SPACE: Ground Rules
Urbanite #61 July 09
By: Scott Carlson
Horticulturally, my formative years were schizophrenic. My father was a salesman for a lawn-fertilizer company; I’ll always remember him on top of a riding mower, plying his monotonous expanse of suburban green. My mother, on the other hand, grew up a farmer’s daughter, and she was used to putting the land to work, growing peas, lettuce, or rhubarb for the table.
Four years ago, when I bought my own home in suburbia—a run-down Rodgers Forge rowhouse with a scraggly, south-facing lawn—I had to choose which side I would follow. I get my environmental sensibilities from Mom, so I did what seemed natural: I started ripping out the grass and planting vegetables.
Today, a little over half of my front lawn is taken up by arugula, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, beets, peppers, beans, onions, squash, cucumbers, and various herbs and flowers. And the agricultural spirit is spreading: My neighbor offered half of our shared strip in return for salad greens and vegetables; my friend down the street, Joe Hamilton, tore up a good deal of his backyard for a garden, and he has been going around the block, persuading neighbors to turn unused corners of their lots into raised beds in return for some produce. Joe and I even started an organization called the Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative (www.theforgefarm.blogspot.com), with a goal of helping our neighbors start at least one vegetable garden on every block.
But if the process of re-greening the Forge has earned us the admiration of some neighbors, it’s also stirred some ire. This spring, I got a letter from the Rodgers Forge Community Association telling me that my front-yard garden “does not adhere to the ideal of keeping a traditional design.” The association wants the garden gone.
The letter highlights a central tension of living in a place like the Forge: Is our Ozzie-and-Harriett suburb destined to remain as it was in 1951, when my house was built, with uniform patches of grass? Or, like all landscapes, will it evolve to reflect the needs and values of a new generation?
You might think I’m setting up a straw man, but I really do wonder. Writer and local-food advocate Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has argued that America has never developed a gardening culture because we fixate on two opposing visions of landscape: the wilderness and the lawn. In an era of collapsing ecosystems and resource depletion, should we really invest water, chemicals, energy, and land in growing a mostly useless crop like grass?
Read the whole article here.