Hard to pinpoint exactly when it began but at some point I became excited by the idea of putting my soil to better use than hosting a green moat.  It might have started with those little yellow flags that pop-up on Westchester County lawns all through the growing season.  In case you don’t have these in your state, the flags are warnings that garden services are legally required to post when they treat properties with certain chemicals.  They are supposed to give you, the co-user of the local environment, notice “advising of the pesticide application and when it occurred, and not to enter the treated area for 24 hours.”

Huh.  That’s odd, the newbie New Yorker, said to herself.  What happens if the stuff blows in the wind?  What if my dog runs on your lawn by mistake?  Does it really go away after 24 hours?  What if I have my windows open during application?  What if my child is playing next door when they are spraying?  Why don’t they warn you in advance so you can prepare?  What happens if it rains–does it run-off onto other people’s properties?  What the duck is actually in that stuff anyway???*  In other words, the warning flag provided more questions than information.

As a mom, I am super-sensitive, ok, I am hyper-sensitive to the dangers of man-made toxins.  Since Pamela was born, there has been a growing drumbeat of data supporting the idea that environmental factors can play a role in many diseases.**  Moreover, it is clear to me that all these chemicals we are so merrily absorbing into our bodies—both deliberately and inadvertently—are a potential devil’s brew.  The fact that we are focusing on one alarming chemical at a time (lead, pthalates, BPA) when there are tens of thousands of compounds introduced since World War II makes it feel like we will never get our hands around the problem if we continue in this piecemeal fashion.***  And, in the same way that people get tired of hearing that fat is bad for you and then fat is good for you; carbs are evil, no it’s the kind of carbs…it’s so overwhelming you want to throw up your hands or maybe lock yourself into your room with a tub of ice cream.  (That would be me.)

I dealt with the uncertainty by deciding to “just say no” to lawn chemicals.  No flags, no worry, right?  I mean, if Pamela was going to play on this grass, why should I care whether there were a few (hundred) dandelions to pull, whether there were some patchy spots, whether the greens didn’t all match?  I even went so far as to buy my own push mower and then push it myself.  I mean, why be normal when you can be fanatical?  It’s much more interesting….

But I didn’t stop there.  What if we had less lawn, more vegetables?  What if we dug it up and went all Three Sisters?  (Corn, squash, beans, you know, connect to my bit of Native American blood.)  Now that we had this giant piece of property to mow, wasn’t it in my back’s best interest to decrease it– provided I put in raised beds, otherwise my back would be no better off.  I ordered more DIY gardening books, scoured my saved issues of “Mother Earth News” and expanded my crazy organic dream.  I mean, food doesn’t get any more local than your backyard, right?

Flip, flip.  Ok, put more planters on that ginormous deck.  Dig out the rhododendrons and put in peach and pear trees.  Add a maple, just for regional color.  Apples, yes, we all love apples.  They’re selling our faves, Honeycrisp, in a semi-dwarf size, and another, Empire, for cross-pollination.  Click, click.  Blueberry bushes, easy.  Go well under all those pine trees.  And don’t forget: Poultry.  We’d need some feathered partners to provide pest control and poop.  Chickens?  Everyone has chickens.  Guineas?  Nope.  Turkeys?  Too weird even for me.  Geese?  I heard they were nasty.  How about….ducks?

So that’s how I put two and two together and came up with six ducklings.

*New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation provides some answers to these questions.  I had not experienced anything like this in L.A. so this manifestation of the Neighbor Notification Law struck me as bizarre when I first encountered it.

**A very partial list: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Children Are At Greater Risk From Pesticide Exposure,” January, 2002; Environment & Human Health, Inc., “Risks from Lawn Care Pesticides,” June 24, 2003; also, see BeyondPesticides.org for many links to a variety of studies related to children and pesticides.

***There are, thankfully, many organizations highlighting the issues related to the proliferation of chemicals.  The Environmental Working Group has a Body Burden section on its website and recently the Silent Spring Institute released the Household Exposure Study which expands knowledge in this area.

For more on edible lawns:

Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, 2nd Revised Edition; Will Allen, Diana Balmori & Fritz Haeg, Metropolis Books, 2010.

The Incredible, Edible Front Lawn, M. J. Stephey, Time U.S., June 26, 2008.

The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-Less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden; Ivette Soler; Timber Press, 2011.


Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes