What is the largest, by acres, irrigated crop in the U.S?
Chances are you’re growing it.
Turf grass covers more than 40 million acres in the U.S. It blankets our yards, parks, golf courses and pretty much any outdoor surface in a city that isn’t paved.
Grass has its benefits and joys. A lush carpet of green turf grass is an essential ingredient in baseball games, music festivals and picnics. (Whoever introduced Astroturf to baseball should be forced to make 27 outs worth of diving fielding plays — in shorts.)
Unfortunately, that many acres of grass is not very green — regardless of its color.
Lawn turf grass consumes 59.6 million acre-feet in water in the U.S. per year. We pour 2.4 metric tons of fertilizer on our lawns each year. Those fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides enter storm drains and waterways hurting marine life, birds and pollinators.
Between use of fertilizer and gas-powered lawn maintenance equipment, grass lawns can actually add more carbon emissions than they sequester. These analyses are fueling a revolt against conventional lawns.
There’s an appeal to some of the alternatives to a conventional lawn. The average American yard is about 3 percent produce garden, 18 percent ornamental shrubs and 60 percent grass turf. A few square feet of beneficial planting can not only help the environment, but can also cut down on mowing.
Planting a produce garden might be the most labor-intensive lawn alternative. For many gardeners, it’s a labor of love.
For people who don’t consider tilling, planting, weeding and harvesting a hobby but a chore, there’s a group for you.
Revolutionary Earth in Rochester will till, plant and harvest produce in a portion of peoples’ lawns. That means less mowing and work for you.
This year, Revolutionary Earth planted about 6,000 square feet of lawns. The group produced more than 200 pounds of lettuce — along with ongoing harvests of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, squash and more.
The produce goes to households with families in need of fresh produce and to organizations that help supply people in fresh food deserts.
Revolutionary Earth is looking to more than double its acreage next year. You can find out how to participate at revolutionaryearth.org.
A rain garden is a basin landscaped with grasses, perennials and other plants to collect runoff rainwater. The city of Rochester Public Works Department offers matching grants of up to $750 toward rain garden projects for residents, nonprofits and schools.
Native plants help pollinators and beneficial insect species, including butterflies, thrive. Deeper roots of native flowers and grasses also help with rain and fertilizer runoff and prevent soil erosion.