Can you call it a grassroots revolution when grass roots are what you’re trying to get rid of?
The urban lawn is an ecological desert for pollinators, and short roots do little to slow heavy rain runoff. Upkeeping requires herbicides and pesticides that keep it green and monoculture in the short term but do long-term harm for pollinators and the environment.
Chris Brenna established Revolutionary Earth Farm to change that and convert lawns into food gardens.
In its second year, the nonprofit has about a dozen garden plots throughout Rochester.
Revolutionary Earth Farm’s mission has evolved based on what volunteers have brought to the organization. Founder Brenna said he has had quite a bit of interest from people willing to donate part of their property to be garden space. However, right now, that interest far outpaces the number of people willing and able to work in those gardens.
In fact, interest in spring planting was far higher than later in the season when the group needed help with secondary crops.
Being able to adapt to what volunteers provide also meant the farm was able to adapt to a community need during the pandemic.
Last year, Revolutionary Earth Farm decided to make the food available to people who are food insecure. People who expressed interest received a weekly delivery of fresh produce.
This year, Brenna found more subscribers through the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association and received bread from Great Harvest Bread Co. and milk from Kappers Dairy to round out the nutrition content in the deliveries. Pearson Organics and Earth Dance Farm also donated produce.
While Revolutionary Earth Farm continues to grow and evolve, other programs also aim to cut into lawn space and replace it with food-producing plants.
On the other side of Southern Minnesota in Luverne, another initiative is growing food where once there was lawn.
There, Project Food Forest established a forest garden. Forest gardens feature diverse plants from tree cover to shrubs and ground plants that mimic natural ecosystems. They’re designed to grow up, down and out — extending in all directions.
The overstory usually features fruit trees; the understory (the shrub layer) is usually small trees or berry bushes, followed by an herbaceous layer of flowering, leafy plants. A root layer, such as carrots or onions, is under that, and finally, a ground-cover layer protects the soil.
The layers allow growers to fit more plants in an area, feature diverse growth and reduce the chances of plants dying due to competition or a pest taking out the entire garden.
When it comes to making use of outdoor space, lawns don’t need pollinators, let alone people. They take resources to maintain, but give us and our environment little in return. It’s time to uproot our thinking about monoculture lawns.
John Molseed is a tree-hugging Minnesota transplant making his way through his state parks passport. This column is a space for stories of people doing their part (and more) to keep Minnesota green. Send questions, comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.