Why Americans should opt out of lawns for growing foods

Since 1999, an organization called Food Not Lawns has been advocating for Americans to transform their lawns into multi-functional gardens. The organization's missions stems from the environmental cost of lawns. 

Andrew D. Brosig/Tyler Morning Telegraph/AP/File
Cucumber plants bloom while students work in the background in a micro family farm garden at Good Shepherd School in Tyler, Texas. ince 1999, an organization called Food Not Lawns has been advocating for Americans to transform their lawns into multi-functional gardens.

Food Not Lawns, an international chapter-based organization, is encouraging people to question the necessity and value of lawns and to transform these grass monocultures into diverse, beautiful, and productive community spaces.

One study estimates that lawns cover 163,800 square kilometers (63,243.5 square miles), the equivalent of 40.5 million acres, of land in the United States. To put this statistic into perspective, this means that there is four times more lawn than corn grown in the U.S. Turf grass covers more land than corn, alfalfa, soybeans, orchards, vineyards, cotton, pastures, wheat, and hay combined, making it the most widely grown crop in the U.S.

In terms of land use alone, lawns consume a significant amount of resources. A well-maintained lawn requires irrigation, using more water than the seven most water-intensive crops combined, as well as agrochemicals. Some argue that these costs outweigh the benefits of maintaining lawns and that the land and resources dedicated to them could be put to better use.

Food Not Lawns advocates for the transformation of these resource-intensive lawns into diverse, attractive, multi-functional and productive gardens. FNL was founded in 1999 as an outgrowth of the activist network Food Not Bombs. Food Not Bombs has issued a strong critique of the modern food system, which they believe produces surplus, waste, and hunger simultaneously. A major aspect of Food Not Bombs’ work is to recapture this waste and use it to feed the hungry and to bring together communities. Similarly, FNL seeks to creatively transform the wasted spaces in neighborhoods and cities in order to feed people, while cultivating community solidarity and cooperation.

According to C.S. Flores, a co-founder of the movement and author of Food Not Lawns, FNL is “a grassroots gardening project geared towards using waste resources to grow organic gardens and encouraging others to share their space, surplus, and ideas toward the betterment of the whole community.” The goals of the movement include reducing the environmental impact of residential and urban landscapes, producing nutritious and organic food, and creating opportunities to build relationships within communities.

For activists in FNL and similar movements, gardening is a creative solution to reclaiming vacant and unattractive urban spaces and putting them to better use. But there is also a political significance to this work. According to C. S. Flores, “Gardening may seem like just a hobby to many people, but in fact growing food is one of the most radical things you can do: those who control our food control our lives, and when we take that control back into our own hands, we empower ourselves toward autonomy, self-reliance, and true freedom.”

Today, FNL has more than 50 chapters around the world. These chapters are united by FNL’s fundamental aims: to help each other transform lawns into gardens, to share resources and knowledge related to gardening and food production, and to advocate for community control over food. Through their work around the globe, FNL activists are creating beautiful and productive alternatives to lawns.

To learn how to create a Food Not Lawns chapter in your community, click here.

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