Monday, March 10, 2008

Death of the American Lawn?

Fritz Haeg's new book about the Edible Estates project is available on Amazon.

Edible Estates, a garden project initiated by artist Fritz Haeg, takes the ubiquitous American front lawn and transforms it into a viable garden. Haeg tours the country taking over one lawn in a community with the help of volunteers. In his new book, Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, Haeg writes:

The Edible Estates project proposes the replacement of the domestic front lawn with a highly productive edible landscape. Food grown in our front yards will connect us to the seasons, the organic cycles of the earth, and our neighbors. The banal lifeless space of uniform grass in front of the house will be replaced with the chaotic abundance of biodiversity. In becoming gardeners we will reconsider our connection to the land, what we take from it, and what we put in it. Each yard will be a unique expression of its location and of the inhabitant and his or her desires.

What's interesting about Haeg's project is its comment on the American obsession with homogeny. Somehow, green grassy lawns have come to represent an idealized cultural value: homeownership, private property, a slice of pastoral respite. That we would obsess so with weeding out all other plant life in an effort to maintain a single species—grass—speaks to the darker side of the American Dream: conformity, a fear of diversity, disassociation from the natural world, keeping up with the Jones's. This is the topic of several books, including The Lawn: A History of American Obsession by Virginia Scott Jenkins and this collection of essays by George Teyssot:

In a city like Las Vegas, where experts predict the city's water supply, Lake Mead, will run dry in 13 years, there is an initiative to get rid of thirsty lawns and return to regional landscaping. Haeg's hope is that we will not only return to a horticulture premised on place, but also reclaim connection to our food supply:

Most of us feel like we don't any have any control over the direction in which our world is headed. As always, the newspapers are full of daily evidence for concern. Unlike the challenges of past generations, however, these struggles are no longer just localized or broadly regional; they are an interlaced web of planetary challenges. How, then, do we respond in the face of the impossible scale of issues such as global energy production, climate change, and the related political aggressions and instabilities that accompany them? One thing we can do is act where we have influence, and in a capitalist society, that would be our private property. Here we have the freedom to create in some small measure the world in which we want to live.
The Contemporary Museum is bringing Haeg to Baltimore next month. He will work on the yard of the home pictured below from April 12-14. You can help. Email to volunteer.