Why lawns are pretty much the worst, and what these Nebraskans are doing about it.

Have you ever thought about how much time and money you put into maintaining your lawn without getting anything back?

Grass lawns are so ubiquitous in America that they often — no pun intended — blend into the landscape. We rarely take time to consider how much of our personal and global resources lawns absorb — or why we even have them to begin with.

Lawns are actually an out-of-date cultural hangover from French aristocratic societies, a status symbol used to prove that one could afford to tend to a completely useless crop.


Photo via iStock.

Though we rarely realize it, lawns are an exorbitant expense. The water consumption numbers alone are astronomical: The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that lawn care accounts for nearly 9 billion gallons of our national usage per day.  Beyond water, an average American spends 73 hours on lawn and garden care every year. We also spend about $40 billion on our lawns annually while spilling over 17 million gallons of fuel refilling our equipment and using almost 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre than farmers use on crops — nearly 80 million pounds a year. All of the effort we put into our lawns makes Americans some of the world's most fastidious farmers. We're obsessed with growing a crop that yields nothing.

In the Hawley neighborhood of Lincoln, Nebraska, one resident decided to do something about all of that wasted lawn space: He tore it up.

In 2009, Tim Rinne was having second thoughts about his grass lawn — and about the possibility of food scarcity as climate change intensifies. Relying entirely on his local grocery store for food made him uncomfortable, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.

"My wife and I converted our entire property into an edible landscape. We got rid of every blade of grass and planted it with edibles or pollinator-friendly flowers," says Rinne.

After some trial and error ("a lot of it," Rinne laughs), the couple was growing potatoes, strawberries, peas, and lettuce in their home garden. They then decided to purchase two foreclosed properties on their block to expand their efforts. Thus, their new communal gardening project (affectionately dubbed the "Hawley Hamlet" after the neighborhood's name) was born.

Nearly 10 years later, more than 20 families have vegetable plots in their own yards and contribute to the community fruit plots on the Rinnes' shared property.

Photo courtesy of Susan Alleman/Hawley Hamlet.

Hawley Hamlet is proof that edible landscaping is something anyone can do.

When asked for his best advice to those considering growing edible plants, Rinne says simply: "Start. Just get out there and try."

Even if you're not quite ready to tear up your entire lawn and go full-food on it, cordoning off a small section of your property to try your hand at an edible landscape can be just as rewarding. "Plant potatoes," says Rinne. "Just stick them in the ground and they'll grow." Or you can plant red lettuce, which thrives easily and will blend right in with the rest of the decorative plants in your front yard. "And it looks beautiful in the bowl!"

In Hawley, every trial and error along the way helped bring residents together to try something new, which was its own reward. As for making mistakes, Rinne recommends doing a modicum of research before getting started to find out what will grow best in your area. "But then again," he says, "that is why there are instructions on the seed packages."

If sustainable gardening isn't your thing, there are alternatives to lawns that require significantly fewer resources and are much friendlier to the environment than grass.

Switching a grass yard for an edible garden repurposes lawn maintenance efforts for crops that produce food. But you can also replace grass with landscaping that requires almost no maintenance. Xeriscaping is outfitting a yard with non-grass plants that subsist on very little water or even on rainfall alone.

Succulents and other dry-weather plants can be interspersed with decorative rocks as a water-efficient alternative to grass lawns. Photo by Tom Hilton/Flickr.

As spring approaches, it's time to turn a critical eye on our own lawns.

For decades, Americans have accepted lawns as part of suburban life simply because it is what we've always known. But as our climate continues to change and we're required to change with it, it may be time to bid goodbye to our backyards as we know them. As Hawley Hamlet has shown, there's a fun, energy-efficient alternative waiting for us just as soon as we're willing to give it a shot.

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."