My neighbors might have succeeded in making me hate Earth Day if I’d detected any sentimentality in their scheme. It started last year. While the rest of us were laying sod, they uprooted the grass in their front yard. We put in annuals. They planted corn. Our townhouses look out on green patches the size of postage stamps. Not exactly ideal for agriculture.
They were soon the talk of the neighborhood. A tolerant sort a few doors down commended their foray into “sustainability” and suggested that they add beans and squash—the Native Americans’ “Three Sisters.” (They politely declined. Being Chinese apparently immunized them from his brand of guilt.)
Others of us took a less generous view. Trooping to the farmers market for grubby carrots made us feel righteous, but we had a certain idea of how front yards should look. Furrows didn’t figure in. Yet politics and good manners conspired to quash any protest.
It was a hot, dry summer, and the anemic stalks struggled gamely. But the harvest came up short of a meal, much less enough energy to power the front-yard farmers’ minivan out of the driveway. Frost put an end to it, and all winter the yard was an eyesore. Bare dirt. Broken stalks. I didn’t pretend to appreciate the benefits of dormancy.
Then last night, for the first time in months, I heard the neighbors knocking around in their yard, long after dark. This morning, I stepped out to find the dirt turned over. A new crop is coming. Happy Earth Day—and Bah Humbug.
I know I’m supposed to support local efforts, to applaud little platoons. Read two Wendell Berrys can call me in the morning. But I just can’t conjure any precious feelings about the messy mini-farm next door. Part of living in a community is caring about its upkeep, not just its output.
According to this morning’s WSJ, I’m not alone. Green acres has come to the burbs—only it’s looking kind of brown:
When suburbanites look out their front doors, a lot of them want to see a lush green lawn. Kipp Nash wants to see vegetables, and not all of his neighbors are thrilled. ‘I’d rather see green grass’ than brown dirt patches says 82-year-old Florence Tatum, who lives in Mr. Nash’s Boulder neighborhood, across the street from a house with a freshly dug manure patch out front.
The strategy the Journal describes is ambitious—eight yards on Nash’s block are now devoted to growing high-profit organic vegetables to sell to local markets and restaurants.
My neighbors are far less industrious—and less successful. If their plan yielded more than withered stalks, I might work up some sympathy. If they were having trouble feeding their kids, I would stop fixating on petunias. Then again, I can almost pardon them, for there’s no trace of eco-chic to their effort. This isn’t about bumper stickers or polar bears or political smugness. They just think it would be cool to grow a little corn.