Edible Estates, Community and Sustainability

front yard garden
(Above: A local Ann Arbor front yard replaced with more diverse vegetation)

Avalon Housing kicks off 5 days of sharing ideas on innovation in sustainability and community building today. Many of the events feature architect and artist Fritz Haeg, who started the project and book called Edible Estates. The series includes a talk and book signing at AADL on Monday Nov, 10th at 7pm with Fritz Haeg.

The Project

The edible estates project consisted of tearing up the manicured front lawns of several households and replacing it with plants that produced edible food. The goal was both to make a statement and to be practical. This is remenicient of Victory Gardens during the World Wars where thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt even the White House lawn had some vegetable production. Similar ideas are also implemented in community gardens, but this project specifically picked the front yard as the area to attack, making the garden front and center. Here's a video of one of the gardens to give you an idea:

Here's a video interview with Fritz Haeg about the project:

The Book

The book consists of the plans for these gardens, homeowner stories, the drive behind the project and a few guides of what you can grow in your zone. What most homeowners were worried about, as can be expected, was what would the neighbors think? However, in most cases there were positive attitudes from the community and even a closer relationship between people in the neighborhood. The front yard was no longer a buffer zone between people but an active center of activity. The book also includes a few tidbits to think about:

  • Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 13 are probable carcinogens, 14 are linked with birth defects, 18 with reproductive effects, 20 with liver or kidney damage, 18 with neurotoxicity and 28 are irritants - National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns
  • Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops. - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The book also includes a forward by Michael Pollan, close to his article Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns, which is worth reading in full:

"Suits fly against the national lawn-care companies, and interest is kindled in ''organic'' methods of lawn care. But the problem is larger than this. Lawns, I am convinced, are a symptom of, and a metaphor for, our skewed relationship to the land. They teach us that, with the help of petrochemicals and technology, we can bend nature to our will. Lawns stoke our hubris with regard to the land. What is the alternative? To turn them into gardens. I'm not suggesting that there is no place for lawns in these gardens or that gardens by themselves will right our relationship to the land, but the habits of thought they foster can take us some way in that direction.

Gardening, as compared to lawn care, tutors us in nature's ways, fostering an ethic of give and take with respect to the land. Gardens instruct us in the particularities of place. They lessen our dependence on distant sources of energy, technology, food and, for that matter, interest."

So be sure to check out the many events this week including the talk and book signing at AADL on Monday.