Men & Lawns

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There is a strong connection between men and their lawns. Mowing the lawn in the U.S. is still very much a male dominated task.

Edwina mentioned in our interview, when asked if her approaches were gendered at all said that there was a connection historically between men and their lawns: that even back to tribal times men would make sure the area around their home was free of vegetation, to ensure a clean line of sight in case the enemy approaches. However, her strategies are aimed mainly at women, as they are most receptive to their message (particularly in relation to health concerns) and would influence their husband if they do not mow the lawn.

Nowadays, a well kept lawn is more a part of culture, than a desire to protect the home. A domestic chore ‘manly’ enough for men to carry-out without risk of being ridiculed by their friends.

I have collected a few archive images of men and their lawn mowers, which I might use in my final piece.

*Image above is a collage I made of an archival picture.

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WORD SEARCH: What’s in your lawn?

wordsearch

Thinking about different ways of presenting the information about lawns in an interesting way, so I created this word search to include common pesticides & their effects.

I like the banality of it.

But stand alone it does not tell enough of a story…. I might use it later on to accompany something else.

I also made a wildflowers word search….

wordsearch_updated

The variety and creativity within their names is really nice, and I think there is some potential there to comment on biodiversity of nature species.

Interviewing Experts: A More Perfect Lawn

Notes from a telephone interview with Edwina von Gal, on Tuesday 18th April. 

In 2013, Edwina founded the Perfect Earth Project to promote toxin-free landscapes for the health of people, their pets, and the planet. They provide outreach and education, to move home-owners and lawn care services away from pesticides. Prior to Perfect Earth Edwina was a landscape architect in NYC for more than 30 years, and had set-up her own design studio.

 

https://perfectearthproject.org/

What is their strategy?

  • Focus efforts on those already pre-disposed to health concerns, for example, pregnant mothers, families, pet owners.
  • Work with local environmental groups and organic food shops to spread the message about their events in the community.
  • Focus on the home owner (the client) and in that way bring about a change in practice from the landscaper.

What aspects are most effective at persuading people to move to a toxin-free garden?

  • Health! 
    • Particularly endocrine disruptors and carcinogens found in pesticides
  • Women – are most receptive to their ideas, and will persuade the husbands if they are involved in the garden maintenance.

How do they create a perfect lawn?

  • A different skill set is required – landscapers are taught to kill everything but 3 species, so it is ‘easy’ to maintain.
  • In reality, a more bio-diverse lawn will fertilize itself and maintain itself, but it needs some knowledge  and skill from the landscape architect to go into its initial development.

Their philosophy:

  • Historically lawns and gardens were a display of power – Versailles the first major example of this.
  • We do not have to control nature anymore – it is not going to hurt us.
  • We need to let nature back into  our lives, and even contribute positively to our environment.
  • Relinquish some control!

LAWNS: Research

I have done some background reading on lawns in the U.S.A., their size and scale, ecological impact and about the historic, cultural norms which have contributed to their proliferation. This research will be useful for me in defining the next stage of my project.

What defines a lawn:

  • It is an area of grass or mostly grass
  • It is mown, instead of allowing the plants to reach their full height
  • It is maintained for the benefit of people. (USNA)

Ecological Impact:

  • ‘Among the dozen or so main grasses that make up the American lawn, almost none are native to America. Kentucky bluegrass comes from Europe and northern Asia, Bermuda grass from Africa, and Zoysia grass from East Asia.’ (Kolbert, 2008).
  • ‘A 200 gallons of fresh, usually drinking-quality water per person per day would be required to keep up our nation’s lawn surface area.’ (Lindsey, 2005)
  • ‘The average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day, about 30 percent of which is devoted to outdoor uses. More than half of that outdoor water is used for watering lawns and gardens.’ (EPA)
  • ‘If people recycle the grass clippings, leaving them to decompose on the lawn, the U.S. lawn area could store up to 16.7 teragrams of carbon each year.’
    • If composted offsite – 5.9 teragrams of carbon each year
    • If sent to landfill – ‘all bets are off, as the oxygen-poor environment increases production of carbon-containing methane, a potent greenhouse gas.’  (Lindsey, 2005)
  • Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are possible and/or known carcinogens, 18 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system, 19 are linked to reproductive effects and sexual dysfunction, 11 have been linked to birth defects, 14 are neurotoxic, 24 can cause kidney or liver damage, and 25 are sensitizers and/or irritants:
  • ‘Mowing turfgrass quite literally cuts off the option of sexual reproduction. From the gardener’s perspective, the result is a denser, thicker mat of green. From the grasses’ point of view, the result is a perpetual state of vegetable adolescence.’ (Kolbert, 2008).

Cultural Norms:

  • ‘The essential trouble with the American lawn is its estrangement from place: it is not a response to the landscape so much as an idea imposed upon it—all green, all the time, everywhere.’ (Kolbert, 2008).
  • ‘What began as a symbol of privilege and evolved into an expression of shared values has now come to represent expedience.’ (Kolbert, 2008).

Image result for usa lawn

Image: http://madeinusaforever.com/plstofflayas.html

References:

 

Audience and Shifting Focus

Audience is the aspect I have most struggled with with working on CCD. Should it be beekeepers, big agricultural firms, honey consumers, homeowners, food buyers, young families, city dwellers….

My initial ideas were aimed at high earners/ city dwellers, those who could probably be most convinced to buy organic, and those who probably already had the least impact on CCD. The honey auction in particular spoke to those people and thus, in my mind, had limited scope for extension/dissemination.

When I think about the ‘typical American’, one stereotype is clearest in my mind:

  • 2.4 children
  • 4 x 4 car
  • Suburbs
  • Pickett fence
  • Lawn

Although this is wildly out of date and over simplified, those ‘lawn owners’ make up a significant part of suburban America.

Lawns are interesting in a number of ways  (not all linked to CCD, but very much linked to biodiversity and the ecological health of our land):

  • Water use
  • Pesticides
  • Mono culture
  • Biodiversity
  • Carbon capture
  • Neighborhood psyche

They are a flag-bearer for the Anthropocene:

Look How Beautiful and Ordered Humans Can Make Nature!

They operate at the nexus of ecological and social/cultural values.

Look How Overgrown Mr. Bloggs’ Lawn Is… I Bet Vermin Live In Their Garden.

Another reason for starting to research and think about lawns and gardens in relation to CCD is that I am a firm believer that the majority of people will not change their behavior unless there is tangible benefit to themselves or their families. No one will care about bees because of the longer term risks (difficult to quantity or imagine) to biodiversity and food production. People care about their homes and their families, and may be persuaded to change their practices if they can be convinced:

  • It provides a health benefit to them/their family
  • It looks good
  • It is easy
  • It is aspirational

Could my project be to convince people that less cultivated, more bio-diverse gardens could in fact be what they want? And in turn, what impact could that have on the pollination system?

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