Lawn People (that was left forgotten in my drafts folder)

November 22, 2011

I really love having lawns. As an environmentalist I hate to admit that, but it’s true. I like to run on them, I like to chase my dog on them, and I really like to lay out on them. However, contemporary lawn care methods as pointed out in the book, make it so that I really shouldn’t do any of those things. The chemicals used stick to your shoes/clothes/feet, are dragged in and left on the carpet where your crawling baby or toddler will pick them up and inevitably swallow them down. If they’re inside and don’t pick them up on their own feet the same fate will meet your pets. This wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t such a strong link to cancer for each of the chemicals. And even if the cancer doesn’t get to you from direct contact from your lawn, it will likely find a way to make it down to the groundwater where it is leached into our aquifers or wells. Then other problems arise like Blue Baby Syndrome, a result of excess nitrogen in the water from the fertilizers.

The first part of the book pretty much just talks about the variety of lawns, which is pretty interesting to think that there could be so much variation in the stuff that will eventually just get treated and mowed until it has the appearance of a nice shag carpet, or plastic grass depending on where you live. Where I used to live in Texas many people would just tear up their yards completely and put down stone. It blew my eight year old mind to think that such a thing were even possible. Of course those who did this did it so that they didn’t have to comply with the strict water conservation ordinances which left most lawns brown and rougher to play on than any pebbles could be. Still, it seemed so exotic. Where would they barbeque? How could they teach their kids to throw a baseball if they were sliding around on stones? It seemed unAmerican.

Although I said I liked lawns for their utility, in most other ways I think that they are a toxic pit for rich white Americans to throw their money into so that they can take up space of all of the property that they own that they don’t really use or have any purpose for other than showing off at the occasional cookout. This article explains a lot about the cost of spread, and obtaining a lawn seems a definite part of that process. My favorite part of the book was the section on alternatives which I found to be quite sufficient and useful. It brought up a lot of things I wouldn’t otherwise think of doing and was very creative.

Questions: 1. How does having a lawn compete with other signs of social status. 2. How do people justify the hardwork and money put into lawns?? 3. Do you think alternatives will be taken seriously and embraced?

Lawn People

November 9, 2011

I have always thought that lawns are very stupid.


The paradox in the issue of lawns is very weird.  The purpose of a lawn is to have green space.  People still want this part of nature as part of their house.  A house with a perfectly swept dirt lawn would not be looked upon as a positive thing, it must be grass.  As with every aspect of nature, though, we have felt a need to take control of nature to the point that it doesn’t look like nature anymore.  Instead we get sheets of green to cover our lawns.  People spend millions of dollars on something that grows on its own just fine in natural settings.  But natural grass isn’t enough.  It must be perfectly spaced and perfectly cut.  Grass grows in clumps for a reason, it can’t be healthy packed in so tightly alongside other clumps!  So chemicals and fertilizers are shoved down the metaphorical throats of these plants to create the perfect unnatural-looking natural lawn.

Having a manicured lawn is yet another big-dick contest for Americans.  It all goes along with having the sleekest car, the most generic dog, kids who play soccer, and a freakishly clean house.  I guess maybe it shows the ability to afford all of the ridiculous costs of getting a lawn to look that way.  The machines, the workers, and the fertilizers cost so much, so to have a perfect lawn must mean you have so much money that you can throw it away on stupid stuff.  A worthy cause indeed.

Forrest Gump mowed lawns for free.

What is confusing to me is the concept that a flat plane of green is what is most appealing to people.  I guess that goes along with trying to take control over nature.

  This is my house.  Look!  The plants in the yard look like real plants!  Truthfully my parents hate it.  Because we’re on a steep hill, it’s hard to have grass because we can’t really mow it.  My neighbors have grass, and it looks so bare.  You can’t see that as being natural at all.  We have trees, bushes, low plants, high plants, flowering plants and leafy plants.  Honestly, when I have my own house, I will make sure my yard is even less organized.  Then you can leave the plants to their own devices.  We do yard work a few times a year and plant and mulch in the spring, but other than that it really does okay.  We are nature-loving people, though.  I guess I can see how people who are only trying to conquer the outdoors would hate to have such a mess of plants outside.  If you are uncomfortable with nature at all, it would be best to know that there is only one kind of plant growing in your yard, and it is entirely dependent upon the food and nutrients you give it.  Is this need to control nature born out of fear??

