The Front-Yard-Farm Revolution


In the 21st century home, we’re rethinking land use, food production, and home economies. How do these converge? Well, here’s a great example.


In Lincoln, Nebraska, a quiet, dirty little revolution has taken hold.

Spurred on by climate-change observer Tim Rinne, Nebraskans have begun turning their yards into mini-farms. More and more front yards are losing their manicured grasses in favor of everything from corn and potatoes to grapes and berries.

A friend of mine shared this link to the talk and said that, six years ago, he tore up his lawn and turned it into a food garden, and no one has ever said anything negative about his mini-farm. To the contrary, he largely finds people admiring his garden and asking for tips.

On the very same day, I saw reporters raising the alarm about how recycled oil industry wastewater is being used on Californian food crops in big agriculture, thanks to the clampdown on water use in their ever-worsening drought.

I’m a big fan of reusing grey water for agriculture, even if it’s from treated sewage, but I personally draw the line at heavy industry wastewater being reused on food. Sewage might sound like a gross concept, but it’s loaded with nitrogen and other products that, when softened through reclamation, can be terrific for growing things.

But oil industry waste getting pumped onto oranges and walnuts and greens and more? I’d rather add my own oil when I’m cooking, thanks.

Tim Rinne’s reckoning

I’ll the article explain how Rinne had his epiphany:

“Rinne set out to discover the source of the food on his plate and his supermarket’s shelves. He learned that much of the food he ate came to him via long journeys spanning thousand of miles, and that 90% of the money he and his fellow Nebraskans spend on food leaves the state. “We’re not buying food that’s from here,” he says. He wondered if he could change that.

Soon, he was the first in a group of Nebraskans to abandon the traditional American lawn in favor of rows of edible plants. “I learned that the largest irrigated crop in the United States is the lawn,” he says. “My head was spinning … Why do we always plant things that we can’t eat?”

“I began tearing up my lawn with a vengeance, determined to grow food on every inch of my property,” he says. He installed rain barrels, planted crops and soon attracted the attention of his neighbors. Before he knew it, Rinne and his wife were inviting neighbors to start their own “edible landscapes,” and slowly but surely, food began popping up in lawns throughout the area.

Convention is killing us

The “lawn” might have been spawned by the British and other garden states of old, but it was in America that it really dominated the landscape. With the birth of the suburbs, lawns became a status symbol. Got money? You got grass. They’re both green.

Even today, as drought rages, “grassholes” on the west coast are hogging water as they fixate on having lovely yards. Lawns remain both a symbol of wealth and frivolity.

It’s time we collectively admit we made a mistake. Lawns were the biggest folly perpetrated by housing development in the history of architecture.

It played right into the world of big agriculture. With the loss of edible gardens, we handed over our food security to big business, and with the price of groceries skyrocketing faster than our wages, and lack of crop diversity resulting in wholesale crop losses every season, coupled with growing climate uncertainty in the world’s food baskets of California and Mexico, it’s time we adapt. Like others have said, “Adapt or die.”

Time for new (old) traditions

Folks like Tim Rinnes are the heros of a new generation. With front lawns being pulled up and food gardens retaking urban landscapes, we could dramatically change society from top to bottom.

Those with front (and back) lawn gardens could dramatically reduce their cost of living through growing their own food. With canning and household preservation, they could also store food for use throughout the seasons.

By doing this at home and reusing jars season after season, it reduces everything from industrial shipping and packing practices to the heavy farming habits of Big Agriculture.

With more fresh food at the ready, health improves, and less strain is put on the medical system.

Abundance means sharing

What if you had so much food you could give it away? I used to have a neighbor down the street who had a bench out front of their place. Sometimes you’d find a bowl of apples. Other times, art programs next to a box full of bay leaves pulled off their trees.

Another neighbor had ducks and chickens. They’d have a sign out front for eggs, at cheaper than they’d cost in a store and totally free range local eggs. They’d put the eggs in an old Rubbermaid cooler and you’d drop $3 in the “honor system” box. Not free, but still great for the folks who can’t raise their own and don’t have $6 a dozen. It’s not just the wealthy who want to eat ethically, you know.

Imagine an urban utopia where not only garbage was collected weekly, but your surplus homegrown food was too, and then redistributed amongst the hungry. What a thought — helping our neighbours.

Change is no longer an option

We’re watering our food with oil wastewater, people. This is nuts! Food security? That ain’t secure to me. All because we screwed up and planted endless lawns across America. Grow food, not lawns.

Take back control over your food. Don’t want GMO foods? Don’t grow ‘em. Don’t want heavy-industry wastewater on your veggies? Grow your own. Wanna save a couple thousand dollars every year? Grow your own food.

Wanna save the planet? Tear up your lawn and be a radical mini-farmer. Connect with others, crowdsource your solutions, learn about processes.

Now’s the time to start planning and learning how to create your own lawn-farm for summer, 2016. Now is also when to start budgeting for raised beds, trellises, seeds, saplings, and anything else you’ll require for total garden domination.

Here’s an idea — every time you go shopping and bring home vegetables or fruit grown more than 200 miles away, put a dollar in a fine jar. You’ll constantly be aware that you’re trying to break free of a broken system, and you’ll also be saving funds for doing so.

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