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Turn Your Grass Into Cash

Updated: Mar 28




"They say money doesn't grow on trees but food does and that stuff ain't cheap!"

Levon Kendall


There's very few reasons compelling enough to justify not turning your lawn into a food producing oasis that provides you with high quality produce and habitat instead of simply costing you money to maintain.


"We are witnessing an increasing dominance of urbanization of the earth with less land and water per-capita. The return of agriculture to where we live presents us with a new paradigm." City of Vancouver


In this article we explore the benefits of transforming grass into an edible garden, a foodscape. We discuss six topics: Food Production, Community Connections, Water Conservation, Ecological Integrity, Quality of Life and Curbside Appeal.






FOOD PRODUCTION







Greenest City Scholar Project for the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation - The Urban Agriculture Project Design Manual was produced by Anežka Gočová for the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation and the City of Vancouver as an initiative of the Greenest City Scholar program.


COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS

What happens when we start spending time in our gardens, puttering outside on a sunny day? This is my personal story of how transforming our lawn to foodscape also transformed our relationships to the neighbourhood.


When we purchased our heritage property in East Vancouver it was surrounded by a 30' cedar hedge. Inside the hedge was a damp, mossy, chafer beetle infested lawn that the raccoons tore up every year hunting for grubs. We lived inside that hedge for a year before we realized how cut off we felt from our neighbourhood.


We removed the hedge to renovate the basement of the house. We were amazed at the feeling of connection to our neighbours that opened up when we took down that impenetrable green wall.


We noticed our elderly neighbour, Bill, a survivor of Japanese internment during World War II. He was determined to rebuild his strength after hip replacement surgery. Everyday he passed our corner as he walked his laps around the block. We would nod and say hello.


We made friends with our Portuguese neighbours across the street, who had been on their property since long before my father bought our house in the mid-1970s. We made friends with Olga, our neighbour to the north. She had been in her house since the mid-1950s. She showed us her collection of hand made Ukrainian folk instruments left behind after he husband passed. We made friends with the Chinese family on the west side of our property. For many years we shared the snow shovelling and salting duties, making sure we got the sidewalks clear.


It took several years to reach the point of landscaping our southeast corner lot. We had decided we wanted to remove the unsightly lawns from our front yard, and also the boulevard and traffic circle in front of the house.


I am not an experienced gardener, I wasn't sure what the next steps would be once I had the turf removed. Luckily, my neighbour, Moira, is an avid gardener and the moment the boulevard and traffic circle opened up she came out to chat with me about making plans for plantings. We joined the Green Streets program.


We started working together at least 10 years ago. My work on our own lawn conversion continues now that we have finally finished the bulk of our renovation projects. In the meantime, the traffic circle and boulevards are flourishing.


At the far end of our block, I had been admiring the ad hoc container vegetable garden springing up on the south side of an old collection of row houses. One day, I saw the gardener working on her plants and introduced myself. I explained my desire to transform our yard into a food production hub and she started working with me, teaching me her traditional Japanese methods of building soil health as a pre-requisite for healthy plants and food.


Whenever I am out working on the garden, inevitably there is a friendly hello, a curious question or a sharing of gardening knowledge and technique. Working with the soil, opening up the property, and pursuing my dream of transforming this property has fostered countless new relationships in my immediate neighbourhood and in the wider Vancouver vegetable growing community.


One of the benefits of transforming lawns to foodscapes is improving and increasing community connections. These connections foster an ecology of learning relationships as well as new sources for food security in our local neighbourhood. As we build soil health and food capacity, we also build strength in our community relationships.


WATER CONSERVATION

Lawns consume water but they do not produce commensurate value in terms of wildlife habitat, environmental diversity or food production. Lawns require regular watering to keep the grass green and prevent it from going dormant during drought (turning brown). Lawns also require regular watering to maintain plant root health to resist chafer beetle infestation.


Lawn watering tends to be wasteful, as the water is sprinkled over a large area and there are impervious surfaces, such as driveways and sidewalks, that also get watered. This water is wasted.


Lawn watering tends to be done from household domestic water supply. This means that potable, drinkable water is being used to water lawns instead of maintain water reserves for human consumption.


The soil condition of the lawn is important to ensure adequate water absorption. If the soil is too compacted, the water is not absorbed into the grass roots. Instead, it leaches nutrients (and also fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides) from the soil and runs off the lawn to be collected into the storm drain system.


Designing an edible landscape includes designing land forms and water sheds to collect and conserve water. Instead of drawing potable drinkable water from the municipal water supply, the edible landscape uses rainwater catchment, collection and distribution to ensure adequate water supply for the garden. Drought resistant plantings provide support through dry summers, spillways and swales provide water absorption and distribution during rainy seasons. Strategic water collection provides additional water supply for targeted watering when water supplies are stretched.


ECOLOGICAL INTEGRITY

Ecological integrity refers to the emergence of natural relationships between structure (re. land formations, human installations (driveways, sidewalks), plants (landscaping) and animals (insects, wildlife, domestic animals).


Lawns are unable to support ecological integrity because they are not a naturally occurring landscape. Lawns rely on constant human intervention (aeration, over-seeding, fertilizing, insecticide, pesticide, watering, weeding, mowing, edging) to maintain their green, uniform, flat appearance.


Edible landscaping supports ecological integrity because their design is based on following natural, seasonal cycles of germination, growth and death. Nature is diverse, supporting a multitude of lifeforms to ensure resources are produced and consumed in accordance with symbiotic relationships - the waste of one life process creates food or sustenance for another life process. Over time, a cultivated edible landscape requires less, rather than more, human intervention as the inter-plan and inter-species life cycles create a self-sustaining ecological integrity.


QUALITY OF LIFE

The benefit of an edible landscape can be understood in terms of quality of life. Think in terms of quality of all forms of life. The monoculture of a lawn focuses on the quality of the life of the grass turf. The variated culture of an edible landscape focuses on the quality of plants, insects, and local urban animals. This variated culture gives a rich view of the garden, with seasonal change, a variety of textures and plant types, and the pollinator, bird life and other animal life that provides endless moments of contemplation and interest.


CURBSIDE APPEAL

What is the financial benefit of edible landscaping in terms of property values? Dwell magazine, in an article titled, "Increasing Property Value Prices with Good Landscaping" (2017) wrote that there is a new demand for 'agrihoods', that is, neighbourhoods that are designed for agricultural landscaping, beds of vegetables and fruit are an integral part of the landscaping.


While good landscaping can increase property prices five to seven percent, the article claims that excellent landscaping, such as edible gardens, can accelerate valuations up to 28 percent. This isn't only because the of attractiveness of a fruitful garden, it also takes into account the cooling effect of mature trees and well designed gardens during the summer and natural wind break protection in the winter. These gardens filter pollutants out of the air and aid in natural water irrigation.

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