This here is a 10-minute speech I wrote about citizen action, specifically about food not lawns, to give at the local Meet Your Producers (farmers) event in Springfield. My hope was to incite a riot of internal passion and subsequent changed behavior in favor of living in a new paradigm. However, the event was a lot less formal than I anticipated, and I scrapped the speech in favor of dialogue. But if I ever get a chance to speak in front of a ladies' club, like dear Vachel Lindsay, here is what I will say:
Food not lawns is a network of gardeners who encourage folks to plant up their yards in food instead of grass. We encourage sustainable organic practices, and the joy that comes from planting food and eating it. We are very much into sharing our collective knowledge and skills with our community. We hold monthly educational meetings on a variety of topics, from worm composting and the honeybee die-off to the basics of gardening and permaculture design. This past spring, our members hosted several garden tours, and a free seed and plant swap. We’ve attempted to answer a multitude of gardening questions, and give encouragement to those who have sought it. We place ourselves within the whole of the context of community.
Some statistics on lawns: Americans spend approximately $30 billion every year to maintain over 23 million acres of lawn. That’s an average of over a third of an acre and $500 per lawn. The same size plot of land could still have a small lawn for recreation, plus produce all of the vegetables needed to feed a family of six. The lawns in the United States consume around 270 billion gallons of water per week—enough to water 81 million acres of organic vegetables, all summer long.
Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland, including about 150-300 million pounds of pesticides annually. Pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides run off into our groundwater and evaporate into our air, causing widespread pollution and global climate change, and greatly increase our risk of disease. Of the 36 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 13 can cause cancer, 14 can cause birth defects, 11 can interfere with reproduction, and 21 can damage your nervous system. Lawns use more equipment, labor, fuel, and agricultural toxins than industrial farming, making lawns the largest agricultural sector in the United States. But it’s not just the residential lawns that are wasted on grass. There are around 700,000 athletic grounds and 14,500 golf courses in the United States, many of which used to be fertile, productive farmland that was lost to developers when the local markets bottomed out.
Citizen action, to me, is a key in changing our future. If you pay any attention to news stories, you know what kind of dire straits our nation and planet are in. And yet, for all our lawmakers have done and have attempted to do, we are still deeply in the hole we have dug with our past actions. I think real change will take each and every one of us thinking deeply about what we are doing every day in our lives. What kind of world are we building each day with the choices we make? What kind of future are we building? Are we designing functioning low-tech systems that will outlive us? Or are we building deserts and landfills for our children to inherit? You may think we’re attempting to save the world, but really, we’re attempting to save humanity. Without a livable functioning planet, there can be no human culture.
When I became a parent was when the state of our world really hit me. I decided that there was no more passing the buck, no more putting off until tomorrow what I could accomplish myself today. I do not want my child and her children to inherit an uninhabitable world. I want her to grow up in a vast lush forest, feeling deeply connected with a living world. I want her to be able to drink the water and breathe the air. I want her to know vitally what living in a strong intensely caring community means. I am not willing to wait for someone else to create this future.
What can we do as citizens? Anything we can think of! We are humans; we have big brains, vivid imaginations, and an amazing ability to adapt. Creativity is our most valuable and versatile design tool. We can see solutions, not problems. What kind of life would you live if you had no constraints of time and money? Think about this. What does a life well lived look like? Envisioning a sustainable future is the first step in enacting this story. Spend time thinking. Think about where your food and material needs come from, and what kind of damage to our planet must happen to enable it to arrive on store shelves. Think about if this is the story you would like to enact.
The farmers and producers in this room have a lot to contribute to enacting a sustainable future for all. Here you see men and women who do what they can to provide nourishment and sustenance on a local level. They are most likely not wealthy. Being a farmer today does not usually bring a lot of riches unless you are getting taxpayer provided subsidies for dumping chemicals on what used to be the most fertile lands in the world, and building deserts. The producers in this room go beyond the desire to make a living for themselves. Often times, they are agents of change. The first time I ever tasted a naturally raised chicken from Bear Creek Farm and Ranch, I knew I could never go back to eating Tyson’s chemically and industrially raised chickens. I don’t desire to eat torture and habitat destruction, even if the monetary price is less. The social costs far outweigh the economic cost. There isn’t any point in eating imported tomatoes out of season, nor tasteless vapid strawberries.
And now we’re back to Food Not Lawns. You may have heard of the 100-mile diet, the attempt to eat regionally, to eat food raised within 100 miles of your home. I challenge you to supplement this with the 100-foot diet. Make a change, starting at your doorstep. Plant food you and your children and your grandchildren enjoy eating within walking distance of your front door, and taste the difference. Taste what food grown with your own two hands in nutrient-rich soil is like. In a life full of health instead of health care, your food is your medicine.
If circumstances do not allow you to walk out your front door and plant, get creative. Use that big brain and active imagination! Put potted plants on your balcony or in a sunny window. Get involved with community gardens or garden swapping. Plant an edible landscaping, so persnickety neighbors will not be offended–and share your harvest with them! Have a brown thumb? Experience and observation will soon turn it green. Attend our free gardening workshops in January and February to learn all about gardening, from building nutrient-rich soil, saving seeds, all the way to designing with permaculture to create sustainable human habitats. We’re going to cover it. Need seeds or plants? Come to our seed and plant swap to get a start. Need advice or help? Ask us. We have an online group with experienced gardeners, and our meetings are always attended by knowledgeable folks.
More than simply raising your own food, you may find yourself in the midst of a community you never knew could exist. The economy of community is abundance, sharing and helping, as opposed to the money economy of scarcity, which encourages competition and ever widens the gap between us and them. You want unlimited growth? You can have it: relationships and experiences, self-awareness, community and connection, spirit, love, purpose, meaning and vision. Value cooperation instead of competition.
A crisis is an opportunity for change. If there is a happy ending to the story of humanity, it will be because we envisioned and enacted a new story, with the rest of the community of life, on the pages of the living world. We are pioneers, not on a mythical far-away frontier, but in our hearts, our minds, our communities, our future. We can build up a new world. Once occupied minds are activating. People are waking up. We can step to the heartbeats of our granddaughters and grandsons, and rise together to meet this challenge, this opportunity, to build up a new world, a world worth inhabiting.
It is time to show up in our own lives and speak our truth. It’s time to talk about this with everyone we see. It is time to act with great intention. Citizens, find your work, and do it. We need it all. It may seem an immense challenge, but if our alternative is extinction, what do we have to lose? Whatever path you choose, choose. Do not sit idly by.
When you plant a seed, you are planting hope. After the seed sprouts, grows, and you eat the fruit of your labors, you are a changed person. Change yourself, talk to others, encourage the people in your community to walk away from war and building deserts and landfills. The proverbial garden is beneath our feet, under the pavement, pulsing with life, waiting for sunlight, moisture, and a caring heart and tender hand. We are citizens in action. We are the change we want to see. I invite you to join us.