Let’s talk about lawns. You can probably look out the window and see one right now. I really don’t like lawns. They waste a lot of water. They displace native plants, birds, animals, and insects. They encourage people to dump massive amounts of chemicals into our waterways in the form of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. In terms of things we could easily change that would have a positive impact on our world, lawns have got to be near the top of the list.
Despite the fact that lawns are notoriously unhealthy for our planet, they are perfectly commonplace in every major city in the United States. According to a 2005 study funded by NASA, lawns occupy about 50,000 square miles in the lower 48 states of the US. To put things in perspective, this irrigated area is about the same size as the area that we irrigate for corn production. And it’s larger than the areas we irrigate for soybeans and wheat combined. Keeping our sprawling lawns watered year-round consumes a huge amount of water. The EPA estimates that landscape irrigation uses almost 9 billion gallons of water in the US, every single day. This just doesn’t make any sense.
The real kicker is that the area we give over to lawns is often the best area we could have used to grow food. When we talk about lawns, we’re usually talking about the sunniest and flattest spots on the property. And it’s wasted. Turf grass doesn’t feed anyone – not a soul. It doesn’t feed the birds. It doesn’t feed the bees or the butterflies. And it certainly doesn’t feed your family. So, the question has to be asked… why are we still doing this? I can’t even imagine a good answer to that question.
Justin Rohner is a friend of Marjory’s who is trying hard to change this. He has had a lot of success, and now he is asking for your help to take things to the next level.
Justin’s company Agriscaping Technologies started converting lawns into edible organic gardens in Phoenix, AZ back in 2010. After a couple of years, Agriscaping had several crews working throughout the Phoenix area. They were getting so much work that they had trouble keeping up. So they took their mission open source, and started certifying landscapers around the country to get involved. Last year the Arizona Republic (the big newspaper in Phoenix) named Justin as one of the top 35 entrepreneurs age 35 and younger.
(video) Click Here to Watch Marjory’s Interview with Justin at the 2014 PrepperFest in Arizona.
That brings us to today. Having already converted hundreds of yards into edible organic gardens, and helping to push this change nationwide, Justin realized that there is a huge segment of the population that he still wasn’t reaching. The segment he was missing was the “do-it-yourselfers.” All of the people who maintain their own lawns and landscapes, do their own gardening, and generally don’t hire landscaping companies. He knew that these people had a lot of potential to help change our lawns into edible gardens, but he couldn’t reach them because they never picked up the phone to call a landscaper. The solution he dreamed up is a smart phone app called MyAgriscapePro – and now he’s trying to turn this dream into a reality.
The MyAgriscapePro app has the potential to help bring home grown food to the mainstream public. It puts the knowledge and experience of trained edible garden experts into the hands of the masses. The app will take the user’s zip code and generate recommendations about what plants will grow well in that user’s geographic area. It will take into consideration the USDA plant hardiness zone, the microclimates in the user’s yard, and the collective experience of expert edible gardeners from the surrounding area. It will provide recommendations about which plants should be planted in which areas, when the plants should be put in the ground, and how the plants should be watered and maintained.
To make this happen, Justin needs help. He’s a landscape guy, not a software guy. To pay for the project, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to pay for engineering and software development. If the project gets funded, he will be able to build the app. If the project doesn’t get funded, he won’t. But for us this really isn’t about the app, it’s about the thousands of lawns that can get converted over to edible gardens, and the billions of gallons of water that can be conserved.
As soon as we learned about this, our team agreed that we would get behind it and support it as much as we can. I should mention that we’re not making any money on this – we’re actually kicking in a chunk of money to help fund the project. And we hope that, if you can, you will help out too. If you have money to contribute, that’s great. If you don’t have money to contribute, you can help by spreading the word. Forward this article, post a link on your favorite social network, tell your gardening group, or just tell a friend. The Kickstarter campaign ends on July 12, 2015. Let’s do what we can to give this a chance.
Click Here to Support Justin’s Kickstarter Campaign
There is a good video on the Kickstarter page, along with a lot of details about the project. You can use the boxes on the right-hand side of that page to contribute money. Or click the green button that says “Back this Project.” You can pledge $10, $25, or more. However you can contribute, your help will be greatly appreciated.
The idea is really good, however, the town/city I reside in would raise my property taxes if I were to add so much as a flower bed. Any thing that involved any kind of improvement in Lebanon, NH the town/city feels its a good reason to raise taxes.
Now IF I were to raise edibles, there would be concern as to this no longer being farmable land and making it farmable land would no doubt cause trouble for the land owner as well as others of the area.
Not sure what software is needed for planting gardens. Master gardeners plan and install gardens all the time using pencil and paper. Landscape architects design and build wonderful plantings for backyards too. Maybe with experience you will be able to design and implement your ideas for the betterment of society.
Yeah – I think Justin’s app is designed for people who don’t already have knowledge about which plants to grow and where to plant them.
Hello. This is a nice mission to be on. But you may need to talk to a lawyer. A man in Atlanta was fined $5,000.00 not long ago for having an edible garden in his front lawn area. Another one, county came in and mowed a garden down in front of a home. All state laws are not the same for this stuff.
