I thought, “If he spent that much time and care on a vegetable garden, he could feed his family all summer long.”
Then last week on my son’s preschool field trip, the instructor showed the kids a photo of a lawnmower and asked what tool did that job 100 years ago on the farm. The scythe was the answer, and I thought, “That wasn’t for cutting grass, it was for field work.” I was struck by the fact that farmers 100 years ago didn’t have lawns. They didn’t have time for them, nor did they probably see the point.
My husband mentioned tonight that people 100 years ago would laugh at us, having just finished jumping around for an hour doing P90X. They would think we did an awful lot of manual labor with no practical result. (I agree!)
When I compare our labors today vs. those of a more agrarian society decades ago, I find myself surprised at how busy we are with so little to show for it.I was inspired on this line of thinking by Annette from Sustainable Eats, who left some zinger winning comments at Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s CAFO post back during the Spring Cleaning carnival. (If you haven’t read that comment thread, it’s a post in itself!)
One of the commenters there was questioning whether slow food and smaller, grass-based farms could possibly feed the world if in fact we could succeed in eradicating factory farming. She firmly believed there was not enough farming land in the world to do it. (Hear Michael Pollan’s perspective on that issue Friday; he answered my question at a talk in April on just this subject!)
Annette pointed out:
“How much lawn do we have in this country? Stop thinking large herds roaming farmland. Everyone with space for lawn should have chickens and/or meat rabbits. They take very little space, are very efficient converters of grass and bugs and are easy to care for and yes, butcher.
It’s time more of us took responsibility for our own inputs and stopped relying on farmers to solve the food crisis.
I have friends who have dairy goats in the city (in Seattle you can have 3 mini goats the size of labs essentially and require the same space as labs, and 3 chickens regardless of yard size.) Goats, chickens and rabbits don’t require much setup and aren’t much more trouble to care for than dogs.
I finally have come around to spending my time not mowing and fertilizing the lawn but instead tending a garden and not walking the dog but raising productive pets instead.”
“I believe that we can feed ourselves sustainably using a traditional food model – by eating less meat, all parts of the animal, not wasting anything, densely planting edibles over ornamentals, learning to make more things with secondary items (like soap from excess animal fats rather than throwing them away) and probably decreasing our reliance upon grain-based foods because they are the least nutrient dense foods we could eat.
By eating less food overall we could make significant strides in opening up valuable farmland or kitchen gardens or family goat runs. And how about not building any more ridiculously sized houses which we then fill up with more stuff than we possibly need? Everything is related and shifting thinking in one area will certainly lead to shifting thinking in others.”
This idea is a paradigm shift for me. I hadn’t thought much before about all the usable land on each individual home’s property, even in the city, for growing food, both the rooted kind and the walking kind. I think of Annette’s concept every time I see a perfectly manicured lawn. It’s just the kind of practical life choice that I could really get behind. (Honey, if you’re reading this post, don’t worry: I still don’t want to get chickens!)
See? What are tractors used for nowadays? Mowing the lawn. It’s urban gardening at its best worst.
My son and I just finished reading Farmer Boy, the third book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series. Just like what I learned in Little House in the Big Woods, I was struck by the amount and quality of the work the family accomplished in this true story of Laura’s husband’s childhood farm, and how much of it was directly related to feeding their families for the year.
I was inspired to do some landscape gardening with herbs this year, and over the weekend I made sure to get my tomato, cucumber and pepper plants in. It’s not much, but it’s a start! (Tomorrow I’ll tell you the EIGHT things I put in my tomato planting holes – not including the tomato plant!) Real Food on a Real Budget also helped inspire me to get going, since Stephanie Langford admits that, like me, she’s got a brown thumb. Even if you own no land, you might be able to use container gardening to grow a salad on your balcony.
What do you think? Could Americans spend less time tending a perfect lawn, exercising at the gym, and walking dogs in exchange for growing some of their own food? What are you doing with the land you own?