Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 14, 2008
Front yard can become site of food production
Architect offers options for global sustainability
By SUZANNE ELSTON
When I was a child my family moved to Edmonton in the heart of the Alberta winter. I was fascinated when the snow finally melted and revealed the large vegetable gardens in every backyard in our neighbourhood.
My father and I dutifully planted our garden, while my mother became an expert at the art of canning and preserving. As a result of our collective labours, getting food for dinner often meant a quick trip to the rows of mason jars carefully stored in the basement.
Even the front yards were put to good use. Many of our neighbours tilled up their lawns and planted potatoes - a staple crop that when harvested in the fall would feed a family over the long winter.
Things have changed. We now import our food from wherever we want and at whatever time of the year suits our fancy. It's estimated that the average meal travels 2,500 km or more to reach the dinner table.
Consider the average breakfast that consists of coffee from South America, orange juice from Florida, California strawberries, and grains from the Prairies. Our food is better travelled than we are.
This distancing of our food is referred to as food miles. Transporting our food across large distances feeds into a vicious cycle. The further we ship our food, the more gas we consume, which both drives up fuel costs and increases the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, further exacerbating climate change.
Major global concerns
As recent headlines will attest, all of this has triggered major global concerns over land use and food production. From the flooding of the American Midwest, to the stockpiling of rice and other staple grains in India and other countries, there is a growing uneasiness about the sustainability of our food system.
In response, there is an increasing interest in locally-grown food. It's fresher, tastes better, and supports local agriculture, which in turn promotes sustainable local economies.
Local food advocates will also argue that knowing where your food comes from and how it is grown or raised enables you to choose safe food from farmers who avoid or reduce their use of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified seed in their operations.
Maybe it's time that we revisited the idea of the suburban vegetable patch.
California-based architect Fritz Haeg has pushed the idea even one step further by exploring the idea of the front lawn as a food source.
In the summer 2005, Haeg began Edible Estates - a conceptual land-art project. The goal was to replace front lawns with edible landscapes. To date Haeg has completed nine such projects in the U.S. and England. The results of his labour are profiled in the recently published book entitled, Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn (Metropolis Books, 2008).
The book features essays by Haeg, landscape architect Diana Balmori, food writer Rosalind Creasy, author Michael Pollan and artist and writer Lesley Stern, as well as personal observations by Edible Estate owners.
The result is a combination manifesto, storybook and do-it-yourself manual that takes Haeg's revolutionary project and challenges the reader to look at food issues in the larger context of environmental sustainability and global food production.
According to Haeg, landscaping accounts for 20 to 50 per cent of all residential water use, with the average lawn using more than 325 litres of water daily. If harvested, the 30 million acres of lawn in the United States would make grass the fifth largest crop in that country.
With land use and food production being two of the most significant global challenges today, Haeg's goal is to have everyone who comes into contact with the project reconsider how they occupy the land.
While it's unlikely that everyone will immediately go out and till up his or her front lawns to plant edible gardens, the stunning images in Haeg's book definitely provide food for thought.
For more on the visionary work of Fritz Haeg, visit www.edibleestates.org
To order Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn online, go to www.artbook.com
If you're not quite ready to take a tiller to your front lawn, you might want to check out The 100-Mile Diet at www.100milediet.org
Local Food Plus (LFP) is an award winning non-profit organization that brings farmers and consumers to the table to share in the benefits of environmentally and socially responsible food production. Check out www.localfoodplus.ca.
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