You need to define “organic.” There can be organic gardening in a closed in green house but not open air. In green house air will need to be cleaned by going through 2 tanks of distilled water before the air is allowed in green house which will need to be 100% changed at least every 4 hours. Have you seen any trucks spraying ditches on road ways? Have you seen any low flying planes spraying for bugs? Are there any RoundUp-type products being sprayed within 15 miles of “organic” gardens/lawns? A drift test of RoundUp spraying was done on 3 farms 500 miles apart, results say weeds were made RoundUp ready up to 15 miles away from each farm in the path of natural drift of winds.
Any idea what will be the price for the app when/if it is completed?
My front yard is mostly sheep pasture and my side yards are raised beds and fruiting bushes.
Hi Maggie – Your “yard” sounds lovely.
Why can’t you presale this app
I am totally in agreement with this idea! I’ve hated lawns since I was forced to push a mower around when I was a kid and motors hadn’t been attached yet. My understanding of the origin of the concept was that in feudal Europe, the “nobility,” having more resources than required for immediate survival, began planting areas that would have been used for agriculture in grass, and using serfs to maintain it as an ego boosting way of demonstrating their “superiority.”
Time passed, revolutions came along, the concept arose “every man a king in his own castle” and the prevailing view of kings included lawns. But few were able to assign serfs and so became their own “grounds keepers.” More time, more wealth generated, the “landscaper,” charging fees, replaced many who were now too busy building wealth to bother with hands on yard work.
Turning lawns into gardens has been something I have recommended for quite a few years, even to the extent of HOA battles (which I enjoyed but never won).
Hi Lewis – Thanks for battling the HOA. If everyone did that, it probably wouldn’t take long until we didn’t need to battle anymore.
I don’t know the specifics, but in his video Justin mentions that he’s had several successes working with HOAs. I think he keeps his gardens very clean and neat.
Loved the article and the concept. There is a Ted Talk dealing with the subject I think your readers may enjoy too.
I will most certainly spread the word about this idea of converting lawns, as its time came long ago!
However as an EMF-conscious person I do not own a Smart phone and do not plan to buy one, use WiFi, etc. etc.
Will you please convey to Michael that people like me want to climb on his bandwagon big-time immediately when it goes public — but we are shut out according to present parameters!
I grow as many organic edibles as I can on my rented property and each year take another bite out of the lawn. So far I’ve gotten away with it … and in good years i grow enough to share.
Parking strips and other neutral grounds also need to be converted by generous people who will plant organic edibles, tend them and then let whoever needs food harvest them.
What if the people who move in after you on that rental have children, that need a lawn to play in?
Hi Candy – I would ask why you think that children “need” a lawn to play in. Next time you’re at a public park, notice the spots where the children gather. Most likely, they gravitate towards a playscape that is covered in mulch, gravel, asphalt, or something else.
I’m cultivating a native, natural environment for my child to play in. I think the flowers, butterflies, and creepy crawlers will offer a much more enriching experience than an empty lawn. I’m keeping a small “lawn” of a native groundcover so that there’s an open space for playing catch, etc. And I can squeeze in a fig tree, fruiting bushes, berry brambles, etc. so that my child learns that real food comes from the earth, not from a big box store. Just my two cents.
Candy, my yard sits on the local aquifer. It adjoins a huge meadow that is mowed regularly by the municipality and used as a playground by the children of the neighborhood. Aside from that there’s a lovely municipal park park 3 minutes’ drive or 30 minutes’ walk away.
Aside from my personal note, I agree 200% with Michael Ford about how I prefer to see children educated: “that real food comes from the earth, not from a big box store” and that we are stewards of the earth. And as Full Spectrum Survivalist says, “You can’t eat grass.” The food I grow I trust as being as organic as it gets.
Around April I more than doubled the size of my organic garden, and my Mother said: “Why are you doubling your garden?” I said, “Grass is out gardens are in, and because I can’t eat grass.”
So I completely agree with this guy. We both came to the same conclusion.
While I am an avid gardener, and I feel that large front lawns in particular are a total waste of space, I have a couple items I would venture to throw out here. #1 Turning your front lawn into a garden if don’t with extreme taste and with flowering plants, and it being impeccably maintained is perfectly acceptable, however to dig up your front lawn and plant rows of crops is incredibly ugly to the face value of the house and entirely rude and selfish for your neighbors (depending on how close they live) since you will plummet their property values. #2 Although gardens and edible plants draw all the good insects and animals, they also draw the attention of a number of bad ones. I keep my numerous fruit plants at a respectable distance from my living abode. I don’t want the rodents and fruit flies as part of my regular house guests! #3 In this day and age, you can’t let your children simply run around the neighborhood, not only does stranger danger seem to be much more prevalent, DCFS will be on you for neglect. A yard is where kids can have room to play and stay safe, and can be relatively monitored from the house. #4 Not only do yards serve as a place allow kids to run about, but it also is a place for my large dogs to run around. I think there are many folks whose lifestyles do not dictate the necessity of a large open flat space, and for them perhaps either turning their yard to gardens or living in an abode sans yard is fine, my particular life/lifestyle requires a yard, and I actually use my yard, so to make sweeping assumptions that all yards are a waste is bit short sited, however I think everyone should keep gardens on at least some of whatever property they have… I can definitely meet you half way on that.