Demands for lawns have started to become similar to our demands for food.  Tomatoes do not naturally grow during winter or fall, but we have made it so they will grow, at the cost of the deliciousness of tomatoes.  They just don’t taste right anymore.  What we are doing to grass to make it grow and look perfect year round is messing with the genetics of grass even without there being seeds in a petri dish.  The grass that is prolific is grass that can only be sustained in its “perfect” condition by humans providing it chemicals.  Obviously there are a huge number of grass species, so I’m not worried about the future of grass, but these lawns are not sustainable in any sense of the word.  The chemicals, fertilizers, and insecticides used are detrimental to other species living in the lawn.  When it rains, these toxins wash into forests and streams and who knows where else.  This is yet another phenomenon so new that we do not yet know the effects that our perfect lawns will have on the children that run around and play in the grass.  Perhaps such prolonged exposure to the lawn chemicals will affect flora, fauna, and ourselves.

Where does it end?  There seems to be a sense of panic when it comes to dominating and altering nature.  Otherwise why would it progress so fast?  If a virus works by killing its victim soon after infection, it must move quickly to ensure its genes will be passed on.  We are working so quickly to control nature perhaps because of a fear that if we don’t, it will control us.

Lawn People

November 9, 2011

Lawn People was a very interesting read, and I enjoyed Paul Robbins layout of the book. Robbins did an in depth look into people’s infatuation with lawns in the United State and some of the problems that can arise from this. Some of the issues he addressed that I found interesting were the cultural aspects of the importance of lawn care. It seems as if people in the United States obsess about their lawns more than people in any other country.

So why is having a nice lawn so important to people?

Last year for Environmental Ethics I had an internship with an organic lawn care company and this was a topic I often discussed with my co-workers. The lawn is an exterior way to superficially define someone’s characteristics. The same is true for the tidiness of someone’s house. When I see a person’s lawn that is well kept and perfect, the first thing that pops into my head is that homeowner is hardworking and a put together individual. That person could actually be the exact opposite in real life, but the lawn helps with first impressions. The same is true when you are having company over for dinner. Why do you clean up the house and often mow the lawn? You personally may not care whether your house is messy, but you care if other people think your house is messy. However, the lawn is viewable to all and you do not want to be judged poorly based  upon your lawn. Honestly if I saw someone with an overgrown lawn with weeds growing everywhere I probably would negatively judge them and think they were lazy. Even if someone did not mind their lawn growing all over the place, many cities and towns have ordinances against people who do not cut their grass. Our culture demands that you must mow your lawn and if not you will be fined. This ordinance is also so animals cannot hide in tall grasses next to the side walks, but there is still a huge cultural pressure to make people take care of their lawns.

The media also has a huge role in people’s beliefs towards the lawn. I remember one time I saw a billboard by Scotts Miracle Gro. The ad showed a dandelion growing in a lawn and in big bold words said, “DONT BE THAT NEIGHBOR”. This type marketing is ingenious because they are not selling a product necessarily, but rather peer pressure. If everyone on the entire street had flawless lawns and you didn’t, you would most likely feel insecure about your lawn. Many people will do anything to have a perfect looking lawn and often times that results in the use of herbicides, pesticides and even sod. All of these different solutions can be extremely expensive, but at least you will not be that neighbor with the ugly lawn.

One of the chapters I really enjoyed reading was the chapter about lawn inputs being hazardous. I was amazed at all the different chemicals that have been used to treat lawns in the past. Some of these chemicals are extremely hazardous and it just shows the extent people have went to creating the perfect lawn. A few of the chemical used were DDT, Mercury and kerosene. Looking back now, knowing what we know about these chemicals, it is kind of funny to imagine these chemicals being used on lawns. The earliest methods for lawn care was done by hand and I am sure people were reluctant to finally use chemicals that would eliminate weeds and pests. There are obvious human and animal health concerns while using theses chemicals on lawns. People still spray chemicals on their lawns, but these chemicals are usually less hazardous than the ones used in the past. However, that does not mean these chemicals are not hazardous. Robbins stated how back when DDT and other similar chemical were used people did not know the hazardous effects until many years later. The same may be true with the chemicals we use today. 20 years from now people may look back and say why did we ever use “blank” it obviously causes “blank”.

