One summer day I was watching my neighbor meticulously patch his lawn after spending a half-hour edging the sidewalk and all I could think was, “If he spent that much time and care on a vegetable garden, he could feed his family all summer long.” There are so many ways we could use more of our land for food, from ideas for front yard gardens to green bean plants in containers on our porch.
This idea continued to come up when on a field trip with my son, 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 fieldwork.” I was struck by the realization that farmers 100 years ago didn’t have lawns. They didn’t have time for them, nor did they probably see the point.
I’m also certain that people 100 years ago would laugh at us while we jump 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.
Should “Victory Gardens” Make a Comeback?
Recent times have also shown us what it feels like to experience a disruption to our food supply with so many of our staple items gone from the grocery store shelves for weeks. I don’t know about you, but it’s reminded us how fragile our food system is!
And yet we continue to mow our lawns in the midst of feeling the pinch of food insecurity.
The Victory Garden Campaign began in World War I and was brought back during World War II. At least 15 million families in the United States were inspired to plant these gardens by 1942! This nationwide campaign meant to inspire people to plant food in all of the available lands was meant to boost morale, safeguard families against food shortages, and ease the burden on commercial farmers that were also feeding troops overseas.
Just a couple of years later these victory gardens produced roughly 8 million tons of food—which was the equivalent of more than 40 percent of all the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States.1
There are so many benefits to gardening (from stress relief to saving money), can you imagine the impact it would have if we started replacing our lawns with gardens again?
If you stop and think about it, how much lawn space do we have in this country? What if everyone with space for a lawn had a large garden and maybe some chickens instead?
It’s about time that those of us that can, take more responsibility for growing food and stopped relying on farmers, processors, and manufacturers to solve a food crisis.
We need to collectively come to the realization that it’s better to spend time tending a garden instead of mowing and fertilizing the lawn, raising productive pets instead of walking the dog for exercise.
This concept has been a paradigm shift for me. I had never before thought 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. It now comes to mind every time I see a perfectly manicured lawn.
Gardening as a lawn alternative is 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!)
4 Steps to Get Rid of the Lawn and Grow Food Instead
1. Grow only the Foods You Currently Eat
Planting the perfect tomato plants and spending time over the summer weeding and watering seems like a great idea until you begin to harvest them and realize that no one in your family really likes tomatoes all that much. The same can be said for planting half a garden of carrots and realizing you can’t eat them all fresh and don’t like them frozen.
If this is your first year gardening, simply stick with foods you know your family will eat!
You can also use one of the many garden calculators available to figure out how much of each type of vegetable to grow based on your family size.
COST SAVING TIP – Start your plants from seeds. Some plants need to be started 8 weeks before planting, others can go directly into the ground, so check the packets! You can also save a considerable amount if you shop the spring sales at your local gardening center.
2. Pick the Perfect Place in Your Yard for the Edible Garden
Many families have figured out how to grow a year’s worth of food on only 1/4 of an acre! Ambitious for sure, but it just goes to show what a bit of ingenuity and hard work can accomplish.
If you’re not (yet) replacing your entire lawn with fruits and vegetables, it’s important to select the right area for your garden! This will help ensure you get the most food (success!) while minimizing physical labor and monetary expenses.
- make sure it gets enough sun exposure (at least 6 hours) and be aware of the shadows around your home if you’re adding edible landscaping to your plan
- place it near a water source
- ensure proper drainage
COST SAVING TIP – Check your local garden center at the end of the gardening season (late June into September) for clearance items. You can find garden tools, seeds, outdoor containers, and even plants at steeply reduced prices.
HELPFUL RESOURCE – Learn how to grow up to $700 of produce in a 10×10 plot!
3. Plant Perennials to Save You Time and Money
If you have space in your yard, these plants have more upfront cost but will produce for years and years. Fruit trees can be added as a functional yet beautiful addition to your yard. Blueberry bushes can be added around your landscaping (other berry bushes can be somewhat invasive and also have prickers on them, so plant accordingly).
20 Edible Perennials for Your Garden
- goji berries
- avocados, lemons, and limes (zones 9-11)
- mulberries (watch where you plant these trees – they’ll get messy over a driveway!)
- herbs like sage, oregano, and lavender
COST SAVING TIP – Buy your fruit trees in the fall for lower prices and water conservation (you won’t need to water them in cooler weather near as much while they establish a good root system).
4. Get the Whole Family in the Garden
Nothing’s worse than planting a huge garden and fighting over who has to weed! So be honest with yourself before you start digging…how much time and effort do you and your family have to devote to gardening?
- Do you and your husband both work fulltime?
- Are you having a baby this year?
- Will your teens be home to help take care of a garden?
- Do YOU have the extra time and mental capacity to raise a year’s worth of food, or is it more feasible to grow just enough to eat fresh from the garden a few meals per week through the harvest season?
- Is your spouse going to help daily/weekly or is this your pet project?
So often we tend to bite off more than we can chew and our good intentions become a stressful situation. Let’s turn our lawns into gardens, but not at the expense of sanity! If this isn’t your year to start a garden, or it’s too late in the season to plant, take advantage of CSAs and local UPick farms to fill your freezer and pantry instead.
If you’re ready to plant full steam ahead, start by letting your family in on the planning process! Let them help pick out the seeds and get them started. Try giving small kids a section of the garden or a few containers to plant their own seeds to take care of. Devote some time in the early parts of the day (when it’s cooler and everyone is well rested) to weeding and watering to lessen the complaints.
Most importantly, let the kids help harvest from the garden and learn to cook all of those veggies for meals!
Recent Google Trends statistics also show that more people than ever are searching for information on gardening,3 seed sales are up, and gardening may be making a big comeback! I really hope this brings about a cultural shift and we all get back to growing more of our own food, whether it means starting with a small container garden or forgoing the lawn completely and replacing it with a garden.
- Schumm, L. (2014, May 29). America’s Patriotic Victory Gardens. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/americas-patriotic-victory-gardens
- Philpott, T. (2020, May 29). Gardens have pulled America out of some of its darkest times. We need another revival. Retrieved July 06, 2020, from https://www.motherjones.com/food/2020/05/gardens-have-pulled-america-out-of-some-of-its-darkest-times-we-need-another-revival/
- Google Trends. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&geo=US&q=Garden