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The Problem with Lawns

Lawns can be lovely. They’re a place for relaxation, beauty, and wonderful memories near our homes and communities. Some of us take a lot of pride in our lawns, too— and putting work into them can become almost a passion project or hobby! However, it might be time to look at our beautiful lawn hobby a little differently. While we don’t necessarily need to get rid of these peaceful and well-manicured spaces altogether, something does need to change about them. But why? And what can we change about them?

According to the Earth Institute of Columbia University, lawns and the way we care for them are huge contributors to environmental degradation: including pollution of both our air and water. They might even be more polluting than some large farms, since they collectively use 10 times the amount of chemical pesticides and fertilizers per acre than these farms. And lawns take up to 30-40 million acres of land here in America alone! This runoff ends up in our drinking water, in wetlands, and eventually in the ocean too, where they create dead zones that harm wildlife. And not just that: we use tons of gas and exhaust to take care of them, too, in the form of lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and more. This pollutes the air and accounts for more than 5% of the country’s air pollution. Lawns are also a monoculture, not unlike a field of corn. They don’t create homes for wildlife, pollinators, or even many important soil microorganisms. We love our lawns and green spaces. But what can we do to make them friendlier to the environment, wildlife, our water, and the planet— and ultimately ourselves!

  • We can use organic and sustainable methods to take care of them instead.

No more chemicals. Organic lawn care approaches do exist (as do organic lawn care and landscaping companies) and it should be an imperative to use these instead. Rather than chemical fertilizers, use natural fertilizers like alfalfa meal or soybean meal. Pests can be a real issue, but more environmentally friendly applications like diatomaceous earth or non-chemical organic sprays may be better in the long run. They’re better for both the water supply and the wildlife that visits your lawn, too.

Here's a great list of a few alternatives to RoundUp. If you have a type of lawn turf grass that is sensitive to nutrient needs and pests, there are also more sustainable varieties available.

  • Lawns can be diverse and not just “grassy.”

In fact, some lawn owners are already miles ahead of the curve incorporating other alternatives to turf-grass into their lawns. These actually encourage more robust lawn health and bring nutrients to turf grasses (and even cut down on watering!) while drawing in wildlife that could take care of pest problems. (And it looks good, too.) And why have actual lawn take up so much space? Think about shrinking your lawn area with landscaping or even prairie plots. There are many low-maintenance plant choices for this. And pollinators will love you for it! And with that said: the air, water, and earth will love you for it, too.

Check out more resources about how to switch your lawn into a productive garden here at FoodNotLawns.

Have you considered upgrading your grass to something better for the Earth?

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