Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Gluttony of Lawns

Image via MoMa
I've posted before about the beautiful didactic propaganda posters of the World Wars, but the language of this one (via MoMA's Counter Space: the new kitchen) speaks to my Urban Land Scout-ness. EVERY available piece of land? Surely not every one? Interstate margins and medians? Too dangerous and hard to access, not to mention the particulate matter generated by tens of thousands of engines turning gasoline into go. What about shopping mall parking lot dividers (those generic islands of monkey grass, dark mulch, and holly)? Not great soil, probably not good water access, and likely to get a lot of pedestrian traffic. How about the abandoned house next door? It might qualify.

I exaggerate only to illustrate that the idea of gardening "every available piece of land" is a lot more romantic and grandiose than the practicalities of doing it. The poster's second statement-- GROW YOUR OWN FOOD-- implies that one should grow the food on YOUR OWN LAND (if you are so lucky to have access to some).

As it so happens, if you're privileged enough to have a house, chances are you do have access to land. We North Americans have a deep rooted (oh, that pun) love of the lawn. Artist Fritz Haeg has made a fine  body of work "attacking the front lawn" (called Edible Estates) and transforming the traditional grass-blanket lawns of select families into homeowner-association-friendly edible landscapes. It's one thing to tear out a chunk of sod, mix in some compost, and grow some tomatoes for a season, it's a more impressive feat to overhaul the entire yard in such a way that property-value-sensitive neighbors aren't going to complain about your unruly Eden. In the Edible Estates book, Haeg taps a well-researched essay by Michael Pollan in which he outlines the historic precedents and chemical costs of our love of lawn.

If you've got a front lawn (or your apartment complex does) and are thinking about pushing some edible landscaping on your housemates/landlord/whomever, I recommend Haeg's book both for it's aesthetic sensibilities and it's infectious enthusiasm. Now's the time to start planning and between Haeg's work and the seed catalogs arriving by mail, you should have more inspiration than you do arable land. Go forth and "supply your own cookhouse."

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