Front Lawn Revolution: From Grass to Food
While nice to look at, perfectly manicured front lawns are a huge waste of resources and growing space says the CEO of Thrive Lot, whose company helps people install permaculture gardens instead of green grass.
Your front lawn used to be something you’d mow regularly. Nowadays, that once well-groomed greenery is being replaced by a homegrown veggie patch that offers ‘Lunch from the Lawn’ or ‘Dinner at your Doorstep.’
Justin West, who grew up on a small Amish farm growing food for the family, says “we’re kind of eating the world and destroying it as populations grow and agriculture spreads, marching across the landscape and gobbling up territory. Once I discovered permaculture, putting the right plants beside each other in a symbiotic relationship so they could take care of each other, I knew that was the path I wanted to follow.”
Researching concepts like food-for-the-future, climate and environmental changes, and matters like resilience and sustainability, he discovered the answer literally right at his doorstep, or at least next to his front door — his lawn. “Our answer was to coordinate building edible landscapes, vegetable beds working in concert with pollinator gardens, and proper soils,” says West, who is the CEO of Thrive Lot.
Food Revolution Network supports that contention noting that, “While well-trimmed lawns are a hallmark of homeowners, they’re also the single largest irrigated crop in the U.S. covering nearly 32 million acres.” Their sole mission is to look pretty with no requirement to be productive — all at an annual lawn care cost approaching $30 billion.
Food Revolution scornfully reports, “The space that American lawns occupy could provide enough land to grow three times as many fruits and vegetables if utilized properly.”
The Urban Farm, an educational online food growing resource, corroborates that contention — “A feast for the eyes is not enough,” they report, adding the benefits include something edible in return for hard work, water, and the expense of tending a landscape. “In a quest for more space to grow something edible, food revolutionaries are converting landscapes into gardens, including conventional front lawns transformed into maverick vegetable plots with front yard gardens taking as many forms as there are front yard gardeners.”
In some cases, it has taken legal action to overcome prohibitions against anything greener than grass on the front lawn. A Florida couple battled for six years for the right to plant veggies in front of their house, nullifying a local zoning ban on vegetable gardens at the front of residential properties “on the basis that they were unsightly,” according to a National Public Radio report. In California, it took passage of legislation allowing for ‘personal agriculture’ designed to reduce food costs.
“The space that American lawns occupy could provide enough land to grow three times as many fruits and vegetables if utilized properly.”
Whether growers are small-plot dirt movers who take pleasure from growing their own supper or larger entities who hire a company to build to concept, they all support the notion of permaculture. Among several definitions, it’s an approach to land management that designs and arranges things in natural ecosystems involving regenerative agriculture.
One of the benefits of planting a diversified crop selection is that more variety often means fewer pests because of a beneficial insect habitat. Many lawn gardens are not only edible, but esthetically pleasing with colorful borders of nasturtiums and marigolds.
Says West: “Our typical installation can include anywhere from 30 to 90 species of plants, many of which are already flowering so they can immediately attract predatory insects that eat the pests who want to eat your new edible lawn.”
Nasturtiums are called the queen of flowers when it comes to pest control, while bright marigolds are attractors of beneficial insects. Nasturtiums, with or without companion plantings of thyme or onions, work well in keeping away such scourges as cabbage worms and squash bugs. Another advantage is that these colorful flowers tend to draw in things like ladybugs that love to snack on aphids.
While long-time backyard gardeners prefer to get their hands dirty and express some skepticism about having someone else build the garden for them, West counters: “Gardening is hard, tons of back-breaking work. What we do is peel some of that back and develop an actual ecosystem for growers.
“In a traditional vegetable garden, you put in what you want to grow and eat and then have to fight for it because it’s not a natural system. The people in our platform have a deep understanding of soil science and plant species and can set up a system with a lot more biodiversity than most gardeners can, supporting plants that offer nitrogen, mineral accumulation, the types of plants that attract predatory insects for protection. It’s an application of scientific design that makes gardens more abundant even as they require less work, less water, and no chemicals.”
Insisting there’s a lot to like in the transformation of a traditional yard into an edible landscape or forest garden. Thrive Lot publicist Jeremy Payton advises: “These yards are aesthetically pleasing, multi-functional, ecologically diverse, and bountiful. The beautiful landscape filled with flowers, bees, butterflies, and birds provides the freshest, healthiest foods and herbs — without any work for the homeowner as a local contractor will build and maintain (steward) the ecosystem. This is not your grandma’s garden.”
- How to Use Permaculture Guilds to Turn Your Garden into a Food Forest
- Growing Up Together: The Science Behind Companion Planting
- Back to Eden: The Fruit is Sweeter When You Break the Rules
Company marketing compares conventional landscaping with ecological landscaping the Thrive Lot way and comes up with a number of dichotomies — while conventional is “purely ornamental, thirsty and wasteful, chemically enhanced, high maintenance and destructive,” their way is “food-productive and ecologically restorative, uses native plants adapted to survive in local conditions, encourages microorganism activity by using natural soil amendments, offers a whole-systems design approach with nature in mind while adding environmental benefits.”
Whether your project is a DIY endeavor or constructed by outside talent, trading front-yard grass for front-door veggies is a concept on the rise.