Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Solution to Suburban Sprawl is to Farm It

People have been concerned about suburban sprawl eating up acres of valuable farmland. But it's not really a problem. You just need to think about it in a different way. The American lawn, all 50 million acres, is our largest agricultural reserve.

That's an estimate of the acreage. Some sources say we only have 40 million acres of lawn. But it's still a lot of ground. Take all the farmland in California, the most productive fields in the nation, and that totals only 27 million acres.

Our vast lawnscape is already growing grass and proven fertile. It's flat and free of stones. The irrigation system, i.e., your garden hose, is already installed.

And consider how low your fuel costs will be when you bring your crop to market -- you just walk it to the kitchen door.

So, all you have to do is remove the turf and start growing some food.

Typical yields for potatoes. I'm trying to find a typical yield per square foot for potatoes. The closest I could get was this figure from the Ohio State University Extension Service website. It said you could harvest 150 pounds of potatoes from a 100 foot row, or four 25-foot rows. That's a lot of spuds.

Of course, you can't plant potatoes in the same ground year after year, so the next year grow some beans and squash.

Are We Too Lazy?
A newspaper critic said Americans are too lazy and we have to import immigrants to do our farm work for us. The critic said, "Would you work in the Imperial Valley in California, harvesting lettuce in 120 degree heat?"

Well, I have an answer to that. Nobody should work in that kind of weather. We don't need to be growing lettuce in the Imperial Valley. Grow the lettuce in your back yard, and take a shade break when it gets too hot. It still takes quite a bit of sweat and toil, but it's decent work.

And a lot of us are overweight and we need the exercise. In fact, we can work off our enormous Fat Reserve by converting our Agricultural Reserve (the lawn) into a productive garden.

In our Skagit Valley, with a cold frame, you can harvest lettuce nine months of the year. And in the darkest days of winter, you can serve cole slaw for Pete's sake.

Or we can abuse the labor of some desperate immigrant and have it all done for us, and have our lettuce shipped hundreds of miles, spewing excess carbon dioxide from trucks fueled by oil from the Persian Gulf. It's our choice.

In my forays into Seattle neighborhoods and in trips down to Los Angeles, I have discovered the burgeoning urban garden. So what I have described is not some silly hippie dream. It's actually starting to manifest in a big and productive way.

Growing vegetables in your backyard has just become cool.

After the Arab oil embargo in 1973, it seemed that changes of this nature would happen all over the land -- from lawn to garden being just one of many better ways to do things.

Thirty-seven freakin' years ago, and waiting all that time, but it seems to be happening now.

The Opera.
Here's something I wrote in 2006 when George Bush was President and when I was working at the newspaper in Texas. It's relevant to the recent failed car-bomb in Times Square:

I listen to the opera on Saturday afternoons. There is nothing better than hearing it broadcast live from the New York Metropolitan Opera. A lot of you already know about this, but the stubborn people I work with here in Texas are still gung-ho on the War on Terror, and they don’t even know what they are fighting for. Maybe they can understand it, if I explain it this way:

Osama Bin Laden never heard of Texas. It’s not worth a suicide bomb in his book -- that would only kill a few cows. He aimed – he’s still aiming – at New York City because he wants to destroy the Opera. Defending America, defending against his threat, means protecting the Opera.

That’s what the Texans need to hear. Now, if these fighting Texans had some good leadership, they could do a lot better than to invade someone else’s country. They are willing, but they lack direction.

But what the rest of you need to hear is that the Opera, and a lot of other good things are worth defending and worth being proud of, and we do have something to offer the rest of the world.

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