Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On the Reading List, #1

Since most of us here are new to the world of local food systems, we put a particular emphasis on reading anything and everything we can to better educate ourselves. There are myriad resources in print and online, books, blogs, essays, documentaries, et cetera, that help us help others— to spread the Gospel of Good Food.

We'd like to share what we're reading here whenever we feel compelled to write about it, which, in my case, will likely be often (I tend to get caught up in what I'm reading).

I recently finished Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, the coffee-table companion to the well-known project of the same name by American architect Fritz Haeg. From the first day of the project on July 4, 2005 to late 2007, Haeg recruited four families from around the country (and one in London, England) to tear up their lawn, completely uproot and throw away the sod, and in its place plant an entirely edible landscape. The project is part social criticism (why again do we plant a useless, non-native, resource and pesticide hungry lawn-- from property line to property line?) and part throwback to simpler times. But the effect that is most surprising about the project is how engaged the participants become in their community, in their neighborhoods and with their next-door neighbors. As it turns out, gardening gets you out of your house, and doing it in the front lawn brings the neighbors out, too.

The book is a great introduction to the project, if you haven't already read about it elsewhere. It includes essays by Diana Balmori, Michael Pollan, Rosalind Creasy and Lesley Stern, and documents each prototype "estate" from start to finish. The first, planted in the geographic center of the United States, Salina, Kansas. The last, in London, England. In between are testimonials and reflections about the project from its participants, the essays, photographs and a regional planting calendar broken down by the growing zones.

Haeg himself concedes early in the book that this idea is not new, that "growing our own food is the first thing we did when stopped being nomadic and started being 'civilized!'" What's new is coupling this renewed interest in growing food with sustainable home-practices. And if anything is apparent these days, it's that front-lawns are decidedly unsustainable. Eric Schlosser says it best in a blurb on the back cover of the book: "Instead of mowing your lawn, you should eat it."

Brilliant.

- John Cropper

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