photos: my house August 2006; my house October 2003 (when we bought it)

The largest crop in the United States is the lawn. Seriously. According to Cascadia Food Not Lawns, US lawns consume 270 billion gallons of water a week–enough to water 81 million acres of organic vegetables all summer long. So, what gives? Why grass?

My dad loves his lawn. It is perfectly perfect and green and luxuriant and persuasive. When I ask him, “Why grass, dad?” He says, “Because I like the way it looks.” Hey, that is totally valid. Who wants to play croquet in clumps of blue fescue and rubber rabbitbrush? Here is what I am saying: Be realistic. Read the stats below (really read them) and then make a few small changes. Here are some ideas:

  1. Mow your lawn less. If it takes an hour to mow your lawn, that is equivalent to driving a not very fuel efficient car for 100 miles. Five gallons of gas=100 pounds of CO2. Do the math.
  2. Do not bag your grass clippings. Cut grass provides nitrogen to the soil. Plastic bags (made from oil remember) pile up in the landfill and take forever to decompose. Leaving the mulched clippings behind (or bagging and adding to compost) is a boost of beneficial nutrients to your soil. win win.
  3. Plant cultivars that work well in your climate and USDA Hardiness Zone. Check with your local nursery to see what is best for your climate and soil structure.
  4. Use a push mower instead of a power mower. How about a great workout and sense of accomplishment? Throw in saving a ton of money on gas and a mower.
  5. Only plant enough grass. My husband really wanted some grass in our backyard. To sit, walk barefoot, etc. I agree and we planted enough to do that. The rest of our yard is brimming with wildflowers, shrubs, and an edible garden. The front, where we never need grass is a low water, low maintenance garden that has great interest year round.
  6. Don’t use chemicals. They are SO destructive; they kill all the good guys with the bad guys and then you are totally dependant on them because the good guys are all gone. Create biodiversity in your yard by planting things that fill above and below ground niches–if all the gaps are filled then weeds don’t have any room to grow.

With global warming and all, I think it is time to step out of the illusory comfort of orderly lawns. It doesn’t take much to make a huge difference and to redefine your comfort. Personally, I am much more comfortable knowing that I am not excessively contributing to the statistics below.

Some American lawn and food statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency and Edible Estates:

2,4-D is the most widely used herbicide in the world, 60 million pounds are used annually in the U.S.
-EPA Proprietary Data, 2000-2001 Pesticide Market Estimates

Studies have found that dogs whose owners use 2,4-D lawn products are twice as likely to develop canine malignant lymphoma. – Hayes, T. et al. 1991.”Case-control study of canine malignant lymphoma: positive association with dog owner’s use of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid herbicides”. J National Cancer Inst. 83

Yard waste is second only to paper in the municipal solid waste stream. – EPA “Greenscaping Your Lawn & Garden”

Of thirty commonly used lawn pesticides, 13 are probable carcinogens, 14 are linked with birth defects, 18 with reproductive effects, 20 with liver or kidney damage, 18 with neurotoxicity and 28 are irritants. – National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns

Of thirty commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, 23 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 11 are toxic to bees, and 16 are toxic to birds. – National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns

Homeowners use up to ten times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops. – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

2,4-D, the pesticide in most Weed and Feed products, is a neurotoxicant and contains half the ingredients in Agent Orange. – Extension Toxicology Network (ETN). 1996. Pesticide Information Profiles for 2,4-D.

Lawn chemicals drift and are tracked indoors where they may remain in carpets and on surfaces for up to a year when not exposed to direct sunlight. -Nishioka MG, et al. 1996. “Measuring lawn transport of lawn-applied herbicide acids from turf to home: Correlation of dislodgeable 2,4-D turf residues with carpet dust and carpet surface residues.” Environmental Science and Technology 30: 3313-3320.

North Americans now devote 40,000 square miles to lawns, more than we use for wheat, corn, or even tobacco. – “The Lawn: North America’s magnificent obsession’ by Robert Fulford (Azure, July-August, 1998)

Americans spend $750 million a year on grass seed alone and more than $25 billion on do-it-yourself lawn and garden care. – from the exhibit at CCA, “The American Lawn: Surface of Everyday Life”

Hydrocarbons from mowers react with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight to produce ozone. Since lawn mowing occurs during the summer months, it exacerbates the already high levels of ground-level ozone present in the summer. – Westerholm, Roger. Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. June 1, 2001

Approximately 9% of some types of air pollutants nationwide come from lawn and garden equipment small engines. In metropolitan areas, the concentration of lawns causes this percentage to increase to 33%. – EPA STUDY, reported in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, Westerholm, Roger. June 1, 2001

This is so cool: Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator

today’s insight: It can be really overwhelming to think about my effect on the ecosystem. I mean, I could always do more. So, I will. Always do a bit more. That’s easy enough.

3 Responses to lawn=yawn

  1. Came by via YGG- great post, love what you’ve done with your home!

  2. Thanks! It has been a lot of work spread out over a few years…now that it is established, there really isn’t much room for any more plants. I struggle with that because I LOVE buying new plants!

  3. April says:

    love, love, love what you’ve done. it’s beautiful! where did you pick up your gardening knowledge?

    i have many perennial gardens in my yard and love them … but also find them overwhelming! the weeds, especially the weeds. and i don’t like chemicals, try to steer clear of them. any suggestions?

    my goodness, you inspire!!