It's no longer possible to rely 100% on ads to keep our organization going. If you believe in why Films For Action exists, we hope you'll become a supporter on Patreon. A monthly donation of $1, $3, $5 or more per month will really help!
Lawns Are for Suckers. Plant a Garden - for the Climate!
Lawns Are for Suckers. Plant a Garden - for the Climate!
By Nathanael Johnson / grist.org
Sep 22, 2016

Ripping out your lawn and planting kale and peppers won’t just lead to great stir-fry — a new study finds it could make major contributions to fighting climate change, too.

Two pounds of carbon emissions could be prevented for every pound of homegrown vegetables consumed, according to researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara. And that could add up to a big impact: Give a highly productive garden to every family in California, the researchers calculated, and it would take the state 10 percent of the way to its previous goal of cutting emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Of course, those are sweet potato pie in the sky numbers, but that shouldn’t keep you from doing your part. And the study includes crucial caveats if you want your garden to be climate-friendly.

“We have these assumptions about what works, but we can go off in the wrong direction if we don’t make sure they are correct,” said David Cleveland, the research professor who spearheaded the project, the findings of which were recently published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.

If you want to make sure your garden is a climate boon, not bane, here are some tips.

Cherish and honor your compost pile

food waste compost bin
Shutterstock

The main emissions reduction from gardening comes from diverting your food waste from the landfill, according to the study, where food rots and spews methane and nitrous oxide. That means that the way you handle your food waste can make or break this whole enterprise.

If you have good composting intentions but then forget to aerate and manage your compost pile, it can fart out a “buttload” (I believe that’s the precise amount) of potent greenhouse gases.

Not all dumps allow their rotten vapors to drift into the firmament. If your landfill captures methane and burns it to generate renewable energy, then it could be better to send your table scraps to the dump than try to compost at home. The best option, Cleveland said, is to have a centralized composting facility that captures gases and sends compost back to home gardeners.

This also suggests that we could reduce emissions by reusing waste in other parts of our food system. When I asked crop scientist Toby Bruce for an independent assessment of the study, he said it seemed reasonable, and pointed out that conventional farmers could also use composted food waste for fertilizer. And, he said, if we wanted a truly closed-loop system, we could recycle human sewage for fertilizer.

Plan to commit

Karrie Reid's front yard garden
Karrie Reid’s front yard garden.Karrie Reid

It’s all too common for people to start gardens only to let them wither. “If you planted a garden then just forgot about it,” according to Cleveland, you’ll end up emitting more greenhouse gases than if you never even started.

To get it right, look to someone like Karrie Reid for advice. Reid has an obligation to garden well: It’s her job. She’s an environmental horticulture advisor for the Cooperative Extension Service at University of California. There are extension officers like Reid associated with every state university system, and they’re basically hands-on ag educators. You can find your own version of Reid by looking up your local extension’s master-gardener program.

Reid doesn’t abandon her plants midway through summer, and she doesn’t over-plant and then end up throwing out dozens of thigh-thick zucchinis. Sure, when the cucumbers peak, there are more than she and her husband can eat, she confesses, but they share with their neighbors. The neighbors also come over to harvest herbs from the sidewalk. Follow her example, and you’ll be on the right track.

Ask about local government incentives

front-veg-beds-in-march-2015
Karrie Reid

In the drought-ridden West, you can often get some money from the government if you tear out your lawn (and more importantly, your sprinkler system). But, in most places, to get these rebates you have to replace the lawn with something that doesn’t need irrigation — not tomatoes, Reid said. However, you can often collect rebates when you replace a lawn with perennial food-producing trees, shrubs, and vines. Check with your local water district.

There may be more incentives to come. Cleveland hopes that his paper might lead local or state government to pay home gardeners for their carbon-reducing services. California’s climate law allows for this kind of reimbursement, but the state hasn’t done much to encourage it so far.

Work with your environment, not against it

You have to grow plants that are happy with your soil and weather if you want the numbers work in your favor. “Don’t grow things that are difficult — let the environment speak to you,” Cleveland said. “If your strawberries keep failing, the environment is telling you something.”

So don’t try to grow flood-dependent rice in a region better suited to prickly pear. (Get ready for a lot of prickly pear, California.)

4.0 ·
1
Featured Films
The Staging Post: Courageous People Never Give Up! (2017)
61 min The Staging Post follows two Afghan Hazara refugees, Muzafar and Khadim. Stuck in Indonesia after Australia 'stopped the boats' and facing many years in limbo, they built a community and started the school which inspired a refugee education revolution. A real-life...
Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective (2015)
92 min Humanity is more than ever threatened by its own actions; we hear a lot about the need to minimize footprints and to reduce our impact. But what if our footprints were beneficial? What if we could meet human needs while increasing the health and well-being of our...
Within Reach (2013)
87 min Within Reach explores one couple's pedal-powered search for a place to call home. Mandy and Ryan gave up their jobs, cars, and traditional houses to 'bike-pack' 6500 miles around the USA seeking sustainable community. Rather than looking in a traditional neighborhood, they...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers...
Fall and Winter (2013)
102 min This stunning film takes you on a hypnotic journey, reaching to the past to understand the origins of the catastrophic environmental transitions we now face. Over two years, director Matt Anderson traveled 16,000 miles to document firsthand our modern industrial world and the...
The Economics of Happiness (2011)
65 min Economic globalization has led to a massive expansion in the scale and power of big business and banking. It has also worsened nearly every problem we face: fundamentalism and ethnic conflict; climate chaos and species extinction; financial instability and unemployment. There...
Trending Today


Love Films For Action? Become a Patron!

Our Patreon campaign is now live! We hope you'll be among the first to support this new direction for Films For Action. The goal is to go 100% ad-free by next year and become 100% member supported. A monthly pledge of just $1 -5 per month x a few thousand awesome people will ensure we can continue our work and grow our impact across the world. Click here to join.

Join us on Facebook
Lawns Are for Suckers. Plant a Garden - for the Climate!