Brad Markham: Get rid of the lawn, grow vegetables instead

Brad Markham thinks lawns are a waste of space and resources and should be turned into vegetable gardens.
ANDY JACKSON/STUFF

Brad Markham thinks lawns are a waste of space and resources and should be turned into vegetable gardens.

OPINION: I have a confession to make; I hate mowing the lawn. I'd much rather slip on a pair of rubber gloves and scrub a stranger's toilet than chug behind the lawn mower. I always get lumped with the weekly chore. 

You could play croquet on the neighbour's lawn. It's a manicured marvel. There's not a blade of grass out of place. Consequently, I have no choice but to keep up with the Joneses.

Having a sprawling grass lawn was once considered a status symbol by European aristocrats.

The importance of maintaining the perfect lush, weed-free lawn was hammered into new residents of Levittown, USA, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were given pamphlets on the subject. It was declared the "ideal" of American suburbia.

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Levittown's founder, real estate developer Abraham Levitt, would probably turn in his grave if he saw what I did to our last lawn.

I think lawns are a waste of space and resources. In the last house we owned in Tasmania, I ripped up the entire front lawn and planted another vegetable garden.

It was drenched in all-day sun and was the ideal spot to grow vine-ripened tomatoes, snow peas, dwarf beans, zucchinis, apple cucumbers, spinach and a host of other vegetables.

There's a growing movement in many parts of the world to transform tired lawns and unused backyards into abundant food forests.

I couldn't be happier to see it's even catching on in Taranaki. I recently started following New Plymouth-based Freeman Farms on Facebook. Green thumbs Kati and Carl Freeman have transformed their quarter acre section into a flourishing urban farm, producing fruit and vegetables.

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They've started selling their bags of gourmet salad mix, rocket, pak choi and other vegetables at the Farmers' Market. A second 200 square metre plot is due to come into production this spring.

Carl previously worked on organic vegetable farms, which supplied some of Melbourne's top restaurants. They're helping fill a gap for spray-free produce in Taranaki.

Eltham resident Amanda Kendrick dug up the lawn of her quarter acre section late last year, replacing grass with herbs. She's planted culinary favourites such as a coriander, thyme, parsley, basil, dill, rosemary, chives and oregano. Amanda told me she'll start selling them to South Taranaki restaurants next month.

In the United States, a desire to cut food miles and eat locally is fuelling the growth of urban farms. 

Budding market gardeners are shunning desk jobs to plough up unused backyards and vacant lots to grow crops to sell. 

In the state of Massachusetts, the Department of Agricultural Resources has awarded nearly $1.5 million in urban farming grants over the last five years for more than 50 projects.

Further down the east coast in New York, an internationally acclaimed 6000 square-foot vegetable plot is located on the rooftop of a three-storey warehouse in Brooklyn. Since 2009, the farm has sold its organic produce to local chefs and residents. It also operates an education programme, helping spark an interest in food in school children.

I wonder if this will catch on in New Zealand? I sigh every time I read another news story about productive market garden land close to Auckland being sold to residential property developers.

My love for YouTube has been well documented. One of my favourite food-producing video bloggers is Curtis Stone. He's the owner of a commercial urban farm based in Canada and is the author of The Urban Farmer. 

Curtis was in New Zealand last year to host a workshop for people interested in starting their own farms on tiny plots of city land. Focusing on high-value crops with short growth cycles is the way to create a viable business.

Curtis grows everything from salad greens to carrots, radishes and brassicas. His plots have transformed desolate suburban sections.

His residential farm, which was established in 2010, began expanding when the neighbours asked if he wanted to grow food in their backyard. In an eight-month growing season, the farm generates more than $75,000 per year on one third of an acre.

His business model has several advantages; easy access to staff, buyers and most importantly water to irrigate his vegetables during summer. 

Curtis reckons there are over 16 million hectares of lawn in North America, which he describes as a tremendous source of opportunity. For me, that's what it comes down to. Access to land is a major barrier for many people who want to be farmers, and urban and suburban yards hold huge potential.

 - Stuff

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