There are alternatives to these chemical and that is where organic lawn care comes into play. Many of the houses we went to were middle to upper income, and people who tended to be more environmentally conscious. We also had the occasional dog lover who would never imagine letting their dogs play in a lawn with chemicals. Every lawn is a little different when trying to administer organic lawn care methods and techniques. There is almost always different types of grasses growing in the same lawn and it is extremely difficult to figure out how to effectively fix the situation with organic methods. I only got a small glimpse into the industry, but what I did do was spray weeds with an organic solution. This solution basically contained high amounts of iron, derived from blood, that supposedly killed weeds. It seemed to work pretty well, but honestly I bet roundup and other chemicals probably woud have worked better. Organic lawn care does not yield instant results and you will always have a battle to keep the lawn perfect. There are always trade offs for things like this and sometimes it is hard to see results until later on in life.

Lawn People

November 9, 2011

As a soccer player, I have had to play on a variety of fields- some the picture perfect turf grass and some complete dirt fields.  There has recently been a kick for many schools and facilities I played at in club to change all fields to turf.  In my opinion, turf in the worst type of field to play on – the game pace changes depending on the field.  The change to turf stems from an easier care process then the usual field.  However, turf harbors more bacteria that is dangerous to humans than regular grass.  Is taking the easier route changing to turf really worth the negative effects?

It really surprised my that the people who actually use chemicals on their lawn are more knowledgeable about the dangerous of the chemicals then those that don’t use any?


Why would the people that know the dangers be the ones to use them?  It is difficult for me to understand the logic there.  Also it was surprising that women are more likely to use chemicals then men.  Where I live, mostly men are the ones taking care of the lawns whereas women tend to garden more and deal with the more decoration side of the outdoors.








The book describes lawns as being self regulating as if there is no need for consumers to fuss over them as much as we do.  However, lawns are no longer just another part of the environment, they have seeped into the American economy and there is no escaping it.  There is money to be made and status to be displayed so the American culture will not let lawns get off so easily.  Since the fuss over the appearance of lawns has nothing to do with protecting the environment or forwarding humanity, the only reasoning left would be money and social status.  Does a lawn really have the power to make us better than someone else?


The book took an interesting approach to the idea of lawn care and the American culture.  I have always seen lawn care/yard work as chores.  It was interesting to learn about the facts behind grass and that the grass in our yard is probably not native to the US.  I have more respect to those that take care of lawns because there is so much that goes into the process although I will be more conscious of the chemicals I see being used.  I am not sure if it will ever change but at least there are some people that are trying to push better lawn practices without chemicals on the American culture.  Will the attitude towards lawn care ever change or is it too far rooted in our culture?


Lawn People

November 9, 2011

Before reading the book I guess I had a subconcious notion that lawns were not the natural state that American culture portrays them to be. Our culture is seemingly obsessed about our lawns, and actually a guy I used to work with used to mow his lawn at least once a week, sometimes even three times – talk about emissions. Our culture has brought the idea of a perfectly groomed space of land into a billion dollar business, even using these spaces as status symbols, separating the “haves” and “have nots”. The author also brings up another interesting point, that an untidy lawn reflects poorly on the inhabitants of the property. A messy lawn must surely mean a messy house and an unkempt person. However on the other hand sometimes you see those cars filled with trash in the back, that too reflects poorly on the driver, so any perception of a dirty or messy lifestyle automatically makes one assume their whole life is the same way – it is human nature.

The author brings up several interesting socio-economic assumptions – for one that wealthy individuals have more of an understanding and general concern for the environment. “Poorer” individuals may either not care, or not be educated in the destruction that chemicals can have on the environment. However, although the wealthier individuals share concern about the environment, it is they who also pepper their lawns with chemicals to have the “perfect” lawn! Either this is a class issue, or an easily excused “well everyone is doing it” issue. Keeping up with the Jones’s is not only creating hardly natural landscapes but killing the natural ones as well.

I couldn’t help but reflect on my own lawn at home, where I know we put some chemicals down, however I have never thought about the environmental costs the surrounding areas incur. I totally neglected to even think about it, but once I started reading the book I felt as though I had known this the whole time. Sometimes people accept things because they are the norm, but once people point out the problems with what is socially acceptable, these once acceptable actions become turned onto their heads.

I think many of the ideas and facts raised by the author were so obvious, yet because of our culture they go un-noticed. Spraying our lawns with chemicals, potentially hurting not only ourselves but the surrounding ecosystem is the least natural thing people can do, and yet we are led to believe that this is the natural state of a lawn due to our culture.

