I have a goal for this year: to tear up most of the front yard and plant a vegetable garden. We spend all our time in the back, so the front yard is almost never used. It’s south-facing and surrounded by a large cedar hedge, which many people have pointed out is an asset. I think what they mean is that the neighbours don’t have to see my act of horticultural rebellion, but I don’t really care; hedge or no hedge, it’s time for the grass to go.
I’m not a fan of lawns. Of course a lush, well-manicured lawn can be beautiful, but it’s a sort of insidious beauty with a dark underside, spelled out in the little warning signs that say (more or less), “Keep your kids off here for the next 24 hours because it’s been sprayed with poisonous chemicals, but after that you can pretend it never happened and roll around like usual. Oh, and if you get a rash, just hose your kid down.” Lawns are costly, from the pesticides to the water, and are actually quite dull for kids to play on. There’s hardly anything to do on a lawn if there are no dandelions, clover or weeds to pick.
About growing one’s own vegetables, however — now we’re talking! I look at my front yard and see a huge chunk of wasted land, potentially fertile and productive land, that could produce fresh organic food to feed my family. Not only would I have a great reason to get active outside with my kids, I’d also save money on groceries while teaching them how plants grow. I have wonderful memories of working in my aunt’s big kitchen garden, digging for potatoes, picking pea pods, and plucking juicy ripe cherry tomatoes. It’s absolutely thrilling, especially for a child for whom many things are miraculous.
I’ve done a bit of reading online and have discovered that there’s tremendous opposition to front-yard gardens. Mark Bittman wrote about Jason and Jennifer Helvenston of Orlando, FL, who were threatened a $500/day fine for planting vegetables in their front yard. The city was saying that only 25% of a front yard could be allocated toward vegetables and fruit. While it seems utterly ridiculous to me that a city can dictate something like that, Fritz Haeg explains in Bittman’s article that it’s about perceptions of beauty: “[These battles] are about reconsidering our basic value systems and ideas of beauty.” Bittman points out that urban gardening has tremendous potential. If 10% of American lawns were used for growing food, it could supply one-third of the U.S.’s fresh vegetables needs based on current consumption rates. After all, lawns are the biggest crop in the States, three times greater than corn, and covers 50,000 square miles.
One major hurdle, however, is that even if someone loves the idea of front yard gardens, most of us (including myself) know very little about growing vegetables. We’ve become so alienated from food production that it’s hard to know where to start. That’s where a cool new idea comes into play: farmers should make house calls! Imagine if you could hire a farmer (similar to a CSA share) to come plant a garden in your front yard and teach you how to care for it. It’s a brilliant idea, and one that I’d certainly benefit from if there were any willing farmers around. But since there aren’t (as far as I know), my veggie gardening will be mostly a trial-and-error experiment this summer. I’ll head to the library instead and make a lot of phone calls to my mother, who heads a successful community garden. In the meantime… Step 1: Wait for spring!