June 11, 2009

My new favorite term: Ecological literacy

I am currently taking a naturalist course- in fact, at the end of it I will be considered a "master naturalist" (wow!) And boy, am I ever learning what ecological literacy means.

One of my recent classes dealt with urban agriculture, something that I am so passionate about! We got to visit a local garden that incorporates things like urban farming, native plant species, composting, mulching, forest gardening, naturescaping, rainwater harvesting, and grey-water usage, of course, all by organic means.

This hilarious script of a conversation between God and St. Francis of Assisi (the patron saint of ecology) about us westerners "gardening" habits was read:
(from biohabit: http://www.biohabit.org/?q=node/632)

GOD: St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the World is going on down there in the USA? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers weeds and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, sir -- just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back On the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the gro wth and saves Them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a Sheer stoke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You'd better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the Winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy Something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST. CATHERINE: Dumb and Dumber, Lord. It's a real stupid movie about.............

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

And that, my friends, is a pretty funny, yet sad account of what is going on in North America. It makes no sense! If I actually owned my house, I can guarantee you there would be no grass- at least no kentucky blue grass (common lawn grass). I'm so happy that weed & feed pesticide & fertilizer is finally being banned in Alberta. Now we just need to get with the times and do as other provinces & states have done and ban pesticides & fertilizers all together! People wonder where all this cancer, asthma, and other diseases are coming from- for example, think about your pets- they spend tons of time down there on the grass, peeing, sleeping, rolling around, and eating it, and the stuff is covered in chemicals. The school yards and public parks- where children play. These chemicals often affect the immune systems of children the most.

But on a postive note, I'm loving learning about all the other options that are out there instead of cookie-cutter, chemical-laden lawns. Here's some pics I found on the net to get you inspired:

above: from the edible estates project: visit here for more info

above: growing food in your front yard? more information here

above: an award winning natural habitat in portland; read the article here

I would love to hear what you're doing to challenge the myth that green lawns (and not to mention that awful gravel!) and non-native/edible plants are the only way to landscape. And I hope to do some more postings on this very, very, important topic real soon!


sea-blue-sky & abstracts said...

Humorous and interesting good luck with your course. Best wishes.

PrairiePeasant said...

Too funny!

Each year I try to reclaim a bit more of the yard for garden space. It's so much nicer spending time in the garden instead of cutting grass. Your neighbors are also more likely to approach you in the garden rather than behind a mower so it helps build community too.

OffTheHooks/Crafty Ash said...

that is SO TRUE, prairie!
for the grass i do have (damn renting!), i have a nice quiet (non-gas) push-mower- that really seems to get conversations started too!

Anonymous said...

Great story! I live in a co-op and changing or getting things done is actually pretty complicated. We have some green lawn that I was thinking would be great to turn into a more ecological garden. This certainly requires research. Such great points brought up/exposed in this story.

KayaNow said...

LOVE that story! Here in TX those grass lawns consume copious amounts of water...and there are some lovely native groundcovers that don't! I take all the photos for my shop in some, and it's so much prettier than grass :)

Little Brown Sparrow said...

Great post, and so true! It's not exactly the way things are here in Australia (we don't do the chemical thing) but people do spend an impossible amount of time keeping their grass green and level. I've been 'in discussions' with my neighbours and landlords for years on why I never mow my lawn. :)

Gabrielle said...

Loved the story. Your course sounds really interesting!

littlepurpleroom said...

We built our house in the woods and the only grass on our land is what springs up naturally. Most of our 8.5 acres will always be forest and behind us is state forest that can not be logged.
We enjoy the wild life and plan to hand down our land to our children. I would never dream of spraying anything harmful to us, our wellwater the animals or the bees here.
We have an 18 barrel rainwater catch system my husband put in for the greenhouse and showers during the summer if our well goes too low.
I have a movie trailer on my blog about your little town of Hudson up there and how they fought the chem lawn companies.
Come on over and check me out if you like. There are pics of our rain water system on my blog too.

I am passing your etsy shop on to my daughter who is a new knitter and crocheter and making some great stuff already.