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Fighting the Lawn to Save the Earth

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

Do you live in a community that doesn't allow gardening? Ridiculous, I know. But it's time to fight back.

I just sent this email to the director of my parents' gated subdivision, on the subject of allowing residents to start gardening (currently H.O.A. rules forbid gardening).

Feel free to use this as a form/template for emailing the leaders of your community, if you live in one that doesn't allow gardening.

Here we go:

Hi Mr. ______. My name is _______, and my parents live in ________. I was going to request a face-to-face meeting with you, but I think it's better to correspond via email, given the current situation.

[Note: The "situation" referred to here is the COVID-19 pandemic]

I'd like to discuss __________'s [subdivision name] land-usage, and the rules surrounding it. Currently, there is an extreme amount of land being purposed as lawns, and this needs to change.

Our planet is experiencing an across-the-board ecological emergency, due to habitat loss, biomass loss, and biodiversity loss. Populations of all animals, including birds and insects, are plummeting, due to habitat loss and chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

The "lawn" is an 18th century status symbol, designed to display "conspicuous consumption." Wealthy people started having lawns specifically because of the lawn's uselessness - not growing food, not providing habitat - just completely wasted. And this wastefulness was designed to show people just how rich they were - because they could "afford" to make their land useless. That is the origin of the lawn.

I can forgive people in past centuries for doing this, because they didn't understand the effect that it would have on the ecology of the planet. The word "ecology" had not even entered the English language yet. But in this day and age, it is unforgivable.

The largest crop in America right now is grass. Not wheat. Not barley. Not oats. Not corn. Not soybeans. Not anything of use. It's grass. We grow more grass than any other plant. What do you think about that? Does that bother you?

In terms of carbon, the American lawn has a bigger footprint than the entire transportation industry - all cars, trains, buses, and planes. A forest holds more carbon than a lawn, obviously, since there is so much more biomass in a forest than in a lawn. If all lawns in America were allowed to re-wild, the amount of carbon sequestered each year, as the land recovers, would be greater than all of the carbon targeted in the entire Paris Accords.

Yet most of us are still going about our business-as-usual, with lawns, lawnmowers, and pesticides, getting our food from mass-monocrop agriculture delivered by trucks and powered by oil.

This is obscene, and future generations (if there are any) are going to remember this. There will be records of it. We'll have pictures. As we're struggling to survive due to our parents' and grandparents' decisions, we'll remember who was on which side of that struggle. We'll remember who stood by and propped up the existing, wasteful systems, and who stood in the way and blocked our efforts at reform. And we'll also remember who saw the writing on the wall, and who was willing to change. We'll remember who was willing to be humble, who was willing to admit their mistakes, and who was willing to make changes to help us survive. It's up to you which side you want to be on.

There are two sensible options for our lawns:

1) Allow them to re-wild, providing habitat for the ecosystems and plants/animals/insects whose populations are plummeting

2) Grow fruits and vegetables on them.

I can imagine that most residents of __________ will not be open to the first option. They will complain about "animals" and "bugs" and all of that. So I recommend the second option.

5 Reasons to Try Foodscaping On Your Lawn

If we grow food on our land, it will provide the following benefits:

1. It will free up agricultural land elsewhere, to re-wild. If we're growing more food at home, we'll have less need for farms, and farmland can be allowed to re-wild. Then the "animals" and "bugs" will be elsewhere, miles away, and your residents won't be confronted by them.

An animated guide to re-wilding made simple:

2. Growing food at home will decrease our need for oil (since oil is the fuel used for transporting food from farms far away), thereby slowing climate chaos, and helping to extricate ourselves from our dependence on Middle Eastern dictatorships for fuel.

3. Local self-sufficiency. When we depend on the industrial economy (which includes the oil industry, the car industry, the road-repair industry, and all of the other industries that go into making parts and components for these industries), as well as governments (who maintain the roads and license us to use them), we are not as "free" as we could be. We'll always be at the mercy of Big Corporations, or Big Government, or both. But if we start growing food at home, these institutions have less power over us.

