Grass sucks
Apr 15, 2018

I hate grass. The constant mowing, watering and picking out weeds. And for what? You can’t even eat it. It’s time for a change. Let’s convert those useless, energy sucking lawns into something more productive. Perhaps a food garden? If you’re going to spend a few hours a week maintaining your yard, you might as well spend the time on something that will give back in spades – i.e. the best veggies you’ve ever tasted.

A Huge Waste of Resources

A study from NASA in 2015 indicated that American lawn is the single biggest “crop” in the US. It’s estimated that lawn covers 164,000 square kilometers (about 40 million acres) of land in the US. And what’s the impact of all this grass? According to a recent freakonomics podcast, about 20 trillion gallons of water are spent on lawn watering, which compares to about 30 trillion gallons to irrigate all of the country’s crops. And how about all of the lawnmower energy and emissions plus pesticides and fertilizers? Lawnmowers cause over 80,000 injuries per year in the US. Plus, the EPA states that gas mowers cause 5% of America’s air pollution. Why are we spending all this time and effort on something that doesn’t love us back?

Why Not Grow Some Food?

What would happen if we converted some portion of our lawns into productive food growing land? Firstly, we’d eat a lot better. Whenever you hear somebody complain about not liking veggies, it’s safe to assume they’re referring to the generic stuff in the grocery store. Being greeted every morning by a new batch of tomatoes, peppers and lettuce from your own garden will change your perspective on what food is supposed to taste like. Secondly, we could make some pretty good money if we wanted to. My four stalks of heirloom tomato yielded me 63 pounds of delicious fruit last season (yes, I weighed all 157 tomatoes that my garden produced). At an average price of $4-5 per lb, I could have made about $280 on my 40 square feet of tomato-dedicated land. Which means I could possibly make $2,800 on 400 sq ft of land. That’s not bad for a student over the summer or a retired person looking to supplement their income. A guest on that freakonomics episode suggested he was making about $30,000 per year on one-third of an acre.

A Look at the Economics

But how much effort is required to make this income. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to measure my time maintaining the garden but it didn’t seem like a whole lot. And for the most part it was pretty enjoyable. But let’s put a little more rigour in the analysis. We came across an interesting video by RED Gardens where the gardener measured the time and yield of various types of gardens, from the more intensive to the lower maintenance varieties. What we found really interesting is that yield was very highly correlated to the amount of work required in each garden. RED Gardens concluded that about 5 kg of yield per hour of labour (or 11 lb per hour) was a fair measure regardless of the type of garden. Applying this math to our own garden would imply that we should have spent around 6 hours of time last summer working on our tomatoes. I don’t know for sure, but this sounds pretty reasonable. The other way of looking at the data is that one can grow 11 lb per hour. In the case of tomatoes, that’s worth about $40-50 per hour at current market rates in my area. You’d have to subtract out the costs related to supplies like seeds, cages, compost, etc. and figure out the math for other veggies but it seems like we’re still talking about a pretty good hourly wage potential. Maybe something to consider for the summer students or retired folks out there?

True, we can’t grow food everywhere…

There are some lovely ground covers out there that are low maintenance, hearty and will attract more pollinators that will help my food garden. There are various mosses, clovers and native grasses that we considered. We decided to try out creeping thyme this year because it can handle substantial foot traffic, won’t grow too tall and will bloom some nice purple flowers in the summer. So let’s break the pattern folks. It’s time reconsider the idyllic concept of the well-manicured lawn impressing your neighbours. Instead, impress your neighbours with those awesome heirloom veggies. They’ll be blown away.