Lawn Greens

If 'peak oil' makes oil-intensive industrial agriculture economically unfeasible, will suburbanites need to turn their lawns into farming plots?

"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."

Full Story: Lawn to Farm: Suburbia’s Silver Lining



But What About the Dirt?

Can all of that formerly great farmland still sustain crops? Maybe not. In the process of converting it from a farm to a single use sprawlburb a lot happened. Soil was removed, compressed and littered with construction debris. It may not be capable of growing much for a long time.

You can restore/create great

You can restore/create great garden soil relatively quickly, i.e. a year or two. If there is poor drainage or compacted soil (and you are too lazy to uncompact it with a spading fork) you can build raised beds. All kinds of organic materials are available for free to restore your soils, i.e. your neighbors grass clippings and leaves. Go to a local riding stable and you can get all the soiled straw you want.

No you are right. It is better to eat all that processed food that causes obesity and diabetes, that is shipped thousands of miles burning up all that excess fuel and causing air pollution and global warming and tastes like wet cardboard. MMMM good!


Soil was removed, compressed and littered with construction debris. It may not be capable of growing much for a long time.

When I semiretire, I'm going to have a consultancy to teach people how to grow a little bit of food in their little corner of suburban utopia - not to feed a family of four 3 meals a day, but enough to avoid a few trips in the car. Not that hard to do at all with some decent instruction, and I'll likely end up 'teaching the teachers'. This year's garden will work out some of the in the system.



Subsistence farmer vs. Mega farmer

It would be nice if their were fewer restrictions on gardens but I'm not sure how many people are going to want a corn field in their front yards or in their neighbor's yards.

"They estimate that without cheap fossil fuels, we would need 50 million new farmers. That’s one farmer for every two households in the United States, 25 times more than there are now."

There's a reason why only 1% of the American population can now call themselves farmers, mechanization. It is far more effective to grow on large plots of land than millions of lawns. How many people are really suited to farming? We could spin thread to make our clothes and build our own homes as well but most people couldn't do and if they could they would not be as productive at their full-time jobs. The poorest people in the world can grow food and though it is a subsistence living, they can't advance without specialized skills. At best gardening is hobby and not a way of life.

"“Farmers” who plow thousands of acres with gigantic diesel-guzzling tractors and sell corn by the bushel for their entire income aren’t much use in an age of expensive energy."

Believe me. There will be fuel subsidies or the price of food will increase to cover costs. That's more likely than seeing a horse plow your lawn.

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