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Lawns are actually an out-of-date cultural hangover from French aristocratic societies, a status symbol used to prove that one could afford to tend to a completely useless crop.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

True
Frito-Lay

Did you know one in five families are unable to provide everyday essentials and food for their children? This summer was also the hungriest on record with one in four children not knowing where their next meal will come from – an increase from one in seven children prior to the pandemic. The effects of COVID-19 continue to be felt around the country and many people struggle to secure basic needs. Unemployment is at an all-time high and an alarming number of families face food insecurity, not only from the increased financial burdens but also because many students and families rely on schools for school meal programs and other daily essentials.

This school year is unlike any other. Frito-Lay knew the critical need to ensure children have enough food and resources to succeed. The company quickly pivoted to expand its partnership with Feed the Children, a leading nonprofit focused on alleviating childhood hunger, to create the "Building the Future Together" program to provide shelf-stable food to supplement more than a quarter-million meals and distribute 500,000 pantry staples, school supplies, snacks, books, hand sanitizer, and personal care items to schools in underserved communities.

Keep Reading Show less
via Tom Ward / Instagram

Artist Tom Ward has used his incredible illustration techniques to give us some new perspective on modern life through popular Disney characters. "Disney characters are so iconic that I thought transporting them to our modern world could help us see it through new eyes," he told The Metro.

Tom says he wanted to bring to life "the times we live in and communicate topical issues in a relatable way."

In Ward's "Alt Disney" series, Prince Charming and Pinocchio have fallen victim to smart phone addiction. Ariel is living in a polluted ocean, and Simba and Baloo have been abused by humans.

Keep Reading Show less
True
Back Market

Between the new normal that is working from home and e-learning for students of all ages, having functional electronic devices is extremely important. But that doesn't mean needing to run out and buy the latest and greatest model. In fact, this cycle of constantly upgrading our devices to keep up with the newest technology is an incredibly dangerous habit.

The amount of e-waste we produce each year is growing at an increasing rate, and the improper treatment and disposal of this waste is harmful to both human health and the planet.

So what's the solution? While no one expects you to stop purchasing new phones, laptops, and other devices, what you can do is consider where you're purchasing them from and how often in order to help improve the planet for future generations.

Keep Reading Show less

With many schools going virtual, many daycare facilities being closed or limited, and millions of parents working from home during the pandemic, the balance working moms have always struggled to achieve has become even more challenging in 2020. Though there are more women in the workforce than ever, women still take on the lion's share of household and childcare duties. Moms also tend to bear the mental load of keeping track of all the little details that keep family life running smoothly, from noticing when kids are outgrowing their clothing to keeping track of doctor and dentist appointments to organizing kids' extracurricular activities.

It's a lot. And it's a lot more now that we're also dealing with the daily existential dread of a global pandemic, social unrest, political upheaval, and increasingly intense natural disasters.

That's why scientist Gretchen Goldman's refreshingly honest photo showing where and how she conducted a CNN interview is resonating with so many.

Keep Reading Show less

Schools often have to walk a fine line when it comes to parental complaints. Diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and preferences for what kids see and hear will always mean that schools can't please everyone all the time, so educators have to discern what's best for the whole, broad spectrum of kids in their care.

Sometimes, what's best is hard to discern. Sometimes it's absolutely not.

Such was the case this week when a parent at a St. Louis elementary school complained in a Facebook group about a book that was read to her 7-year-old. The parent wrote:

"Anyone else check out the read a loud book on Canvas for 2nd grade today? Ron's Big Mission was the book that was read out loud to my 7 year old. I caught this after she watched it bc I was working with my 3rd grader. I have called my daughters school. Parents, we have to preview what we are letting the kids see on there."

Keep Reading Show less