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Old 06-27-2008, 04:58 AM   #1 (permalink)
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The Incredible, Edible Front Lawn

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The Incredible, Edible Front Lawn
Thursday, Jun. 26, 2008
By M.J. Stephey

Clarence and Rudine Ridgley can feed their entire block with the produce from their "Edible Estate", a community garden and art project pioneered by L.A.-based architect Fritz Haeg that seeks to bring the garden from the backyard to the front

Clarence Ridgley is the most popular guy on his block, and it's all thanks to his lawn. In April, Ridgley transformed his neatly trimmed yard into a garden of tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, lettuce, beets and herbs. And because the plot sits in front of his home in Baltimore, the bountiful harvest is visible — and available — to anyone who wanders by."People will come to my yard and pick up an onion sprout and start eating it on the spot," he says. "I've met more people in the past two months than I have the past 22 years of living here."

Ridgley is one of five homeowners in the U.S. to participate in the project known as "Edible Estates," in which homeowners trade their mowed and ornamental lawns for artistic arrangements of organic produce. Los Angeles-based architect Fritz Haeg launched the campaign in July 2004, as pundits and politicians began dividing the country into Red and Blue states in the run-up to the presidential election. Haeg says he was drawn to the lawn — that "iconic American space" — because it cut across social, political and economic boundaries. "The lawn really struck me as one of the few places that we all share," he says. "It represents what we're all supposedly working so hard for — the American dream."

The problem, as Haeg sees it, is that the "hyper-manicured lawn" is looking increasingly out of date. In the 1950s, when suburbia first began to sprawl, a perfectly trimmed front yard embodied the post-war prosperity Americans aspired to. Today, amid rising fuel costs, food safety scares and growing environmental awareness, a chemically treated and verdant but nutritionally barren lawn seems wasteful, he says.

The concept of tilling one's front yard is not a new one. In 1942, as the U.S. emerged from the Great Depression and mobilized for World War II, Agriculture Secretary Claude R. Wickard encouraged Americans to plant "Victory Gardens" to boost civic morale and relieve the war's pressure on food supplies — an idea first introduced during The Great War and picked up by Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain. The slogan: "Have Your Garden, and Eat It Too." Soon gardens began popping up everywhere, and not just American lawns: the Chicago County Jail, a downtown parking lot in New Orleans, a zoo in Portland, Ore. In 1943, Americans planted 20.5 million Victory Gardens, and the harvest accounted for nearly one-third of all the vegetables consumed in the country that year.

Though Haeg's approach to home-grown produce is unique; his enthusiasm for gardening is not. Twenty-five million U.S. households planted vegetable and fruit gardens in 2007, according to Bruce Butterfield of the National Gardener's Association, and that number is expected to increase by several million this year. The waiting list for the USDA's Master Gardener Program, which involves nearly 90,000 volunteers in all 50 states who educate and assist the public with horticulture projects, is getting longer every year, says Bill Hoffman, National Program Leader for Agriculture Homeland Security. Even urban dwellers are returning to the land; in Austin, Texas, for example, the wait for community gardens is three years.

"It comes as no surprise to me," Butterfield says. "Gas prices, food prices, salmonella — the world has gone absolutely crazy. And for a lot of people, that brings up this need to take control over what happens in their own yard. If all goes to hell, you can just lock the gate and stay at home."

In fact, the average American garden has proven to be a surprisingly accurate social and economic barometer. The upsurge in fuel prices in 1975 spawned a similar gardening boom, with nearly 49% of the population growing some sort of produce. Then, as the prosperity of the '90s trickled down to American yards, the pendulum swung back toward aesthetics over sustenance.

"Back in the 1990s, when things were booming, the gardening movement was all about Martha Stewart — spending lots of money hiring people to make these beautiful, ornamental spaces," says Charlie Nardozzi, senior horticulturist at the National Gardening Association. Nowadays, "growing your own food can be a political statement that you have a personal connection with your food and where it's coming from, versus going to a grocery store and grabbing whatever is on the shelf."

But while some gardeners might be trying to save a few bucks or avoid commercially farmed produce, many horticulturists believe the gardening boom is more about lifestyle than economics. And unlike the concept of government-sponsored, "top-down" Victory Gardens, Edible Estates is a grassroots effort. Ridgley, for one, says his garden is as much about community and beauty as it is about food. "This is an art exhibit that just happens to be in my front yard," he says.

