Eat the weeds

Somewhere along the way, we Americans developed an obsession with lawns. I could chronicle the history of it, or you could check out this book for all you ever wanted to know about how it came to be this way. It is a very interesting history. But the deal is, after years and years of this obsession filling our visual spaces and our personal stories of just what a lawn should look like - beginning with only the wealthiest of the wealthy in England and Scotland, and now available to anyone who can walk in an Agway or big box home improvement store with twenty bucks to get a gallon of chemicals and bag of non-native grass seeds- it's time to switch up the story. To recreate a mental image of lawn - or perhaps we erase that word all together and just return to the word garden - a space that gives back life (and food) instead of taking it.

It still shocks me to see the little yellow flags that pop up each spring in people's yards, businesses, funeral homes (irony) or perhaps the most ironic of all - hospitals and health care facilities.

 And perhaps the most depressing: cemeteries. Really, if the deceased could say anything, I'd hope it wouldn't be, 'Could you make that grass up there greener?' After all, isn't the grass greener on the 'other' side?

Really? It is 2016 and we are still doing that? The thing is, yes, it is still happening. And me staying shocked and dropping my jaw doesn't stop it. So here I writing about it, and sharing ideas of what we can do to move, as the website itself so aptly named itself, Beyond Pesticides

Most of us have heard of colony collapse disorder. It's bad. It's the loss of honey bees due to what we now know is related directly to the use of pesticides (in addition to habitat loss--hello monoculture lawns, I am looking at you--and pathogens that make the bees more susceptible to pesticides use, and even climate change). It's still happening. It hasn't stopped. Why does it matter? Pollination. Why does that matter? Who cares about that? Well, food eaters need to care about it. And that's all of us. One-third of our food supply depends on pollinating bees. 

Leeks left to flower in our garden last year. The blossoms are just so beautiful. And see the happy bee that loves it too?

Lawns are a wasteland for pollinators. And even if the edges of the lawn are brimming with flowering plants and trees, if chemicals have been applied to the lawn, the lives of those pollinators are at risk, so there will almost no insects to pollinate those plants and trees.

And then of course, there are the health concerns of using chemicals to get golf course type lawns. So many concerns. Pesticides and herbicides are designed to kill. Still think there is no harm to using them? Check out this pesticide-induced diseases database. Warning: it's depressing. Basically pesticide exposure has been linked to diseases such as asthma, Alzheimer's, cancer, endrocrine disruption, diabetes, cognitive impairment, and more.

Yup. And this is in lawn chemicals, on golf courses and sprayed on crops of food that we eat. Environmental Working Group has a petition to urge the EPA to ban Atrazine in the US. Here's the link to sign it:  Ban Atrazine once and for all!

There are plenty of other reasons to think about the natural spaces outside your house as something other than a lawn. Because well, a lawn requires a lot of work, fossil fuels to keep it manicured, chemicals to keep it green and 'weed/bug free, but perhaps most importantly we can't EAT it! All this space and time and energy invested and no food for the bugs or US!

So what is a person to do? 
  • Well, if you are a person that uses lawn chemicals (not matter how 'eco' they have been labeled): stop using them.
  • Then imagine in your head a beautiful space. In nature. If that beautiful space involves a shiny, too-green lawn with only grass, then it is time to create a new image in your head. 
  • Consider the beneficial nature of, say, dandelions (insanely wonderful liver tonic) or ground ivy also called creeping charlie/gill over the ground (blue flowers for beauty and pollination, greens are edible and medicinal) or whatever weed or pest you are concerned about. Even the japanese beetle. Ok, maybe it will be hard to find the benefit of them (like ticks, really not thinking I will ever understand the benefit of them and all their diseases.) But read about how to try to rid them naturally and even how using chemicals just worsens the problem later for your kids and grandkids!)
At our May Day celebration, gathering dandelion petals early in the morning to make dandelion cookies! They were so yummy that they were all eaten before I got a picture!
But here's a 
great recipe.

Or make a dandelion flower crown! Now how could anyone not love dandelions after seeing this burst of sunshine? 

If you don't use them:
  • Get involved in stopping the use of them. Are they used at your kid's school? Their soccer field? Your favorite restaurant? Your place of employment?  Beyond Pesticides is a website that is chock full of all you need to know for how to get started. Speaking up is the first step. Find out what the school and community policies are and then speak to school administrators and local representatives about how to adopt a management program that does not involve the use of toxic chemicals. Here is a good resource from that site for taking action at your local school.
  • Raise awareness. Have a kid? Teach them about alternatives. Offer to talk at your kid's school or your grandkid's school. Or at your friend's kid's school, girl scout troupe, after-school care, Boys and Girls Club or some such place if you don't have kids.

Teach children (and yourself) to love flowers, 'weeds', etc. Identify what is growing around you. Learn about it. You may be surprised to know that so much of what grows that is considered a nuisance is actually really, really good for you AND has a role in this wildly diverse ecosystem. We talk with our children about valuing the beautiful diversity of the human race. This applies to plant and insect life too! 

 If you've stayed with me this far, thank you. None of this is easy to hear. And action on these issues will take time and energy. But it's worth it. It is so very worth it.

Wishing you a day and lifetime of seeing the beauty in the world around you.


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