Reading: Lawn People

November 9, 2011

The intro to Weeds (Great Show) sums up a bit of the book.  Look at what’s going on.  The relatively arid Southern California landscape is filled with Green lawns that are O so excellently taken care of, despite the fact that normal green grasses wouldn’t grown in that area.  And everybody has one, the haaaave to have a green lawn to keep up with the neighbors.  (but Agrestic is a gated community so the uppity bastards probably have rules about it.)

Lawn People was a surprisingly good book.  More than any other book we’ve read this semester I was interested.  Partially I think it’s because of the “what we deal with most we observe least” adage, and I find it interesting to learn about something I deal with all the time and yet know so little about. From a writing point of view the book was great.  There was a tad too much data, but the book was written by a professor so you take the good with the bad.



The first chapter’s introductory story poignantly points out just what the issue with Lawn People is.  Lawns are harming us, lawns are harming our pets, lawns are harming the environment, and yet we continue to place chemicals upon them.  Robbins takes time to show many paradoxes involving lawns and chemicals used to care for them.  Robbins also delves into American Society and how it dictates the conditions of our lawn.

Choice you say?


What do you say?

We in America are so obsessed with our lawns that we mow little designs into them.

Chapter Two explores the history of the modern lawn in America.  The are descendents of the large, open estates of English nobility.  For a time they were shunned in America because of their association with the English and elitism (But if you’ve ever been to the Hermitage, you’ll know that by the 1820s America had some large lawns).  Lawns really didn’t kick off in America until the 1920s. Now, lawns are standard.

Is a house truly a home without a nice green lawn?


The answer is a resounding “No.”  Unless you want that picture perfect green lawn we always see.  So the answer is no, but society dictates yes.

How much do you care about your lawn?


Yes, Kinda.  Meh?  In this chapter Robbins assess different chemicals and their short/long term affects on humans and animals.  Pages 57 to 63 analyze each lawn chemical and their harm.  Carbaryl is particularly harmful.


Scotts says

Page 140 best answers this question.  “Lawn care service providers appear to have an answer for all of your problems.  Indeed, their job is to identify problems you didn’t even think you had!  Professional services, even the very best and most responsible of them, have a vested interest in selling you products and procedures.”
It’s akin to auto mechanics who rip out the whole engine to fix a small problem.  They know you don’t know enough to dispute them, so they will do what they please.  They do create demand.


Robbins argues that we do not.  Among his reasons are answers given to questions asked to residents.  Some explain they like chemicals because people don’t want to work on the yard.  Others in the population explain they don’t have the time (and they explain it with pride) to work on the yard and worry about chemicals.  People were also asked about their faith in lawn care companies, the echo my auto mechanic metaphor from above.

Page 99  “Participation in maintenance is a practice of civic good.”  You will be judged for having a bad lawn.  It uglies the neighborhood.  It is an eyesore to those around you.  People try to match their neighbors, and are more likely to use lawn chemicals if their neighbors do.  Taking care of a lawn is an obligation.

Would you really want this next door to you?


Robbins addresses things you can put in your front yard other than turf.  Gardens, both plant and rock, are suggested.  He also suggests planting native plantlife.  Rain gardens are discussed for regions with lots of standing water.  Robbins then addresses the difficulties of getting a nonturf lawn.  Some cities have ordinances.  Gated communities often have restrictions, and the deeds to houses sometimes explicitly forbid nonturf.

Readings: Lawn People

November 9, 2011

Lawn people is an interesting and well researched book. I would not have imagined that we could go so deep into exploring how grasses work and the fact that grasses are one of the “most dynamic ecosystems known” really surprised me (36)! The political, economic and social ideology surrounding grasses and lawns that the author explains in detail is fascinating. It essentially reflects how our minds are trained to look at nature in a way, and how we are doing our level best to make it what it is not. The biggest lesson that I would take away from the book is that the ideologies – which are a result of social, economic and political factors – in the human race works in a way that what we think is natural is not natural, and what we think is unnatural can actually be truly natural!