4. Food security. Right now, the system we're using to feed ourselves is extraordinarily complicated, with so many moving parts, just to get our food from farm to plate. And with so much complexity, we are vulnerable to shocks and disruptions. These disruptions could be anywhere in the world, and it affects our ability to eat. Right now, supermarkets are low on goods, and while I don't predict that we'll actually "run out of food" in this crisis, this is only the first warning shot in the slow collapse of our wasteful economic system, under the weight of its contradictions and ecological arrogance. We are lucky we're getting this warning. We have to heed it, and start our transition to local self-sufficiency now. If we fail to heed this warning, then the next crisis will be worse, whenever it comes, and we could actually see starvation. I know you care about your residents. So please start thinking about their long-term security, and allow them to take steps to transition to a sustainable, reliable food economy.

5. Gardening is fun and healthy. Many of your residents are suffering from various health problems, including mental health. I know several people here who are on psychiatric medication for depression, and I'm sure it's widespread here, as it is in most of America (about one third of adults are on antidepressants in this country). And the health community agrees: Re-establishing a physical connection to the land is essential for mental health. Getting your hands in the soil is one of the most beneficial things you can do, for everything from depression and anxiety, to blood pressure and cholesterol. Allowing gardening will have cascading health benefits.

10 Mental Health Benefits of Gardening:

6. Localizing agriculture will facilitate community interaction and relationship-building. If one neighbor grows broccoli, and another grows bell peppers, and another grows carrots, then all three can trade their crops, and in doing so, they can meet each other, learn about each other, develop relationships, and build community. Again, this has cascading benefits for every area of life.

7. Save money by no longer needing lawn-mowing services, pesticides, and all of that stuff.

8. Decrease the contribution to red-tide, by no longer using industrial lawn-fertilizers.

It's clear what the right thing to do is.

But how exactly to go about this? What exactly should you do if you want to help?

First, rescind the H.O.A. rule that prohibits gardening. This is the absolute minimum.

Second, allow (and promote) community gardens in the communal areas of the neighborhood (i.e. the lawn areas that aren't part of any private residence). They can be tended by anyone in the community who signs up, and the harvests can be shared among everyone.

Third, encourage residents to look into gardening land-lease. This is when a resident leases the right to garden on their land, to a person (or a company). The person (or company) plants the seeds, comes a few times a week to tend the plants, and then harvests them when ready. Then, they share a portion of the harvest with the resident. Or, if the resident prefers, the company can sell the harvest at a market, and then share a portion of the profit. A win-win for everyone.

There are groups doing this everywhere in the world - including Florida:

There's even a group right here in Venice!

There are many companies that do this, and they're only going to grow and multiply, as the general consciousness of humanity becomes more aware of the need for sustainable land-use.

And the potential production can be huge. Here's a video on a family who produces 6,000 pounds of food per year on just 1/10th of an acre:

If they can do that in California, imagine what can be done in this tropical climate with a year-round growing season!

I hope you will consider these options. If you want more information, I will be happy to correspond with you over email (and eventually in person, after the pandemic has slowed down). I can answer whatever questions, or possible objections, you may have.

And finally, I'd like to emphasize how important this is - not only for me and my generation, but for yours as well. Most of your residents may be seniors, but they have children and grandchildren. And when their younger offspring come here for visits, they can see the land-use policies of this community, with their own eyes, right in front of them.

Anyone who understands the precarious position of our planet's ecology will be downright offended by the decisions that have been made here. They're going to resent their parents and grandparents for sitting by, idly, and allowing this to happen.

And the more the ecological consciousness of humanity rises, the greater the juxtaposition is going to be, and the more anger there will be at the residents and their community directors, for their complacency. It's going to drive a wedge between generations. It already is. The resentment from millennials against "boomers" is exploding right now, and if your generation wants to repair this relationship, there is only one way to do it. You have to start caring about our planet, and modifying your choices in order to align with what's best for the planet's health.

Please think about this. I'm here if you want to talk.

Thank you.

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