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THE GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT TO GROW FOOD, NOT GRASS
Submitted by KAT on Wed, 10/11/2006 - 11:33am.
The American suburb is “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world,” as peak oil prophet James Howard Kunstler is fond of saying. In his latest book, The Long Emergency, Kunstler predicts that our fossil-fueled way of life is going to literally run out of gas, precipitating, among other things, an agricultural crisis of epic proportions:
If Kunstler’s dire forecast turns out to be accurate, we’re all going to need to get our hands on a copy of Food Not Lawns, a terrific and timely new paperback from progressive publisher Chelsea Green, authored by activist and urban gardener H.C. Flores.
Flores is a proponent of permaculture, a sustainable way of landscaping inspired by natural eco-systems. Her book presents a nine-step plan to transform the typical wasteland of turf into a productive, environmentally friendly “paradise garden” bursting with edible bounty. “The average American lawn,” according to Flores, “could produce several hundred pounds of food a year.”
Food Not Lawns began as an offshoot of the grassroots group Food Not Bombs, a non-profit with chapters all over the country that provides free vegetarian meals to the hungry using donated ingredients that would otherwise end up in a dumpster.
Flores’ experience cooking and serving meals with Food Not Bombs gave her a new ambition; instead of simply providing food to others, she wanted to teach people how to provide for themselves. She describes Food Not Lawns as a “grassroots gardening project geared toward using waste resources to grow organic gardens and encouraging others to share their space, surplus, and ideas toward the betterment of the whole community.”
The more Flores learned about food, agriculture, and land use, she says, the more she came to see the typical suburban lawn as a symbol of “gross waste and mindless affluence.”
Michael Pollan, always ahead of the cultural curve, documented the downside of our mania for manicured lawns fifteen years ago in his book Second Nature, an entertaining and enlightening account of his evolution as a gardener. Like so many Americans, Pollan once thought nothing of devoting four hours each Saturday to mowing his lawn. After a season of this, though, disillusionment crept in:
In fact, our lawn fetish is downright fascistic; lawns gobble up more resources and create more pollution than industrial farming, and yet, so enshrined is the American lawn as the suburban ideal that it’s quite literally against the law in some places to opt out of the lawn loop and plant a more sustainable landscape.
Salt Lake City’s maverick Mayor Rocky Anderson decided to defy a local ordinance that makes front lawns mandatory when he got rid of his grass and replaced it with drought-tolerant native plants. Anderson, a Democrat, supports all kinds of radical concepts, such as same-sex marriage and a living wage. He worries about climate change, and is opposed to sprawl. His front yard, which now consumes 65% percent less water, is a shining example of conservation—and totally illegal.
There’s nothing green about America’s love of lawns, and there’s something terribly wrong with a culture where conservation has become a form of civil disobedience. The weaknesses of our industrial food chain and the unsustainable terrain of turf that surrounds suburbia have inspired a grassroots movement to grow not grass, but food.
The Dervae family of suburban Pasadena is the perfect embodiment of this movement. The Dervaes manage to grow three tons of food organically each year on one-tenth of an acre of land, enabling them to not only feed themselves but to sell surplus produce to local chefs. They share their gift for self-sufficiency gardening through a project they call The Path to Freedom.
If you’re ready to be liberated, Food Not Lawns is the perfect introduction to the permaculture revolution, sowing the seeds for an enlightened, sustainable way to nourish ourselves and our neighbors. James Howard Kunstler claims we’re all going to have to start growing our own food, anyway, so you might as well get a head start. People who know how to grow their own produce are going to be very popular in the post-petroleum era.
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