September 13, 2008

Op-Ed ; Growing More Veggies, Less Lawn Isn’t Fuelish


We know the old parable about the bon vivant cricket happily playing away on his fiddle during the best of times, the summer season, while the ant worked to store food for the coming worst of times, the winter months.

The prudent lesson of looking ahead is obvious even to children, but at the higher levels of the political landscape, there seems to be much fiddling while the future of the country's energy needs remains in limbo.

This fiddling is evident in the drill-now and the don't-drill chants that echoed around the national political conventions. While our politicians dance to their own fiddle tunes, we the people face increasing energy pressures and costs.

While we wait for new forms of energy to take root, and traditional ones to be more efficiently utilized, we know escalating energy costs await us to keep us warm in winter, power our transportation and bring food to the store shelves.

Rather than join the fiddling and hand wringing about our energy resources, I thought it made more sense to take a look at my own scene - right in my own back yard if you will.

There's much we can all do right here in our own homes and yards to make a difference today. Not only to ease the burden of high- energy costs, but also to develop a micro-sustainability approach to our homes and the landscape that surrounds them.

It is said that the U.S. devotes more space to lawns than it does to wheat, corn and other crops - 40,000 square miles of lawn, states author Robert Fulford. So instead of spending energy on a green lawn and getting little in return, why not look for a better return on your investment and add some vegetables to the mix?

I have 18,000 square feet of that 40,000 square mile plot - of that about 2,000 square feet is lawn, 5,000 is now vegetable gardens and the rest of the space makes up our home, flower gardens and a stone driveway.

I started with a much smaller garden, maybe 1,200 square feet, but as the veggies were doing well over time, I expanded the plot.

As a result, my gas model mower is much neglected now. To mow those 40,000 square miles of lawn across the land, one state environmental agency says there are 40 million lawn mowers consuming about 200 million gallons of gasoline a year, and worse yet, gas mowers emit 11 times more air pollutants than a new car.

When you take out some lawn and start a garden, you can skip the use of those energy sapping, ear-deafening leaf blowers, as well as the bagging of the leaves. Raked leaves make a good compost pile to enhance the soil in the spring. Or mulching them in place can make faster work of the compost process.

Less or no lawn means toxic lawn fertilizers can be forgotten. In addition to being healthier for the family, it also means the energy- intensive process used to produce them (about 5.5 gallons of fossil fuels per acre) can be invested elsewhere.

So while the tuneless debate about to drill or not to drill off shore or on our national lands plays on, consider ripping out some of your lawn this fall to prepare for a more abundant spring. You'll save energy, grow food that you know where and how was produced and with the extra exercise involved you feel better right away.

Steve Capoccia is a former national editor of an environmental journal and a resident of Westwood.

Originally published by By STEVE CAPOCCIA.

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