Lawn Greens

<p>If 'peak oil' makes oil-intensive industrial agriculture economically unfeasible, will suburbanites need to turn their lawns into farming plots?</p>
January 25, 2008, 5am PST | Michael Dudley
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"The seemingly limitless reserves of petroleum that fueled the past century's exodus from the farm are about half gone. From here on, fossil fuels - and all the everyday essentials that depend on them, like transportation and food - will grow increasingly costly.

Without some miraculous new energy source, muscle power could soon again be a cheaper alternative to fossil fuels for growing food. Blunt economic pragmatism seems set to out-shout nostalgia in the call to put more farmers on the land.

This isn't a move-to-the-boonies-or-starve ultimatum. In fact, many people are ideally positioned to become farmers right where they are - it's the silver lining to suburban sprawl.

Suburbia occupies vast swaths of former prime U.S. farmland. NASA's ecological forecasting research group reports that the people living there already water about 30 million acres of lawn, three times the land planted in irrigated corn.

Those lawns average somewhere between one-fifth and one-third of an acre. Authorities like gardening guru John Jeavons and "The Contrary Farmer" author Gene Logsdon say that's ample land for growing a substantial portion of a family's food.

This isn't to say that the 50 million farmers-to-be should grow all their own food, nor that the entire country's food supply can come from former lawns, parks and golf courses.

Rather, it's to point out that growing as much of one's own food as possible can be a cornerstone of sound household finance, and that the necessary land and water are already in the same places as many of the people who now participate only in the demand side of agriculture.

The most effective tactics for making farmers out of more of us are local: convincing homeowner associations that vegetable gardens look as nice as lawns, zoning boards that chickens belong in back yards, and state health agencies that bread baked in home kitchens for sale to neighbors isn't any likelier to hurt anybody than Wonder Bread."

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Published on Thursday, January 24, 2008 in Common Dreams
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