My mother kept a garden in my childhood backyard and considered it a point of pride. This summer my housemates and I kept a garden in the backyard and considered it a joy to contribute radishes to the local free farm stand- but I didn’t think of my mother’s or my own garden as a political act. That’s exactly what Heather C. Flores says it is. Her book, titled Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, is based on a simple concept: “Gardening can be a political act. Creativity, fulfillment, connection, revolution—it all begins when we get our hands in the dirt.”
“Urban ecology is not so much a matter of “saving the earth” as it is a chance to improve the integrity of our own human lives and, thus, our chances of survival as a species on earth.In my experience most people want to eat healthy food, care for the earth, and do other things that help create a better future for humans and other species, but they feel powerless against economic and social constraints…But you can’t buy your way to a healthy ecology—you have to innovate it.” — Heather C. Flores, Food Not Lawns, Chapter 2
That’s a good place to start. Flores, a permaculture and environmental landscape designer living in Eugene, Oregon, is passionate about giving a voice to the voice in your head that says you should have a garden. Food Not Lawns is a combination of how-to practical wisdom and neighborhood-building. It’s one part home gardener, one part urban guerrilla activist, and one part embracing of a simpler way of living. It comes complete with a nine-step permaculture design that will help anyone create “fertile soil, promote biodiversity, and increase natural habitat in their own ‘paradise gardens.” The book has created an international movement, with chapters of “Food Not Lawns International” springing up in dozens of cities. You can learn more about all of them on the Food Not Lawns website.
I appreciate that Flores’ approach through Food Not Lawns is rooted in a subtle but dramatic paradigm shift of common sense. She suggests things like taking down fences to grow shared gardens with neighbors or tearing down your garage to plant a garden- dramatic? Yes. But as she says, you wouldn’t cut down an orchard to build a driveway, but why leave the driveway just because it’s there already?
But the most revolutionary and practical advice in Food Not Lawns comes off as a suggestion you wonder why you didn’t think of yourself:
“As you look for places to grow, ask yourself some important, practical questions: Will you actually go there to garden? Will you be inspired by the surrounding space? Will the plants have an opportunity to reach maturity? Will you want to eat the produce? Grow what you love, what you eat, and what you want to look at, in a space that makes you feel healthy and empowered.”