Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Cost of American Lawns

This is an excerpt from an article in the May/June 2009 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal. The article is "Edible Estate: Trade your grass lawn for an edible garden," by Susan M. Osborn. It's a wonderful article on how a older lady, Margie, tore up her dumb lawn and created a urban garden that supplies 35-40% of her food. How cool can it get?

The article has a section on the environmental benefits of discarding your grass for a garden. This is the part I thought you might want to read:

Approximately 70% of American residential water is used for landscaping. The average lawn needs 10,000 gallons of water each summer. To irrigate 45 million lawns in the U.S. requires 200 gallons of water per person, per day. Margie waters only three times a week for five or ten minutes.

Lawnmowers use 800 million gallons of gas each year. Gas-powered lawn equipment produces as much as one-tenth of the smog-forming pollutants from all mobile sources. In one year, a gas mower produces as much air pollution as driving 43 new cars 12,000 miles each. The pollution emitted from a power mower in one hour is equal to the amount from a car being driven 350 miles. Margie uses no gas-powered equipment.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 70 million pounds of pesticides are applied to lawns each year. This is ten times more per acre than the pesticides that are applied to agricultural crops. Some 40-60% of the nitrogen fertilizer applied to lawns ends up in surface and groundwater, contaminating these waters. Manufacturing pesticides and synthetic fertilizers requires fossil fuels and contributes to global warming. Margie uses no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.

Yard waste makes up over 50 percent of the nation's landfills. Margie recycles kitchen and yard waste through a compost pile.

NASA photographs indicate 32 million acres of US land are covered by lawns. This makes grass the nation's largest irrigated crop. If we're going to devote precious natural resources to cultivating a crop, shouldn't it be edible?

****************end of extract********

As for me, I've always thought lawns were a dumb idea. I've never owned a home, so never had to figure out what I'd do, but if I had, I have torn up a lawn and at least planted some ground cover that I wouldn't have to mow. This article goes on to explain some background and history of lawns. Lawns might have made some sense in England where there is abundant rain, but here in the States, it's an idea whose time has long gone.

In this issue, there are also articles on making a simple feta cheese from goat milk, and a very interesting article on how Middle Eastern countries use sumac as a spice. Apparently, the sour-lemony taste of sumac makes it a highly regarded condiment, used in a lot of dishes. Recipes are included. If you've got to spend money on magazines, this is a fine one to get!



HermitJim said...

Thanks for the heads up on the mag, HM. Information of this kind only re-enforces what those of us "country folks" have know for some time.
Guess we are doing it right, after all!

Mary Lou in Central NY said...

You might enjoy


site and blog about an urban homestead on a city lot in Pasadena, CA, USA

Patricia said...

Howdy, Hermit--you betcha!

Mary Lou: I have pathtofreedom bookmarked, but thanks for the ref to urbanhomestead. I'll check it out.

Don said...

I live out in the Nevada desert and you would be amazed (and offended) at the number of people who have green grass lawns. How anyone can justify to themselves the use of water for a lawn out here is beyond me. We have nothing but rock at the moment. Some day we'll add some local cacti that can live without additional water but for now it's just rock.

Mayberry said...

Great post HM. I too think mowing/weeding/watering a lawn is about the biggest waste of time, effort, and money there is.

Patricia said...

Hey Don--I would be amazed, but not offended. Getting offended by other people's behavior is as big a waste of time as a lawn. :) Thanks for your comment.

Mayberry: Glad to see I'm not alone!