Haeg, meanwhile, hopes his project will prompt more Americans to rethink their yards, and where they plant their gardens. He hopes to plant two more Edible Estates next year. "This is a wonderful opportunity to consider how we're living, which I don't think is so great anyway." And with 80% of Americans living in homes with access to a yard, the potential for growth is enormous. As Haeg says, "the front lawns are there waiting."
I've grown to be very sensitive of the idea of lawns over the past few decades. Mainly because I find them boring and alot of extra work to keep manicured. As I traveled around the world, I find it fascinating how people adorn their front yards. Las Vegas, it's rock and desert hardy vegatation.

This article is quite compelling an idea. But after all that hard work, I don't know if I want someone else to come over and reap the benefits. Growing up the tract we lived in was divided up farmland. There were still citrus trees and walnut trees that were in people's yards. The lemon tree was wonderful, the owner would bag up the lemons and offer them to any neighbors.

What do you think of growing vegatables in the front yard?
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Last edited by Cynthetiq; 06-27-2008 at 05:02 AM..
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Old 06-27-2008, 05:27 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I think it's a great idea, but I also have qualms about other people reaping the benefits. To me, someone else picking and taking/eating something I work hard to grow is not only trespassing, it's theft.

I don't think I'll ever live in suburbia, so I don't think this is a problem for me. I intend to have horse pastures and hayfields in addition to a garden. No manicured lawn for me, except for cutting grass in a small orchard and the fenced yard where a dog would run and bushhogging pastures.
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Old 06-27-2008, 05:44 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Somebody will surely abuse it and take everything at some point. And as merleniau said, I wouldn't trade my hard work for a thank you. $.50/unit would do.

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People will come to my yard and pick up an onion sprout and start eating it on the spot.
That's disgusting.
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Old 06-27-2008, 05:45 AM   #4 (permalink)
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I'd say it's only theft if you didn't want people to help themselves to the fruits of your labor. My place in Oregon has five acres, only four homes on a dead end gravel road. I had a large garden and my neighbors were always welcome to take all the they wanted. Not much for canning myself but always had a freezer full of corn, beans, elk meat etc... Whatever was left went to the food bank.
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Old 06-27-2008, 07:05 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I like this idea very much. It is sensible and giving. Planting food in one's front yard is so welcoming and I imagine one could meet many of their neighbors and cultivate more than just the garden. If one were concerned with restitution they might ask for a stipend, or maybe even help with the gardening or seeds or plants to add.
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Old 06-27-2008, 07:16 PM   #6 (permalink)
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A number of homes around town have veggie gardens in the front, not just in the back. Two doors down from where I used to nanny there is a house with prolific raised beds in front and a veritable orchard of fruit trees besides. They get so many cherries from their trees that the whole block gets at least a pound or two every summer because the people who own the trees can't eat them all. I think more people need to start growing their own produce, and given the economic climate, I think they will; it doesn't necessarily need to be in a front lawn area, but if that's where it fits, that's where it works.

Our new place has a nice yard with a lawn in back but it's rather overgrown in some spots with shrubbery. I'm going to cut that back and put in raised beds for vegetables and a cold frame for growing lettuces even during the winter months. The front yard is just rocks and various creeping plants for cover--no lawn. Our goal is to keep it organic and keep the watering to a minimum to conserve resources; eventually we want to install a water catchment system to use rainwater to water everything.

And for all of you who said you wouldn't share--just so you know, most gardens produce more than you yourself can eat. My SO's family's garden, which is not overly large, produces enough that everyone in his 20+ person extended family can have their pick of produce--at no charge. And don't you think that if someone is helping themselves to your garden, that maybe they're possibly doing so because they need to?
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Last edited by snowy; 06-27-2008 at 07:38 PM..
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Old 06-27-2008, 08:08 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Old 06-27-2008, 08:35 PM   #8 (permalink)
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A little humanure never hurt anyone....

...night soil is another story.
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Old 06-28-2008, 04:00 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by girldetective
I imagine one could meet many of their neighbors
This brings up another "F'ed' up situation, IMO. The only time in my life where I did not know my neighbors was when I was in the Navy and lived in San Diego. When I lived at my house outside of Astoria I knew all my neighbors and never even locked my door. In fact one year my Ex found a young couple to house sit for our dogs while we took a two week cruise. One of the first things they asked was "where's the keys?", at first we couldn't find them. I built the house- I installed locks, dead bolts etc... But when they asked for the keys we had no idea. Simply hadn't locked the doors in seven plus years. I finally found them in a file cabinet with all our warranty info.

Get to know your neighbors, odds are they're not ax murders.
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Old 06-28-2008, 04:49 AM   #10 (permalink)
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As keen an idea as this article talks about, I can't say that I wasn't at least a little disappointed by the prospect that the article would be about an edible lawn ala Wonka's Chocolate Room grass.
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