By Chef Centehua
Edible lawns, as the name clearly states, are lawns you can eat. In fact, before we had lawns, we had gardens. Our ancestors grew food, were resourceful and self-reliant. Edible lawns are beautiful and attract all kinds of pollinators — butterflies, bees, hummingbirds. They also spark conversations with neighbors or admirers passing by. Many have forgotten how beautiful sunflowers are and how sweet tomatoes taste right off the vine. Some of our friends have had nostalgic moments and sweet childhood memories come alive in our garden. They remember the summers spent at their grandparents’ homes, swinging from fig trees, eating peaches, munching mulberries and chewing on sourgrass. Some of us grew up in cities, in very urban environments, and now are attracted to a more natural and organic way of living. The beautiful thing is that we are slowly turning the cityscape into an edible playground and becoming very creative in the design of urban gardens. Many apartment buildings are creating gardens on their rooftops and window sills.
There are many reasons for transforming a perfectly manicured lawn into an edible one instead. The first rationale I can think of is sustainability: the benefits of reducing water usage are obvious. We have about 40 million acres of lawn here in the U.S., which means we are spending about 30 billion dollars in lawn care! That seems a bit excessive. Imagine how many people we could feed if we used our space productively. Water is the big issue now. We are using more than 7 billion gallons of water on residential irrigation. We are pouring 30 thousand tons of pesticides annually onto our lawns, not to mention fertilizer as well. We are pouring a chemical cocktail into our precious soil, and polluting our water and — well — naturally, all who live and walk on this lawn, of course.
Instead of spending the time and money we now spend growing grass, imagine spending a fraction of that money to grow tomatoes, squash, fava beans, potatoes, corn, chiles, melons, artichokes, and a variety of herbs and flowers. These are some of the foods we are growing right now in our yard. My husband has set up a grey water system in order to reuse water. So, now I actually like the sound of the washing machine because that means my tomatoes and melons are being pampered. We also have a rain water harvesting tank — not that it rains that much here in California — but when it does, we certainly can use it instead of waste it.
An edible lawn can look very neat, with raised beds, flower and herb pots, etc. It’s all about the design and look you want. Ours is a little on the wild side. Although we do have designated areas for certain crops, we like to let things go and we plant a variety of plants together. There are some that help each other thrive, as is the case of our three sisters bed (corn, squash, beans).
We have ground to cover so, instead of grass, we can use chickweed, clover and/or purslane, to name a few. The ground cover is edible. I juice chickweed all the time. Purslane, very nutrient rich and high in essential minerals and omega fatty acids, is great on salads. Vines are great, too. We have Ho Shu Wu growing up a palm tree. This is a wonderful super-herb that provides energy and detoxifies the system. Rose hips are another superfood. This beautiful plant provides beauty and nutrition. Rose hips are very high in vitamin C, are an antioxidant and boost immunity. They can be dried and made into a tincture or tea.
We grew up in a “disposable-everything” culture. You name it: microwave dinners, lunchables, juice boxes, feminine products, diapers, etc. … on and on … However, we now are living in times when a no-waste mentality is needed. We need to replace the old wasteful mentality with a sustainable way of life. I’m happy to see that it’s becoming quite trendy. I love meeting young people who are into knitting, slow cooking, baking, canning, fermenting and, of course, growing food and raising chickens. I have much hope for the future and the generation willing to take responsibility for themselves. I am also happy to see the increasing number of families who support small local organic farmers.
We are very grateful for our edible lawn. As parents, we are constantly inspired and motivated to connect to our environment because we’ve seen how our children have responded and are growing connected to the earth. We feel it’s important to connect the future generations to their food. We think that teaching our kids to grow food is just as important as teaching them math. Naturally, children with a garden are more likely to eat what comes from it. It’s not amazing that my children eat kale or beets; it’s natural. Of course they eat kale; we grow it. You can grow kale, chard, tomatoes, strawberries, etc., in large pots or raised beds. This comes in handy for people living in apartments, who have only a patio to work with. You can do a lot, too, with vertical gardens, and there are great online resources to help you get started.
I envision a world where everyone grows food, and children can go from lawn to lawn and pick fruit. I can see it — fruit trees growing everywhere and people sharing in communal gatherings to trade goods. This dream is many people’s dream, which is why we attract one another and collaborate to make this collective dream a reality. We’re planting seeds. It’s happening.
With much gratitude,
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