How many times have we seen this sign around our neighborhood? And what does it signify?
For the artist Fritz Haeg, it means that the lawn is something different from the typical green feature of our suburban terrain. "The lawn as we know it today... we should think of as an industrial landscape," he says in this compelling video. "It is an industrial environment that depends on cheap oil, on water, and on pesticides that suppress all sort of other organisms and plants that grow there. Essentially, you have a pretty significant amount of the land that we have occupied rendered unusable and, for that matter, toxic."
Haeg is the creator of Edible Estates, a movement to dig up front lawns in suburban settings and replace them with vegetable gardens. It seems like a simple idea, but it would surely unsettle some people to see the grass go, to be replaced by beans, tomatoes, and broccoli. The lawn is a barrier, a "moat" of the modern home, said one Los Angeles man who participated in the Edible Estates project. "It makes you very aware of how the lawn acts as a buffer between public and private space," he said.
Haeg has ripped up front lawns in six cities, including Baltimore. And his rationale is as much environmental as aesthetic, as cited in statistics and facts presented in a mini-documentary about the first project in Salina, Kansas:
- Of the 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 13 are probable carcinogens, 14 are linked to birth defects, 18 impact reproductive systems, and 20 are neurotoxins; 17 of those pesticides have been found in groundwater.
- Homeowners use up to 10 times more pesticides on their lawns than farmers do on their fields.
- Americans use 64 million pounds of 2,4-D, a herbicide that shares ingredients with Agent Orange and that is common in weed-and-feed lawn products. Dogs whose owners use 2,4-D products are twice as likely to develop canine malignant lymphoma.
We won't go on. You get the point. The lawn is frequently not as green as it's supposed to be. But, as Haeg points out, it's the default setting in any neighborhood. You don't even think about it: You buy a house, and you have a lawn. Period. Haeg's says that with Edible Estates, he wants to jar people into a new way of thinking. "The ultimate goal is to have everyone that comes into contact with the project to reconsider whatever way they occupy the land," he says.
In a neighborhood like ours, with lots of kids, grass is actually a great play surface, so we're not advocating the abolishment of lawns. (However, it would be nice if we didn't have to put warning signs on our grass.) But the Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative wants to encourage people to engage the dirt in an active way. Rip up some part of your lawn, and we'll help you grow things there -- vegetables that your kids can take part in growing. Just ask us for help. This is a community effort.