Eat Your Lawn

A new wave of gardeners replants front yards with food

By Roxanne Webber

A mile from the White House, in Washington DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, Ed Bruske is growing vegetables where his lawn used to be. After 9/11, the Washington Post reporter–turned–freelance food journalist and his wife felt a need to have deeper relationships with friends and family. “We found that we could connect with [them] through food,” he says. This evolved into regular Sunday suppers. “We started to eyeball the property in front of the house, and I thought if we were going to get serious about what we were eating, then we should grow our own food.”

Bruske has no backyard. “In the city, sometimes the front yard is the only place you can garden,” he says. “So I went out and started digging in the yard.”

During the summer, the garden provides about 80 percent of the produce Bruske, his wife, and their eight-year-old daughter eat. It’s planted with tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, Italian flat beans, okra, and other vegetables. Despite the bounty, Bruske admits his daughter “would much rather be eating soup out of a can.” Their winter garden provides fewer things, like turnips and greens. “Our hope is to do a much better job planning as the fall approaches and have things to store away and eat.”

Farm at Your Front Door

Bruske isn’t the only person tearing up his front yard to make room for fruits and vegetables. The idea of “edible lawns” has gained traction over the last few years, as more people have become concerned about food security and quality and eating locally. The national organization Food Not Lawns, founded in 1999, is a resource for people wanting to transform front yards and underutilized spaces into food. It hosts workshops on everything from how to convince the neighbors that a lawn conversion is a good idea to gardening techniques such as permaculture. Following on the heels of cofounder Heather Flores’s book by the same name, the organization has grown from 10 chapters in 2006 to 30 chapters in states as diverse as Florida and Washington. It offers programs like tool sharing and seed swaps.

“I hope [the growth] is exponential,” says Flores. “It seems like it makes sense. We’re only a couple generations removed from when everyone who had property grew some food on it.”

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