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Better Health News and Comment
NEWSLETTER HOME            VOLUME TWO, NUMBER TWELVE            1    2    3    

Get Rid of the Lawn, Plant Your Own Vegetables

Get Rid of the Lawn, Plant Your Own Vegetables

Vegetable gardeners are ripping out their front lawns and planting vegetables instead.

The increase in people planting for the first time, or enlarging their vegetable gardens, really doesn't come as a surprise... Considering the massive amounts of pesticide poison and screwed-around DNA that vegetables bought at traditional supermarkets contain, it's no wonder that people are looking for other sources. Add to that the outrageous prices that are currently being demanded for produce (due in large part to the increased transportation fees) it is obvious why many americans are spending more time and energy expanding their back-yard gardens.

But what is a little surprising, and we applaud it wholeheartedly, is that a dedicated group of vegetable gardeners are ripping out their front lawns and planting dinner.

These new front-yard kitchen gardens, with everything from vegetables to herbs and salad greens, are a source of food, a topic of conversation with the neighbors and (most important of all) a political statement.

Take Leigh Anders who lives in Viroqua, Wisconsin. She tore up about half her front lawn four years ago and planted vegetables. She said her garden sends a message that anyone can grow at least some of their food... that task should shift from agribusiness back to individuals and their communities.

"This movement can start with simply one tomato plant growing in one's yard," Leigh said.

It's like money growing in your yardPeople have been growing vegetable gardens in their backyard for most of recorded history, but front-yard vegetable gardens are a growing outlet for people whose backyards are too shady or too small, as well as those who want to spread their beliefs one tomato at a time.

Victory gardens, which by some estimates provided 40 percent of America's vegetables during World War II, are a time-honored tradition. Many of the new gardeners hope their front-yard gardens will revive the notion.

Awarness of this activity has gotten more attention recently as bloggers chronicle their experiences and as mountains of research pile up about the poisonous effects of chemicals and fertilizers used to grow lawns. A book called "Food Not Lawns," published in 2006, inspired several offshoot groups.

Fritz Haeg, an artist and architect, has recntly published a book called "Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn," (which includes contributions by notables like Michael Pollen) says he's been overwhelmed by the response. He gets hundreds of e-mails every month from people who want to be next.

"People are obsessed with their homes, creating these cocoons that isolate them," Haeg said. "This project is about reaching out, getting them connected to their streets."

So can you imagine your front lawn being replaced with tomatos, peppers, squash, cucumbers, beans and more? Can you also imagine what the neighbors would say?

Even worse than the neighbors, some municipal codes limit the percentage of a yard that can be planted with anything other than trees and grass.

Bob Waldrop of Oklahoma City said, "Especially in the first three years, I got a lot of code violations." He planted his corner lot almost entirely with fruit trees, berry bushes and vegetables.

"Now that the plantings have matured, it's pretty," he said. "It wasn't so pretty the first couple years."

Shannon McBride, 47, of Huntsville, Alabama, says: "The neighbor thought tomatoes looked "untidy." So she and her husband are growing bell peppers, carrots, chives, herbs, two kinds of beans, beets, okra, lettuce and cucumbers.

Karen Baumann, who lives in Sacramento, California, received an anonymous complaint about her front-yard garden. That complaint led to a fight by local gardeners against the city's landscaping code, which stated that gardens could take up no more than 30 percent of the front yard.

After a public hearing the city changed the law.

Rosalind Creasy, a landscape designer who has been writing about edible landscaping for many years says: "I'm always asked, 'What will it look like in the winter? If you design it well and it has an herb garden, it will look fine. One of the dumbest things I see is dead lawns in the winter. They're brown for six months of the year. How beautiful is that?"

Nat Zappia, a graduate student, turned the front yard of the home he and his wife rent in Santa Monica, California, into a vegetable garden, with his landlord's permission. He estimates it supplies 35 to 40 percent of the food they eat.

The gardens don't cost much to plant. Zappia estimates he spent about $100 on the garden and says he and his wife save about $200 to $300 a year on their food costs.

Waldrop, in Oklahoma City, said the garden's organic fruit allowed him to eat in a way he could never afford if he bought everything at the grocery store.

"It's like money growing in your yard," he said.

Besides the obvious health and financial rewards, some front-yard gardeners say that ripping out the sod and putting in vegetables gave the neighbors their first-ever excuse to speak to them.

Creasy has a 1,000 square-foot edible garden that surrounds her Los Altos, California home. Among the things she grows: Wheat, sesame, paprika peppers and alpine strawberries.

Every July 4, as part of her neighborhood block party, she harvests wheat, lays it down on a tarp on her driveway, covers it with a cloth and has all the neighbors do what she calls, "the tennis shoe twist" to thresh it.

Next, she puts it in a deep wheelbarrow and blows off the chaff with an electric leaf blower. Then she grinds it with an attachment for her mixer, bakes bread and serves it to the neighbors, warm from the oven.

Creasy also keeps eight hens and one rooster in her yard and grows sorrel to feed them.

"I would say they're visited at least once a day by some child," she said. Her garden gives kids what grandparents gave children during a more rural time, Creasy said.

"I remember my grandfather slaughtering a chicken and showing me the insides where the egg was growing. I remember finding a potato," she said. "There's a reality to it that sitting and watching TV and watching video games don't have."

And it's a reality people can plant and cultivate themselves, she said.

"People tell me they went to Tuscany and ate outside under a grape arbor," Creasy said. "Well, they can grow their own grapes in their yard... People want meaning in their lives; you don't have to go to Tuscany to get it."



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