It surrounds our homes and buildings, lines our roads and sidewalks, and covers our parks. But have you ever wondered why or how we ended up with a flat green mat covering the dirt in our outdoor spaces?
I hadn’t really thought much about it until watching the movie Biggest Little Farm. In the film, the plot that is eventually transformed into lush, productive land teeming with life begins as a former monoculture farm operation that has sapped the life and energy from the soil. It was inspiring to see what could be done, made me wonder what could be achieved on my little bit of land, and also made me question why we cover all of our potentially productive soil in a layer of unproductive grass!
Why do we even have lawns made of grass?
According to medium.com, “lawns were mostly limited to the wealthy upper classes of medieval Europe. Nobility were the only ones who could afford to set aside and maintain land that didn’t produce food or contribute to their livelihood in any way.” Additionally, “the grass had to be cut by hand, using a scythe or shears” which had to be done through hired labour and so was very expensive – that is, until the lawnmower was invented. It was then than lawns became accessible to more people and so the practice having lawns spread.
Why is grass not ideal?
In order to maintain our lawns, we perform a number of tasks that are harmful to the environment, including:
- Applying synthetic fertilizers
- Spraying pesticides which can harm pollinators
- Running lawnmowers and other landscaping equipment that contribute to carbon emissions
- Spilling gasoline when refilling equipment
- Regular watering
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, converting just one-quarter of each lawn in Canada would equal around 14,400 hectares – about 25,000 football fields – of habitat for pollinators! Reducing the amount of space that lawns occupy would also:
- Reduce water usage particularly through the summer when resources can be scarce
- Allow more space to grow your own food
- Capture rainwater which in turn may reducing flooding events
- Less time spent on maintaining your lawn as many alternatives require little maintenance
What you can do!
I have tried a number of methods to reduce the impact of our lawn, expand our food production capacity, and encourage pollinators to visit and there are many cost effective, scalable options to achieve these objectives!
Make your garden beds bigger, or add new garden beds while reducing lawn to be mowed: last year we took an unused corner of our yard and, using Hugelkultur principles, some stones from our property, and tree branches we created a vegetable garden in our front yard. We successfully grew sunflowers, beans, and brussels sprouts in the new garden bed last year!
Create community gardens
If you live in shared spaces such as a condo or townhouse, consider if it may be possible to convert unused areas to community gardens to be allocated among residents.
Change grass for alternatives that don’t require mowing
Did you know that there are options instead of regular grass? Westcoast Seeds (and I’m sure many others!) offer several suggestions for those wishing to convert their grass while retaining green space. Or there’s always the option to not mow and let it grow!
Lobby your city
The City of Vancouver allows residents to create gardens in spaces outside their lots, on boulevards, along sidewalks, around boulevard trees. Maybe this is something that could work in your city too!
Have you ever considered making the green spaces around you more productive?