27 March 2008

Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn

Replacing the front lawn with a productive edible landscape is an idea based on the newly released book of the same title by Fritz Haeg, an architect and artist who is creating edible estates in select locations throughout suburban America with the goal of inspiring others to follow suit.

"Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn documents the first four gardens with firsthand accounts written by the owners, garden plans, and photographs illustrating the creation of the gardens, from ripping up the grass to harvesting a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Essays…set the Edible Estates project in the context of larger issues concerning the environment, global food production, and generating a sense of community in our urban and suburban neighborhoods." (Source)

The first edible estate was created in Salina, Kansas. Deliberately put in the geographic center of the country, this location happens to be not far from Mormonism’s own ‘center’ of Independence, Missouri; location of the original Garden. Others have been created in suburban New York, Los Angeles, and London.

Why attack the front lawn?
-Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 13 are probable carcinogens, 14 are linked with birth defects, 18 with reproductive effects, 20 with liver or kidney damage, 18 with neurotoxicity and 28 are irritants (National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns)

-Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

-North Americans now devote 40,000 square miles to lawns, more than we use for wheat, corn, or even tobacco. ("The Lawn: North America's magnificent obsession' by Robert Fulford, Azure, July-August, 1998)

-Americans spend $750 million a year on grass seed alone and more than $25 billion on do-it-yourself lawn and garden care. (from the exhibit at CCA, "The American Lawn: Surface of Everyday Life")

Why food production in your yard?
-1% - 2% of America’s food is locally grown (estimate by Brian Halweil of the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization / reported by Jim Robbins, Los Angeles Times Magazine, July 31, 2005 pg. 8-11, 34)

-The produce in the average American dinner is trucked 1,500 miles to get to the plate, up 22% in the past two decades (according to a 2001 study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University / reported by Jim Robbins, Los Angeles Times Magazine, July 31, 2005 pg. 8-11, 34)

-6% - 12% of every dollar spent on food consumed in the home comes from transportation costs (Rhodes, V. James. 1993. "The Agricultural Marketing System", 4th Edition. Scottsdale, Arizona: Gorsuch,Scarisbrick, Publishers.)

How do Mormons feel about food production?
President Spencer W. Kimball said:
“We encourage you to grow all the food that you feasibly can on your own property. Berry bushes, grapevines, fruit trees—plant them if your climate is right for their growth. Grow vegetables and eat them from your own yard. Even those residing in apartments or condominiums can generally grow a little food in pots and planters. Study the best methods of providing your own foods. Make your garden … neat and attractive as well as productive. If there are children in your home, involve them in the process with assigned responsibilities” (
Family Preparedness May 1976 Ensign)

Mormon Health Code:
“And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving…All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground” (
D&C 89:10-11, 16)

Basic instructions to make your own edible landscape
-do a test on your soil to see what sort of amendments it might need, or if it has traces of lawn chemicals.
-use sod-cutter to remove existing grass, roll it up, give it away, or find a new use for it
-use roto-tiller to loosen compacted soil (or just turn over the existing turf and let it decompose)
-spread around 2-6 inches of compost
-till the soil again to mix in the new compost
-mark out a plan for your edible estate with stakes and tape
-plant your seedlings, starts, trees and seeds according to the planting calendar and mulch well
-water them in thoroughly and install soaker hoses or drip lines as necessary for irrigation

Some questions to think about when planning your edible estate
- where is south? where are the shady and sunny areas?
- where should tall trees or lower groundcover go? are there views to frame or obscure?
- what do you want to eat from your estate? what can't you get from the grocery store?
- alot of fruits and vegetables grow on vines, do you have something for them to grow on?
- how do you want to move through the edible estate? where should paths go?
- what kind of mulch to use? straw, bark, compost, leaves will retain moisture, block weeds and decompose into the soil
- is there an area in your estate for people? a place to relax and enjoy the plants and food growing?


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Mellifera said...

*giggle* It's just like that magazine we talked about... I knew this would happen. ; )

Lawn Love said...

I really dig this post. My neighbor /good friend was so into planting "food" in her garden and I think it's awesome. That statistics about use on lawns of herbicides harmful-to-humans is alarming. Although I believe the organic lawn fertilization service "movement" is a good way to address that.
But yeah, I'd love to read more about this topic. Creating healthy, edible but beautiful lawns sound like a great project!