Candy – These are great points and I can agree with almost all of them. I think native and edible plantings can be made to look much nicer than open turf grass lawns. Look at some of the pictures from Justin’s jobs – these gardens are beautiful, and probably good for property value too. I think a percentage of the yard left open for children to run around in is fine – but that’s not what I see around me. I see turf grass from end to end, with one token tree sometimes added in the middle.
As for dogs, my dog thinks the lawn is very nice… for her to poop on. After she has pooped, she has no interest in the lawn. She runs straight over to the edges of the yard to poke around in the gardens and wild spaces. She takes after her daddy.
As for being short-sighted, I’m not sure I can agree with that. I think you hit the nail on the head in your point #1 – this is really about property value. I think that collectively agreeing to use 9 billion gallons of water a day on our property values is short-sighted. Water is not an unlimited resource, as it sometimes seems to be. Ask the cattle ranchers in Texas who sold their entire herds and retired during the 2011 drought, or the farmers in California who are watching their crops wither under watering restrictions right now.
I lived in Texas during the 2011 drought, and I got to see the effects of severe water restrictions on a large city. Here is what happened – life went on completely normally; except that turf grass lawns died and cars stayed dirty. These are optional things that we choose to do with water; not necessities. Where turf lawns died, the native plants that belong there moved back in within months. People who were bothered by their dead lawns quickly started putting in gardens that don’t require much water. Property values didn’t plummet when the lawns started dying. In the city, property values fluctuated normally. On a nearby lake, property values did plummet when the lake disappeared and “waterfront” properties were no longer on the waterfront.
In my current townhouse yard, I took out a 5×7 ft area of lawn to put in a raised veggie garden and another semi circle of grass near my deck for an herb garden and last year had pumpkins and peppers in my front flower bed (which my HOA didn’t like once the vines extended mid lawn). However we are moving to a bigger home next month with a fenced in 1/5 acre back yard which is mostly green lawn. And though there are already 2 raised gardens and I have plans for fruit trees, raspberries bushes, a chicken coup and another large raised garden on the south end, I will be keeping most of the middle green space for my 5 young children to finally have for running around. That is why people have lawns, for enjoyment and for children to play on!
Hello Jen – It sounds like you’re getting a lot of edible food out of some small spaces. Nice work! I’m happy that you offered up a thoughtful response to my question, “why are we still doing this?” But, to be honest, I don’t think think children are the real reason why turf lawns are so prevalent. The lawn is common for people with and without children. I think it has a lot more to do with property value.
Get in touch with Mike Adams, Natural News.com another Texan doing some incredible work.
We’re under water restrictions in socal but right now we can still water 2 days a week – and they’ll get you with a $500 ticket if your sprinkler runs off in to the street – they’re driving around looking for it even at night. I hear people talking about replacing their lawns with fake plastic carpet grass! Some people are just putting rocks/stones instead. Where I live I think my neighbors would be mad if I didn’t have grass… would look really out of place on my street.
Hi George – I wonder if that plastic grass will catch on. I think your comment about your neighbors tells the real story here – It’s easier to go with the flow and not make waves in the neighborhood. Still, it’s hard for me to justify the use of water and the wasted space just because of the neighbor’s preferences. I think this will change eventually, and I can think of two scenarios that could lead to the change:
Scenario 1) The average home buyer begins to consider sustainability as an important factor in making their buying decision. If this happened, turf lawns would be viewed as a liability rather than an asset, and lawns would slowly disappear. Edible gardens and native plantings would become the new normal. This scenario is what my inner optimist dreams about while he listens to the song “Imagine” by John Lennon.
Scenario 2) The price of water goes way up, based on scarcity of drinkable water. People would be forced to prioritize bathing, dish washing, laundry, irrigation, etc. within their budget for how much water they could afford. Watering the lawn would be the first thing most people cut out, and most lawns would be dead within a few months. This is the scenario my inner realist knows is inevitable, with time. You might be watching the beginning of this right now in your area – who knows? I know that drought is a natural phenomenon, but it seems like we’re taxing a limited resource more than we need to.
When I look out the window, I don’t see a lawn. I see vegetable plants, fruit bushes, and either cultivated or wild flowers to attract pollinators, depending on which window I am looking out of. I have always hated lawns. I remember reading somewhere that the original purpose of grass was to provide a durable path to walk on between the more useful plants. That makes sense to me.
While the idea is good, I am not interested in the app, because I don’t have a smart phone, and do not intend to get one. I can find which plants will grow well in my area at any local nursery, or even on the internet. Living in the boonies, I am fortunate to not have to deal with any HOA. I have neighbors with rows of edible plants, or even livestock in their front yards. I don’t care, because it is their yard.