Sat 23 Aug 2014
There is a major thunderstorm happening outside here at this old house. A lot of people got caught on the trails and are soaked. Some are running through the driving rain; others have given up and are just walking, wringing out sopping wet shirts as they go.
We have had a fair amount of rain this summer, always a blessing in a semi-arid, high desert environment. Our relatives in California are in a severe drought. Their town is nearly out of water and they are making plans to begin hauling water in from somewhere far away. A water tank will need to be installed in the neighborhood and cost estimates for all of this are high. Those lawns and swimming pools are going to be even more expensive than they are normally.
The American lawn is an environmental nightmare in so many ways. The fertilizer and water required to keep it green and the weed killer needed to keep it pristine are not ultimately wise choices. Run-off of the chemicals make their way into our streams and rivers and finally, our faucets, affecting fish and other wild life along the way to their impact on us. Using our yards to grow fruit trees and vegetables or to graze animals makes so much more sense and is actually historic.
This link is a fascinating history of how green lawns got started in America: http://www.american-lawns.com/history/history_lawn.html. Originally, it was just the wealthy who could afford groundskeepers to scythe the grass who had the expansive lawns that seem so normal now. Even the White House used to have sheep grazing on the front lawn. It was the English who loved their lawns and as Americans traveled there in the early part of the 20th century, they came back with the idea of doing lawns here. Combine the interests of the US Golf Association with the Department of Agriculture and suddenly research on grass became big business.The American dream of the 1950s and 1960s,a house in the suburbs with a big lawn, suddenly became possible.
I grew up in one of those scenarios. No one ever seemed to be in their front yards except to mow or weed. Even we kids played in the backyard. It became another level of social isolation as many backyards were fenced or surrounded by bushes that kept people apart from each other. Imagine if in my childhood neighborhood, women were out front working vegetable gardens during the day. It seems to me there would have been more socializing that took place naturally and the whole phenomena of no one knowing their neighbor would not have taken such deep root.
Besides wasting water, another reason for us to convert our lawns to food production is that, as we get further away from producing our own food, we become out of touch with what food is supposed to be. We think that so many of what are really edibles are the same as food. For example, Cheetos are edible but are not food. We allow a lot of bad things to go in our food that we aren’t even aware of! Many of us have lost the sense of what things are supposed to taste like and so we don’t realize how bad our food really is. The classic example is the grocery store tomato picked weeks ago and trucked to a store hundreds of miles away. It can’t be picked ripe as it would rot so they are artificially ripened. If you walk outside and pick a tomato that goes straight into your salad, you are eating it at its peak ripeness, sun finished and tasting as Mother Nature intended it to. How many people really know what a tomato is supposed to taste like? Also, the homogeneity that comes from hybridization sets us up for crop failure, among other things. And, what we might gain in length of storage, we lose in taste.
I had a first-hand experience with this when we went to France. I am non-celiac gluten intolerant and eat gluten-free. I had heard that the food in Europe is “cleaner” and that many non-celiac gluten intolerant people can eat the bread there. I found it to be true. I ate everything in Europe and felt better than I do eating gluten-free here. I could even drink red wine at night. Without the sulfates, it didn’t bother me like it does here. Europe understands that food need to be local and fresh to taste good. They use minimally processed ingredients in many of their dishes. [Note: one has to be careful talking about processed food. Peeling a potato is a form of processing it. The problem becomes when food is highly processed. A potato chip is a far cry from its origin as a potato.]
Some are sounding the alarm that we may be coming to a crisis with our food sources. Agri-business, with all the chemicals used to sustain mono-crop farming, may be behind the bee colony collapse. Farmers dependent on a certain kind of herbicide for a genetically-modified crop sets up the potential for massive crop failure when the insects mutate around the effectiveness of the herbicide. It seems we may have to convert our grass lawns into gardens at some point soon. Wouldn’t it make sense to get a head start on that before a crisis hits? Even those who live in apartments can often find a place to have a pot of herbs or a tomato plant on a balcony or in a window sill. Anything you can do is useful and will help raise children with an awareness that food is a product of the earth, not the local supermarket.
Someone once said that human life survives on earth because it rains and there is 6″ of top soil. May we do all we can to care for and celebrate both.