to get rid of the lifeless concrete and replace it with dirt instead. He was restoring the area with life.

“I’ve got tomato plants ready to put in,” he said. “Then I am going to put a sign outside that says “free” and the homeless guys can come and eat them.”

I thought about how some might see this gesture as small – tomatoes won’t keep someone fully fed – and yet at the same time, how big the impact would be. Imagine if everyone grew a few vegetables that they offered up to others to eat?

This wasn’t someone with an enormous amount of space to grow food on. But it was someone who knew that he could at least get a few plants going, and that was better than nothing. He would maximize on what he had, and his community would be better for it.

What if we all grew a few plants?

As it turns out, we don’t need to all turn into full-scale farmers, but even just using a little bit of our space for growing food would provide great returns. In the United States, for the 85 million households with a private lawn, the average lawn size is about one-fifth of an acre. That amount of space can actually provide a fair amount of food, and imagine if you got only a handful of lawns production more food. If we grow food not lawns, the results can be bountiful. In Milwaukee, a 3-acre farm manages to feed 10,000 people a year. Some people say you can grow most of what you need on as little as one-tenth of an acre.

So why do we choose lawns instead of food? Because gardening takes time. Because Western culture has instructed us that a perfectly manicured green lawn is the sign of success. But in an era where we are more and more threatened by things like drought, rethinking our outdoor spaces and how we put them to use is of the utmost importance.

Taking part in the Food Not Lawns movement is not just about gardening or food; it’s about building communities and being a part of the solution instead of the problem. Quite frankly, I think we would all be better off if we lived in a world of gardens instead of lawns. Have a little green space? Plant something. Turn a dull lawn into a lush garden, where you can pick your own produce, smell glorious flowers, and bring back a little wildlife. It’s all about cultivating something, both in the ground and within ourselves and our communities.

Originally published on EcoSalon

Image: Chiot’s Run

Comments 2

  1. Cassie

    I actually grow lemons, Fuji apples and kale in my backyard! So much fun to have and grow!

  2. suki

    i’m looking forward to planting in my backyard, even though we’ve lived here for a handful of years and progress is currently at zero still. :) thinking a citrus and a planter box or two would be a great addition.

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