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Cash for Grass: Turn Your Lawn into an Investment in Food

Johnny's Selected Seeds, one of America's finest seed catalogue companies, urges customers to order early before supplies of the most popular items run out.

EDIBLE LANDSCAPING is primal with me. I grew up on a farm where my grandmother’s favorite time of year was early spring when the fiddleheads emerged next to the stream and the dandelions popped out of the lawn. I foraged for wild strawberries on the lawn in June and sucked on the petals of the Johnny jump ups that had leaped from my grandmother’s garden all season long.

On my own yard out back these days I have consciously let the areas with wild strawberries grow freely until June because of the joy my daughter, Aimee, gets from picking and eating them. She knows, too, that it’s OK to pop the white flowers of the Dutch clover in her mouth, or that chickweed is a perfectly fine snack. She’s 4 now, and I know that by introducing these concepts to her at such a young age, lawn foraging will be primal with her one day, too.

Potato blossoms in July

Potato blossoms in July

As will vegetable gardening. Only we don’t plant a rectangular vegetable garden like the one Gram planted. We tuck vegetables into the landscape, with tomatoes in front of the azaleas and clusters of potatoes — that put out gorgeous white blossoms each year for about the same length of time that most perennials bloom — next to the back steps. Most of our edible landscape, in fact, is within several strides of the back door. At that distance I know I’ll be less likely to forget about it and I can also watch what my daughters and other critters are eating when they shouldn’t be.

I encourage anyone to inspect their own landscapes to see what areas of lawn or flower garden can be utilized to grow food. Edible landscaping is all the rage now and entire books are being written about the subject. But that seems a bit like over thinking it, to me. Just cut out some turf and put some plants in the ground that produce food. Simple as that.

Well, maybe not as simple as that, but it’s not that complicated, either. And the rewards can be amazing.

The nonprofit National Gardening Association recently found that the average family with a vegetable garden spends just $70 a year and grows an estimated $600 worth of vegetables, or about $1 worth of food for every square foot of garden. The Burpee seed company touts that $1 of seed will generate $75 value in crops. That an exaggeration for some crops; the value return on potatoes, for example, is about $5 for $1 worth of seed potatoes.

Of course, the above equations aren’t valuing your time, or your fertilizer and other inputs. If you don’t have any gardening tools, those can be an initial expense. And if you don’t have any knowledge, then a used copy of the second edition of Barbara Damrosch’s Garden Primer will run you another $5.23 plus shipping on Amazon.

The real point is that you’ll do well, on so many levels, when you convert some of that lawn to food production. The food you grow without synthetic chemical pesticides will be better and safer; your family’s connection to your landscape will be dynamically enhanced. And just maybe you’ll save a few bucks at the grocery store.

Why not give edible landscaping a try this year? Begin by ordering a few free seed catalogues — I’m biased, but Johnny’s Selected Seeds here in Maine is the best one on the planet — and let the fun begin.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
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  • Diane M Olson Schmidt

    If most folks grow food, as well as annuals and perennials in their front yard instead of lawn, we would, as a nation, would be more sustainable in our food supply, healthy organic food, which would also help all of our pollinators and honeybees. There are even ordinances forbidding vegetable gardens in front yards, however, if interplanted with perennials and annuals, it would still look attractive, especially if a short white picket cottage style gardening fences go up(optional). I am glad more of our food grows where we live, in the urban areas.
    Diane. LaceWing Gardening Services.

  • Pat

    A lot of the trouble with municipalities lie in equating edible landscaping to a typical food garden’s laid-out-in-rows “farm” look. Many people are resistant to their (or their neighbor’s) front yards looking like that.

    I think what’s going to happen is that those who want to have a front yard edible landscape, especially in suburbia, will end up going to more ornamental edible plants that are less commonly known, instead of the tomatoes and corn that people tend to associate with vegetable gardening. I foresee a move to more original designs than the typical box raised bed in edible front yards as well, if out of nothing more than necessity to get past regressive city councils.

    Which is actually a good thing. ;)

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