For most of us, the garden (especially the vegetable garden) is behind the house. Tucked in the back away from public view are tomatoes, herbs, squash, and cucumbers. Zucchini surges to the front only as we desperately try to give them away during peak season. The front yard is sacred space for a tree or two, maybe a flowerbed, and most definitely for grass.
Architect Fritz Haeg (with Melissa in photo at left) overturns that notion in Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn (2008). Exploring the perceived sanctity of the front lawn and what that tells us about ourselves, Edible Estates offers literal and figurative food for thought.
Speaking this past Saturday at an event co-hosted by Project Grow and Avalon Housing, Haeg revealed a gardeners dream as grassy front lawns became lush garden spaces. Strawberries bloom on a New Jersey street corner and okra lines a sidewalk in Kansas. Kumquat and lemon trees grow in Los Angeles along with melons, cucumbers, collards, and a bevy of other vegetables.
Haeg writes that “Food grown in our front yards will connect us to the seasons, the organic cycles of the earth, and our neighbors.” (pg. 22, Edible Estates) Each of the photos mentioned above contained not just plants, but people working the gardens together, sharing the joy of getting their hands dirty in the front yard.
Aiming to create a space where everyday people could build something collectively to express unity and cooperation in a time that Haeg desperately felt needed it, the Edible Estates project continues to turn heads while turning the soil. Gardens created in Salina, Kansas; Baltimore, Maryland; Los Angeles, as well as communal gardens in affordable housing complexes in Austin, Texas and London, UK, offer a simple strategy for bringing people together and possibly even changing the world.
Haeg believes turning empty grass into productive garden space creates possibility. From a first tomato plant to the first harvest, sharing seeds and then sharing stories, gardens like those created by Project Grow and Edible Estates create a common ground of cooperation and community – the building blocks of democracy as we often think of it - in a world where so often we only see what divides us. “Full frontal gardening” is a statement about what could be best in our society and unearthing what may be most essential.
“Politicians, architects, developers, urban citizens, we all crave permanent monuments that will give a sense of place and survive as a lasting testament to ourselves and our time. We were here! These monuments have their place, but their capacity to bring about meaningful change in the way we live is quite limited. A small garden of very modest means, humble materials, and a little effort can have a radical effect on the life of a family, how they spend their time and relate to their environment, whom they see, and how they eat. This singular local response to global issues can become a model. It can be enacted by anyone in the world and can have a monumental impact.” (pg. 27, Edible Estates)