Why We Should Replace Our Lawns with Gardens

A well-maintained, manicured green lawn has notoriously symbolized wealth and status in the United States. Not everyone has the “privilege” to own extra outdoor, decorative real estate, or the resources (time and money) to preserve the immaculate appearance to preserve its property value. However, I challenge this commonly held belief as someone who grew up with this amenity. As a child, I enjoyed playing on the playground set in my backyard, and as an adult find the convenience in taking my dogs out to the yard, but I fail to embrace the idea that my green lawn makes me “better than”.

While multiple studies indicate that green spaces help reduce stress (see Hedblom et al, Tyrväinen et al, Ewert and Chang for examples), there are many more environmentally friendly ways we can achieve this. Green lawns are incredibly resource-intensive and have a negative impact on the environment—at the most basic level of maintenance, they require almost 3 trillion gallons of water per year, but many do not consider the other detrimental effects to keeping a pristine, green lawn. In order to present a perfect, grassy appearance, pesticides may be used to keep weeds at bay, harming the habitat for local pollinators and creatures, and runoff from these pesticides pollute our waterways. A perfect lawn needs to be cut regularly, and fuel-powered lawnmowers contribute to our continued dependence on fossil fuels (and our punishment: air pollution).

Earlier this year, I watched Rob Greenfield’s video on how he transformed his yard into a food garden and was fascinated. What if we replaced our lawns with food gardens? I say this with so much enthusiasm because since the pandemic, I tried my hand at growing my own food indoors and outside in my backyard from seed (thank you The Free Seed Project and Slow Food USA). Here are four examples:

  • Pause and reconnect with nature
    We traditionally live fast-paced lives and juggle a busy work-life balance, so when was the last time we had a chance to pause and appreciate the food we have on our plates? As a New Yorker I am used to being always “on the go” so it has been a joy to intentionally slow down, learn patience, reduce my stress, and watch my plants grow and produce the very things that I will eat in my meals!
  • Eat healthier
    By growing our own food, we get to decide what kind of fertilizers and pesticides to use in our garden. Additionally, we may feel a sense of pride and think “I grew that!” and feel inclined to experiment with more dishes and eat more greens.
  • It’s good for the planet
    Most of us have to commute by public transportation or personal vehicle to get to our nearest grocery store, and right now in the US, we haven’t made a full commitment to electric-powered vehicles, so traveling to the grocery stores uses fuel, which contributes to greenhouse gases! Another thing to consider is the distance that our produce travels from farm to supermarket, and the gas it takes to make that trip. If we are able to grow something in our yard (or even indoors), we are able to lessen our footprint, even if it is a small amount!
  • Homegrown food just.tastes.good.
    Did you know that a lot of the produce we buy at the supermarket are picked before they are ripe, and lose nutrients in the time it takes before it ends up in our meals? By growing our own food, we’ll be able to enjoy it at peak ripeness and enjoy the full nutritional value.

The next time you see a green lawn, I invite you to reimagine how this lawn could be repurposed: for the family living there, for the community, and for the environment.

To get started (and for some great tips overall), visit Rob Greenfield’s guide here.