Pollan posits the lawn as part of the social contract. Pollan is a guy who was nominated only half in jest to be the next Secretary of Agriculture by his peers, so he knows something about something. Every god-fearing, red-blooded American McMansioneer strives endlessly to attain that elusive, glittering grail: the perfect manicured lawn. Or as Pollan puts it, “The front lawn symbolizes the collective face of suburbia.” We strove to participate and failed miserably.
We never felt the need to battle it out with the dandelions and wildflowers, or as Mark puts it, to eradicate all invasive plant species from our property in favor of a single nitrogen-hoarding alien monoculture. We’ll get to that mouthful of 25-cent words another time, but we also started realizing that lawns aren’t very good for the environment, not least because people devote so much water and so many toxic chemicals, as well as the gasoline and exhaust from the lawnmower, to maintain the traditional, neon-green buzzcut.
People who don’t mow their lawns—or heaven forbid, replace them with something else—are breaking the contract. Some people realize this and use it to their advantage; hence the trend of guerrilla gardening. Others try to turn their front yards into gardens and are stymied by local laws that actually mandate a lawn or harassed by horrified neighbors who want everyone to mow in lockstep.
If you learned anything from being forced to read Jack London’s agonizing story “To Build a Fire” in junior high, it’s that humans are ultimately on the losing side when we attempt to enslave nature. A war against unwanted plant intruders is a lot like a certain War on Terror we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. Nature has time on her side, not to mention limitless resources. I dare you to lay down the Roundup and mothball your John Deere tractor for a year, and then see if you can even recognize your own property.
In a sense, we came around to permaculture when we started thinking, If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. We’re not revolutionaries by any stretch, but every year we turn a little more grass into usable garden space, which gives us more veggies, fruits, herbs, and pretty flowers, and every year we get a little more of our food locally and organically. This year the big change was Genesis Farm, which now provides most of our vegetables, eggs, milk, and a wealth of knowledge.
We’re still novices, but with the enthusiasm of new converts, we think we can actually produce some vegetables by recruiting nature as an ally instead of trying to tame it. (Get it? PRODUCE!)