There are some very neat and counter-intuitive ideas that I picked up from this book. An interesting one is the author’s argument that people ideas are often not accurately transformed into their actions. For example, the author explains how educated people are generally more aware of the fact that using chemicals on lands can cause a range of environmental problems such as water pollution. However, it is those very people who tend to use a lot of chemicals to keep their lawn in shape! Also, the author claims that “With better knowledge will come better behavior.” This contradicts his earlier claims, as we see that people do not act “rationally” all the time. This in fact, has been proven in Economics itself (which assumes that people will always act rationally), and that idea in economics is called bounded rationality, or the idea that people’s ideas and choices that they make is limited by their knowledge and awareness about something. The deviation from rationality is often accounted for as culture, explains the author. This made sense to me in that people often do something, just because someone else seems to be doing it. Even though, they might be well aware that, they are in fact not making the best decision.

I always found it interesting to learn that our concept of lawns has evolved from long-gone times where large open spaces were useful to look out for predators and prey. Also, another argument for the evolution of lawns claims that people desired lawns just to keep the fearful landscapes away. This theme has repeatedly come up in this class wherein we have debated if wilderness / nature should be a part of human civilization or if it should be looked at as something separate from us.

This also leads to one of the most interesting take-aways from the book. It is to learn the fact that we don’t actually need to take care of lawns and the author’s explanation of how grasses work and how they are fundamentally different from a lot of plants in that they have growth stimulators in their roots as opposed to their stem tops is very useful in understanding how society, not grasses needs care-taking! I was always under the impression that having a lawn is great trouble as it calls for a lot of work. But reading this book, I realize that to bring a lawn to how society wants it, or how we imagine it to be takes a lot. This involves polyculture, insects and other characteristics discussed in detail in the book. However, grasses in themselves have their own cycle which is more beautiful than we can think. And what makes us work on them a lot, is to learn about their cycle and work to actually make it suit out idea of grasses! But wait, this is the same theme again right? Is nature inclusive of humans or is it separate from us? Do we have the right to control nature to this extent and where does out idea of nature come from? Would you be willing to have a forest as a front lawn?

CLICK HERE to read more about the “Kentucky Bluegrass!”

The Kentucky Blue!

I especially enjoyed reading about DDT, which we had briefly talked about in the previous book. The fact that the person who first made it was awarded a Nobel prize in 1948 is interesting. It was widely used during the war time, and to learn that it was used to eliminate insects, and not control them was hardly surprising considering the fact that we prefer to live away from nature than live with it. It was interesting to note that following the war, DDT was used extensively on lawns due to the huge fall in prices attributable to large supply. The rise and fall of DDT, and its impact on society, science, politics and economy shows how interrelated every aspect of human society is and also presents the irony that we fail to recognize how we need to be related to nature, in spite of all this interdependence!

They are serious!

The idea that the lawn-industry could be as gigantic to get a single firm make net profits of over $2 Billion in a year itself is testimony to why the author chose to write a book on lawns! I was particularly fascinated by the fact that developing a new pesticide could cost anywhere between $20 and $50 million. This is a staggering amount that we spend on pesticides that – some of which – in reality, we may not even need. It was also interesting to learn why the pesticide industry is dominated by a few large companies, making it monopolistic competition in itself. The high costs of making new drugs and short time period between patents, makes this inevitable.

how much more?!

“Push” and “Pull” advertising is another fascinating idea to learn from this book. “Push” interestingly is a form of marketing where the firm manufacturing the product sells its product to retailers who then sell the product to consumers using skilled staff. On the other hand, “Pull” is an idea in marketing which eliminates the middle-men and puts the firm directly in touch with their consumers. The most notable characteristics of “Pull” are that it is a very new method, starting around the 1980’s but has become popular in no time and changed the market in unimaginable ways. Firms have had to restructure their entire financial planning and budgets resulting in a larger consumer pool and increasing profits. To our generation, marketing is only “Pull” ideology, but for the previous generation, having seen both, it would be interesting to see what they would have to say about this revolutionary change.

Push and pull to get p-pull !

It is also interesting to me that lawns come under direct jurisdiction of many states and counties in the United States. I would never imagine such a law in India and this as the author points out, makes alternatives to lawns “elusive.” I feel that moving away from lawns is not only elusive from a legal standpoint, but also from a political and economic standpoint, where industries will drive demand, instead of demand driving supply. This makes me think about dependency theory to some extent, where consumers are moved into buying products that they may not need at all.

It was delightful to read this book and the fact that a topic like “lawns” – which I considered frivolous before reading this book – could lead to such insightful research makes me realize how interconnected every aspect of the environment is!