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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2249

Manicured Front Lawns Turned into Farmed Plots for Food

Sunday Discourse by Philip Fernando for Asian Tribune

Well-manicured front lawns are much more than status symbols. Many Californian cities now boast of residents turning their front lawns into vegetable gardens. An estimated 30 million homes have cultivated their gardens in the United States. Some cities also provide plots of land for families to grow food. The community plots get water supply for a nominal fee. Front lawns are veritable sources of profitable pastime for thousands. It is spreading rapidly in many US cities. Neatly trimmed yards are yielding tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, lettuce, beets and herbs.

Sri Lankans resident here knew this all along. We know of many who ventured into gardening and had good harvests of beans, egg plants, chilies and many more. They would share their crops. Neighbors would drop by and pick up an onion sprout or a beet or two. This has become a fad-the new water hole- where gossip gets spread, said one lawn farmer with a smile.

Edible Estates is the name of a project where owners are now using their lawns productively. Many ornamental lawns are being used for artistic arrangements of organic produce. Los Angeles-based architect Fritz Haeg launched the campaign in July 2005, after pundits and politicians had divided the country into Red and Blue states for the presidential election. It was reported that Haeg was drawn to the lawn — that "iconic American space" — because it cut across social, political and economic boundaries. "The lawn really struck me as one of the few places that we all share," Haeg says. " It represents what we're all supposedly working so hard for — the American dream."

The problem, as Haeg sees it, is that the "hyper-manicured lawn" is looking increasingly out of date. One newspaper report stated that in the 1950s, when suburbia first began to sprawl, a perfectly trimmed front yard embodied the post-war prosperity Americans aspired to. Today, amid rising fuel costs, food safety scares and growing environmental awareness things are different. Some may think that a chemically treated and verdant but unproductive lawn seems wasteful.

Tilling your front yard has become fashionable today. Those who weathered the depression of 1942 knew what it was to be able to produce food in your own garden. During World War II, Agriculture Secretary Claude R. Wickard encouraged Americans to plant their gardens, thus, help boost civic morale. Many relied on cheaper food supplies closer home that way. Then there were the slogans "Have Your Garden, and Eat It Too." “Grow Food Closer Home.” Gardens were seen all over the country producing food. It was reported that in 1943, Americans planted 20.5 million Victory Gardens, and the harvest accounted for nearly one-third of all the vegetables consumed in the country that year.

Twenty-five million U.S. households planted vegetable and fruit gardens in 2007, according to Bruce Butterfield of the National Gardener's Association, and that number is expected to increase by several million this year. Garden services and outlets for seed and fertilizer supplies are rapidly spreading throughout the country.

The US Department of Agricultural (USDA) waiting list for Master Gardener Program, which involves nearly 90,000 volunteers in all 50 states who educate and assist the public with horticulture projects, is getting longer every year, says Bill Hoffman, National Program Leader for Agriculture Homeland Security. Even urban dwellers are returning to the land; in Austin, Texas, for example, the wait for community gardens is three years. In California is is about two years.

In fact, the average American garden has proven to be a surprisingly accurate social and economic barometer. During times of prosperity some opted to prefer manicured gardens but as things got harder people are reverting back to home grown food. It is sustenance over aesthetics.

But while some gardeners might be trying to save a few bucks or avoid commercially farmed produce, many horticulturists believe the gardening boom is more about lifestyle than economics. And unlike the concept of government-sponsored, "top-down" Victory Gardens, Edible Estates is a grassroots effort. Ridgley, for one, says his garden is as much about community and beauty as it is about food. "This is an art exhibit that just happens to be in my front yard," he says.

Haeg, meanwhile, hopes his project will prompt more Americans to rethink their yards, and where they plant their gardens. He hopes to plant two more Edible Estates next year. "This is a wonderful opportunity to reconsider how we're living, which I don't think is so great anyway." And with 80% of Americans living in homes with access to a yard, the potential for growth is enormous. The front lawns are there waiting.

- Asian Tribune -

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