During World War II, the Victory Garden campaign encouraged folks to grow some of their own food. Millions of gardens in window boxes, front yards, vacant lots and community plots produced abundant fruit and vegetable crops. An estimated 40% of all vegetables consumed in the U.S. in 1943 were grown in home gardens.
Though not due to a national war campaign, articles in newspapers, magazines, and on-line are buzzing these days about the increasing number of people who are growing edible plants. In neighborhoods from coast to coast and border to border, flower beds and lawns are being replaced with edible gardens.
It’s not hard to figure out why. Food prices are rising. The cost of driving to the store is rising. Environmental costs of industrial farming are high, and the quality of large-scale, commercially grown fruits and vegetables is often second-rate. How many times do I face disappointing, expensive produce at a giant grocery before I look for an alternative?
The following examples illustrate a rising trend in gardening.
This summer the lawn of San Francisco’s City Hall was pulled up and replaced with an edible garden. The Slow Food Nation Victory Garden is the first time since 1943 that SF’s City Hall has hosted an edible garden. From the City Hall Gardens blog: “The Slow Food Nation Victory Garden is a living quilt of plants and people, a garden of communities. Featuring a wide variety of heritage organic vegetables suited to the Bay Area microclimate, the garden will demonstrate the diversity of urban food production practices. Food grown in the garden will be donated to those with limited access to healthy organic produce through a partnership with local food banks and meals programs.”
Perhaps inspired by San Francisco’s gardening efforts, an article in the July 21, 2008 issue of The New Yorker, “Turf War: Americans Can’t Live Without Their Lawns—But How Long Can They Live With Them?“, explores the democratization of the American lawn. Elizabeth Kolbert reports that lawns in the U.S. cover an area roughly the size of New York State, and that each year, forty billion dollars is spent on their upkeep. That’s an tremendous amount of potentially useful land and money devoted to what another writer calls a scruffy green carpet. Another reason for reconsidering a lawn lies in its unnaturalness. A traditional weed free, turfgrass lawn requires the regular application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Organic a lawn is not.
Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, by Heather Flores, brings the current Victory Garden movement and the anti-lawn movement together. Published in 2006, Flores’s vision is that private lawns will give way to gardens and gardens will lead to stronger, healthier neighborhoods.
A 2008 publication, Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn: A Project by Fritz Haeg, documents four new gardens where front lawns used to lie. It contains essays by a concerned group of home owners, artists, and environmentalists. A standout essay is “Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns” by Michael Pollan. First published in the New York Times Magazine in 1989, it’s a history of the lawn as well as a personal account of dealing with the mown acres surrounding a house Pollan and his wife purchased. Pollan acknowledges that a lawn isn’t an inherently poor choice; he encourages considering the motivation behind that choice. Do we maintain a lawn for tradition’s sake, or from pressure to conform?
I’m working on a plan to trade my front grass for nasturtiums and fava beans. If you’re inclined to grow your own too, come to the library where you’ll find inspiration and information to get started.