Thursday, July 17, 2008

Turf Wars

Turf War: Books: The New Yorker
If you're looking for more reasons to hate your lawn, read this...
The greener, purer lawns that the chemical treatments made possible were, as monocultures, more vulnerable to pests, and when grubs attacked the resulting brown spot showed up like lipstick on a collar. The answer to this chemically induced problem was to apply more chemicals. As Paul Robbins reports in “Lawn People” (2007), the first pesticide popularly spread on lawns was lead arsenate, which tended to leave behind both lead and arsenic contamination. Next in line were DDT and chlordane. Once they were shown to be toxic, pesticides like diazinon and chlorpyrifos—both of which affect the nervous system—took their place. Diazinon and chlorpyrifos, too, were eventually revealed to be hazardous. (Diazinon came under scrutiny after birds started dropping dead around a recently sprayed golf course.) The insecticide carbaryl, which is marketed under the trade name Sevin, is still broadly applied to lawns. A likely human carcinogen, it has been shown to cause developmental damage in lab animals, and is toxic to—among many other organisms—tadpoles, salamanders, and honeybees. In “American Green” (2006), Ted Steinberg, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, compares the lawn to “a nationwide chemical experiment with homeowners as the guinea pigs...

The easy explanation for the failure of the anti-lawn movement is that change is hard. People have been trained to expect lawns, and this expectation is self-reinforcing: weed laws are all but explicitly about maintaining property values. When Haeg installed an “edible estate” in the front yard of a Salina, Kansas, resident named Stan Cox, passersby kept asking Cox whether his neighbors had complained about it yet. Everyone “claims to like the new front yard, yet everyone expects others not to like it,” Cox writes. For a developer, meanwhile, putting in turfgrass is by far the easiest way to landscape; what is sometimes called “contractor’s mix” grass seed is specifically formulated to provide a fast-growing—though not necessarily long-lasting—green. (Lowe’s, which sells fifteen pounds of contractor’s-mix seed for $23.52, advertises it as an “economy mixture that provides quick grass cover.”) The lawn may be wasteful and destructive, it may even be dangerous, but it is, in its way, convenient."

For the record, I have a small (maybe 1/8 acre) St. Augustine yard. (My entire property was yard when I moved in; it's taken me eight years of work to reduce it to half the size.) It's beautiful, and I feed it and use all sorts of chemicals on it, but only when needed, and only in the smallest amounts. No matter what anyone says, lawns are beautiful, relatively cheap, and relatively hassle-free. The options that the article lists, while admirable, will take a very different attitude towards land use to come into common use.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just keeping a yard covered in mulch without an irrigation system I think would be cheaper than growing a lawn, and would take much less frequent maintenance, and would make and keep the soil clear and protected and ready to plant edibles into.