The epicenter in America’s war against vegetable gardens has a new battleground.
In Orlando, city officials have given Jason Helvingston until the end of the week to eradicate his curbside vegetable garden. Home garden plans like Helvingston’s are often deterred by strict city codes regulating what people can or cannot grow in their lawns. In this case, Orlando officials told TakePart that someone reported his lawn as a code violation. Helvingston, who grows kale, radishes, beans and more, is not willing to give up his veggies without a fight. He has circulated a petition in support of his garden and he will petition Orlando’s code board in December.
Helvingston and others who have tried to convert their yards into productive food sources recognize the inherent wastefulness of the front lawn. On the surface, a big front yard seems like the picture of the American dream. But why do we have a lawn and what purpose does it even serve? This symbol of American culture may not be so American after all.
The lawn, like many other American traditions, got its start in England. English yards actually served a useful purpose: Wealthy people used them as grazing areas for their livestock. Over time, having animals traipsing around your house went out of fashion, but having a lawn did not.
Colonists brought the front yard tradition to America, as well as the host of environmental complications that resulted. (Fun fact: All turf grasses are from Europe, including Kentucky Bluegrass). Lawns require a great deal of wasted potable water, polluting chemicals (fertilizer, Miracle-Gro, weed control, etc), and gas-guzzling tractors and other equipment. To sell us all these products, a burgeoning multibillion-dollar lawn-care industry has developed. In 2002 the University of Florida estimated that the turf-grass sector alone took in $57.9 billion.
Some homeowners are fighting back, however. Instead of keeping a traditional lawn, people are converting them into home vegetable gardens. Julie Bass of Michigan, Michel Beauchamp of Quebec, and most recently, Jason Helvingston all turned their front yards into functioning gardens. Growing appropriate seasonal vegetables transforms a previously useless plot of turf grass into a sustainable, productive practice. Growing their own vegetables also provides homeowners with relatively low-cost organic food.
The real lawn-care boom came after World War II. The weary soldiers, tired of being overseas, wanted to return home to their wives maintaining manicured lawns. As Jason Helvingston and his fellow progressive vegetable growers know, just as the idea of women sitting at home gardening is outdated, so too is the idea of the Great American Lawn. It’s about time to mow it down.
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