America’s largest crop is a lawn. Could it be a garden?
Mark Bittman, the amazing cook and bold columnist for the New York Times, tries to restrain his temper as he reports on how some suburban governments are citing homeowners for transforming their lawns into gardens.
…several times a year we hear of a situation like the one in Orlando, where the mayor claims to be striving to make his city green while his city harasses homeowners like Jason and Jennifer Helvenston for planting vegetables in their front yard, threatening to fine them $500 a day — for gardening. The battle has been raging for months, and the city’s latest proposal is to allow no more than 25 percent of a homeowner’s front yard to be planted in fruits and vegetables.
As if gardens were somehow an official eyesore, or inappropriate.
Of course not all governments are so homogeneity-obsessed. Here in the Southwest, in places like Las Vegas and Tucson and Ventura, cities are encouraging residents to transform their lawns to xeriscape or ocean-friendly gardens. But as Bittman points out, and a scientific team from the University of Montana (featured by NASA's Earth Observatory) has documented, the lawn is this nation's largest crop.
Using widely available data, Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International estimates that converting 10 percent of our nation’s lawns to vegetable gardens “could meet about a third of our fresh vegetable needs at current consumption rates.”
Ten percent is optimistic; even 1 percent would be a terrific start, because there is a lot of lawn in this country. In fact it’s our biggest crop, three times as big as corn, according to research done using a variety of data, much of it from satellites. That’s around a trillion square feet — 50,000 square miles — and, since an average gardener can produce something like a half-pound of food per square foot (you garden 100 square feet, you produce 50 pounds of food), without getting too geeky you can imagine that Doiron’s estimates are rational.
Lawns are not exactly the enemy, but they’re certainly not helping matters any.
An especially striking picture from the University of Montana team, led by Christina Milesi, found a clever way to map lawn extent. See here: