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Redesigning the Front Yard: Replacing Lawns with Food, and Now Prairies

The typical lawn is slowly being replaced by vegetable gardens and native landscaping.

The typical American lawn originally started as an imitation of rolling green English estates (yes, Americans were Anglophiles long before Downton Abbey). It may look nice—though some would say the aesthetics of unrelenting Bermuda grass are debatable—but it's not great for the environment.

A staggering 7 billion gallons of water a day are used to water lawns. Depending on the city, that's 30 to 60 percent of all urban fresh water. 200 different kinds of pesticides are used to maintain lawns, leading to groundwater pollution, wildlife poisoning, and (because of the energy used to manufacture petroleum-based pesticides) climate change. Fertilizers also contribute to climate change. Lawnmowers pollute, too: using a standard lawnmower for an hour creates pollution equivalent to driving a car from 45 to 350 miles.

In 2005, artist and architect Fritz Haeg launched the Edible Estates project, challenging surburban homeowners to reclaim their front yards for vegetable gardens. Food Not Lawns promotes the same thing. In many cities, residents have had to fight against zoning laws and homeowners' association codes, sometimes unsuccessfully, for the right to grow food instead of grass.

Now, it's also becoming more common to replace lawns with native plants. In the Midwest, homeowners are starting to bring back the prairie yard by yard. Prairies once covered 600,000 square miles of land in the United States, and have been reduced to just 1 percent of their former range, writes Yale Environment 360. Government agencies and conservation groups have worked on several restoration projects, but now more and more private citizens are deciding to help by abandoning their own lawns. From the article:

Lawn may long be king, but it is surrendering some ground as people increasingly welcome the helter-skelter beauty of prairie around homes and buildings, says [President of Prairie Nursery Neil] Diboll, who remembers locals referring to his nursery as the “weed farm” in the 1980s. “It’s like any social change event,” he says. “It’s a change in attitudes and styles, and those things take time.”


Lawn image from Shutterstock; home photos courtesy of Edible Estates

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