Why do Americans generally, and for purposes of this blog, Santa Monicans specifically so value the neatly manicured grass patches in front of their house? According to Fritz Haeg, author of Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, "The front lawn is an antiquated tradition that evolved with a way of living that doesn't exist anymore. Public lawns were trimmed by grazing animals, and hidden food gardens were maintained by slaves or underpaid staff living downstairs."
Not every lawn on my little cul de sac is well groomed grass, but none is devoted to producing edibles, either. We have a native plant landscape home a couple of doors to the south and neighbors who plant a Halloween pumpkin patch every year a couple of doors to the north. everyone else, us included, is caught in the web of peer pressure that keeps our front yards green and ungreen all at the same time.
It's approximately 1,000 square feet of space in front of my house and allowing for pathways I could have another 750 square feet of garden out there. What could I grow in a ten month Santa Monica growing season and 750 square feet of soil? A lot. Maybe 3,000 heads of lettuce (market value over $3,000). Maybe tens of thousands of radishes (market value near $1,000). Maybe 50 dozen heirloom tomatoes (market value approximately $1,500). Who knows how many green beans, pea pods, squash or eggplants?
"Well suppose someone comes along and steals the produce?" you ask. So what? I'm not getting any produce from the grass out there now. I'm just paying Flavio $80 a month to have his crew come in and keep it trimmed up.
"What will the neighbors say?" What I hope they would say is, "Can you show me how to do it too?" or "Do you have any bean seeds that you want to trade for tomato starts?" or "That was a really great Crane's melon that you gave me last week. So fresh and so good. What can I do for you?" Or pretty much anything at all.
Our lawns have become symbolic fortresses. "Keep off the grass" means don't approach me, give me my space, let me be, don't even make eye contact. I wonder if we can break down some of this defensiveness by daring to grow food in our front yards.
Fritz Haeg thinks so. Check out Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn today.