Clarence Ridgley is the most popular guy on his block, and it's all thanks to his lawn. In April, Ridgley transformed his neatly trimmed yard into a garden of tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, lettuce, beets and herbs. And because the plot sits in front of his home in Baltimore, the bountiful harvest is visible â€” and available â€” to anyone who wanders by. "People will come to my yard and pick up an onion sprout and start eating it on the spot," he says. "I've met more people in the past two months than I have the past 22 years of living here."
"The lawn really struck me as one of the few places that we all share," says architect Fritz Haeg . "It represents what we're all supposedly working so hard for â€” the American dream."
The problem, as Haeg sees it, is that the "hyper-manicured lawn" is looking increasingly out of date. In the 1950s, when suburbia first began to sprawl, a perfectly trimmed front yard embodied the post-war prosperity Americans aspired to. Today, amid rising fuel costs, food safety scares and growing environmental awareness, a chemically treated and verdant but nutritionally barren lawn seems wasteful, he says.
The concept of tilling one's front yard is not a new one. In 1942, as the U.S. emerged from the Great Depression and mobilized for World War II, Agriculture Secretary Claude R. Wickard encouraged Americans to plant "Victory Gardens" to boost civic morale and relieve the war's pressure on food supplies â€” an idea first introduced during The Great War and picked up by Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain. The slogan: "Have Your Garden, and Eat It Too." In 1943, Americans planted 20.5 million Victory Gardens, and the harvest accounted for nearly one-third of all the vegetables consumed in the country that year. Twenty-five million U.S. households planted vegetable and fruit gardens in 2007, and that number is expected to increase by several million this year.
In fact, the average American garden has proven to be a surprisingly accurate social and economic barometer. The upsurge in fuel prices in 1975 spawned a similar gardening boom, with nearly 49% of the population growing some sort of produce. Then, as the prosperity of the '90s trickled down to American yards, the pendulum swung back toward aesthetics over sustenance.
"Back in the 1990s, when things were booming, the gardening movement was all about Martha Stewart â€” spending lots of money hiring people to make these beautiful, ornamental spaces," says Charlie Nardozzi, senior horticulturist at the National Gardening Association. Nowadays, "growing your own food can be a political statement that you have a personal connection with your food and where it's coming from, versus going to a grocery store and grabbing whatever is on the shelf."
Source: Time, 6/26/08