Spoiler Alert: it’s colonization!
In her article “The American Obsession with Lawns,” Krystal D’Costa explains that the most grown crop in the United States are our lawns which is disappointing, to say the least, considering no one (on a community level) really benefits from a pretty lawn. This is especially disheartening when you remember just how many people (54 million) in the United States are dealing with food insecurity. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take care of the land while using it to take care of our communities? Just take a second to think about how many low-income areas and food deserts are surrounded by wealthier neighborhoods filled with lawns that have nothing but grass, flowerbeds, and bushes that do not produce food.
So much of our land in the United States is used strictly for aesthetic purposes which is, inherently, elitist. In our culture, having a perfect lawn implies that you have what everyone wants (or needs): money. Everyone knows that in order to have a perfectly manicured lawn you either have to pay someone to keep up with your lawn or you have the money, leisure time and physical ability to do it yourself. Consider this: why do we value perfect lawns so much when they don’t actually do anything good for us?
I understand that questioning and critically thinking about cultural values is not always encouraged in our society. Because of this we may go most of our lives without asking important questions like “Why is there grass everywhere?” Maybe you’re thinking that is a silly thing to question because grass just grows naturally outside, right? But what if I told you that grass is just a result of European settlers colonizing Indigenous land? It’s true: perfectly manicured lawns are not something that existed in North America before European settlers came to Turtle Island. Before colonization, Indigenous people lived in perfect harmony with the land by respecting and maintaining Earth’s natural biodiversity in order to maintain Earth’s ecosystems. Wealthy European settlers quickly ruined this harmony by importing turf grass and other non-Native plants and wildlife in an attempt to recreate their European-style gardens and lawns from home. These wealthy Europeans began to get rid of large amounts of the natural forests to have enough room for their lawns and farms. This led to their non-Native plants, namely turfgrass, becoming the extremely invasive and damaging plant species we know today. Not only was this damaging to the land but the maintenance of these lawns and farms required “intense human labour” that, of course, was not being done by the European aristocrats. This would lead to an ongoing culture of marginalized, low-income people (usually of color) doing lawn, garden, and field work for wealthy (usually white) people in the United States. As a result, our perfect lawns are mostly just symbols of inequity, elitism, and colonization. And even if they weren’t blatantly classist and racist, they are not at all beneficial to Earth and her biodiversity.
I wouldn’t give you this information without some suggestions on what to do about it. The first thing you should do is some research on biodiversity and how Indigenous people live in harmony with Earth and why we should start paying attention to what they have been saying. Afterall, despite making up only 5% of the global population, they are literally single-handedly saving 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Here are some articles to get you started:
Next, if you are someone who really cares about your perfect lawn, don’t be discouraged! Decolonization is an ongoing process for so many of us. Here are some tools to begin to move away from the need to have a perfect lawn and move closer to sustainable, anti-colonial lawn practices: