By Jackie Rainford Corcoran Explore Big Sky Health Columnist
We are witnessing major cultural shifts in our country: Fewer teens are smoking cigarettes, children request sunscreen before going outdoors, and drinking and driving is in decline.
One cultural shift I’d like to advocate for is an updated look at the American lawn.
Green lawns are pretty and they’re great to walk barefoot on during hot summer days. But we’ve created an imbalance – we’ve turned our landscaped country into a giant monocrop. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a monocrop as, “A cultivated crop that does not rotate with other crops in a particular field or area.” This type of agriculture depletes our soil and damages our water supply, and it’s bad for our health.
Let’s take a closer look at the impact of an overly turfed country:
Our lawns consume too much water. While the U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 37 percent of the mainland was in a drought as of April, the Environmental Protection Agency warns that, “Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons [of water] per day.”
We use toxic chemicals to grow and maintain our lawns. Bill Chameides, a former Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, reported in 2008 in “Statistically Speaking: Lawns by the Numbers,” that approximately 3 million tons of inorganic fertilizers are spread each year. This not only poses health risks with human contact, but watering and rainfall cause fertilizer runoff which wreaks havoc on our water supply from our wells to the ocean.
Chameides writes that of the 32 pesticides routinely used by major lawn service companies, 100 percent pose a threat to the environment including water supplies, aquatic organisms, and non-targeted insects; 13 percent include known or suspected endocrine disrupters; 22 percent include known or suspected reproductive toxins; 41 percent include ingredients that are banned or restricted in other countries; and 53 percent include possible carcinogens.
According to a 2011 study by the EPA – looking at the impact of fertilizer on our water supplies – turf grass covers an estimated 50 million acres of the country, and we spend approximately $2.2 billion a year attempting to reverse the damage fertilizers cause to our water.
We grow grass in place of native plants and edibles. Every year we engage in an outright assault on the dandelion. Dandelions were brought to the U.S. in the 17th century for medicinal purposes. Among many other virtuous traits, dandelion leaves have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant – or cancer preventing – properties and are a rich source of fiber, a welcome addition to a diet for those suffering from constipation. In fact, the dandelion is now considered a super food. Isn’t it strange that we’re poisoning the earth, water and ourselves in an attempt to destroy a super food?
If we can change the way powerful tobacco companies with deep pockets market their products, we can certainly shift our cultural mindset into reinventing the American yard. While we can’t uproot our turf over night, we can begin by making small changes like fertilizing only when our yards need it, composting to make our own natural fertilizer and incorporating more native species into our landscape.
Let’s make our yards non-toxic environments where we work in harmony with nature rather than against it. It’s a perfect classroom for teaching our children invaluable lessons about life on this precious planet.
Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, an NASM Certified Personal Trainer, a public speaker and health activist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find more information at thetahealth.org.