Rip Up Your Lawn? One Man Says “Yes I Can”


Last month, right before Passover, David Elcott ripped up his lawn. This White Plains-based author/lecturer was out to prove – to himself as much as others – that you do not need years of experience to grow your own food. All you need is a desire to eat great food and a piece of fertile ground – like your lawn (or nearby community garden for city dwellers). Partnering with the COEJL blog, To Till & To Tend, we’re excited to bring you David’s first hand accounts, frustrations, and victories from the “front lines” of his lawn farm.

Operation Lawn Farm: Part 1

I was going crazy today. Tech problems with my printer took hours. Nothing accomplished. A lousy conference call committee meeting. Exhausted. At five in the evening, I took the world into grip and, like Superman, ripped off my work clothes, put on my dirty sweats and headed out to the farm.

Okay, my “farm” is 50 x 18, torn from my front lawn which does not include my “cornfield” – a 20 x 5 plot ripped out from a different part of my lawn. I had my vegetable garden, berry patches and fruit trees in California when my kids were little. All year, crops flourished, beautiful. But New York is different – freezing cold, wet, snow – it never seemed worth it. Until I went over to the good side and realized I do not need to eat food I actually could grow that was being shipped from hemispheres and continents unknown. Michael Pollan added to my passion in describing the petroleum products I am ingesting. Strike a blow for energy freedom along with fresh produce steps away from my kitchen door. So I hauled in six cubic yards of organic topsoil, thirty bags of manure and some mushroom compost as well, spent two days with the pitchfork, the shovel, the hoe. Got everything ready to go.

The biggest hitch? I could not figure out when to plant. I had organic seeds that are kind of growing in my basement and some plants shipped from Petaluma (ouch, I just added a huge carbon footprint). Is it going to drop below freezing again? Is it safe to plant? Will my first New York foray into self-sustaining agriculture go bust?

But today, I was hungry to make something happen after a lousy work day. I checked the weather predictions and there was no sign of sub-freezing temperature (call that a weird faith statement in meteorology). So I flew out the door, took my fragile tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, a zillion different herbs, the radish, beet, basil and broccoli seeds, and dug my hands into the soil. Need I say more? Liberation of the soul; my personal revolutionary Tea Party that says we humans can no longer believe that carrots actually grow in bags at the supermarket. As I write, I am looking from my office window on to the dark soil and the beautiful green leaves—floppy eggplant leaves, small peppers, multi-colored herbs and fragrant tomatoes.

I hope to produce bushels more than I can eat. My plan is simple. I will invite neighbors and friends to harvest what they want whenever they want. I will leave a jar for contributions which will be given to our synagogue’s Fund for the Needy, a fair swap of fresh goodness for goodness “beyn adam l’adam” – from one human being to another.

The sun is about to set over the farm. My soul is content.

Part 2 coming soon…

foodnotlawns.jpgThinking about planting your own lawn farm? Check out the Food Not Lawns handbook for advice, encouragement, and how-tos and Inch by Inch – a children’s book to get your kids excited about growing food.

You can also read Michael Pollan’s endorsement of “ripping up your lawn” in The New York Times Magazine.

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3 Responses to “Rip Up Your Lawn? One Man Says “Yes I Can””

  1. Naomi Marcus Says:

    Good luck with your garden.

    A number of years ago, I was involved with a gentleman who started a little garden in a 3′X4′ plot next to his house in Yonkers. He learned about it by watching a home gardening show on Channel 13. The technique involved dividing his little garden up into 1-foot squares, fertilizing each one intensively, and then planting complementary crops together in each little square.

    He had a bumper crop of tomatoes and more cukes than he knew what to do with (they grow well in Westchester), some delicious eggplants, and lots of basil — all from this tiny plot — so you can do it. His daughter picked his cherry tomatoes off the vine and ate them like candy. The main problem was that whatever crop it was came all at once, so there was an overabundance of whatever and then nothing. Well — that’s how it is.


  2. Rabbi Shmuel Says:

    Think “Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholemew – good stuff and wonderful for the turf challenged!

    Our garden was a model of inefficiency – we could have grown 10 times the food but we had wide rows (to get the horses through!)

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