J500 Media and the Environment

‘Eat your lawn’ by Lauren Cunningham

I continually see it pop up in my News Feed on Facebook: “______ found some rare eggs to share with their friends!” or ” ______  just harvested their chicken coop. ”

Those aren’t my friends’ status updates. They’re recent actions in a game made popular by Facebook called FarmVille.

In FarmVille, there's always enough land to grow food, and usually all, if not most, of it is used. (Photo from flickr.com)

Basically FarmVille allows people to grow and harvest crops, raise animals and keep gardens on a farm. I often wonder how much the game has inspired its players to start growing food in real life.

In the game, players usually use every plot of land they have for something — growing, raising animals or building sheds, barns, etc.  I think this part of the game actually can translate well to a recent food movement: eat your lawn or food, not lawns.

No, this isn’t to suggest we all graze like cows in our neighborhoods, but it does question our society’s obsession with having nice lawns and using resources to grow grass when those resources could be used to grow food.

The movement came after Heather C. Flores wrote Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community. The book reflects Heather’s idea that people could connect to each other and to their community through growing food together.

Most gardens I’ve seen at friends’ or family’s homes take up a small section of the backyard, which is nice for growing a few vegetables. But for someone who values variety and having plenty to eat, I can understand why people would want to actually use their lawns for more than just decorative purposes.

Plus, there are benefits to growing a garden (not a digital garden on Farmville. It can be cheaper to grow produce than to buy it from a store. It releases stress and improves muscle tone.

One family in Lawrence, Jeremy and Amber Lehrman, started their own version of “food, not lawns” about four years ago and to both use and sell what they grow. Amber said when she and her husband started to expand their garden to cover more of their yard, it was because they wanted locally-grown food rather than because they had heard about the “food, not lawns” idea. They also realized they could help lessen the impact of food that travels hundreds of miles.

“We wanted to eat farmers’ market food but couldn’t afford farmers’ market food,” she said.

The Lehrmans started with a 4-by-12-foot garden. Amber said each year the garden seemed to double. Now they’re out of room to keep expanding. For the last two years, Jeremy and Amber’s garden has produced more than 1,400 pounds each year. They’re hoping for 2,000 pounds this year.

I can only imagine what would be possible if more Lawrencians caught on to the movement. There might be more of a selection at the farmers’ market, there would be more locally-grown produce restaurants could use and more people in Lawrence could engage with their community. I think the most rewarding aspect behind “food, not lawns” isn’t  the food. People in communities are given a common interest and have common activities, like seed exchanges, in which they can interact with each other.

It’s easy to say, “If only Lawrence had an infinite amount of land.” But maybe we do have enough land here to grow as much of what we want. We’re just not seeing what is really right in front of us.

— Lauren Cunningham


Farmers never really retire by Lauren Cunningham

Coming from Clyde, Kan., my mom has always told me some interesting tales about her time spent on farms.

From cleaning chickens to helping deliver calves, I’ve heard my share of, and have been a bit grossed out by, these stories. But I recently asked my mom more about farming in our family.

My grandma, my boyfriend, me and my grandpa at Coronado Heights Park in Lindsborg, Kan. Grandma and Grandpa always have the best food at their house, including veggies grown by Grandpa.

I had always just assumed my mom grew up on a farm, but she explained that it was a little bit different than that. They had a small number of chickens and had a vegetable garden (which sounds like a farm to me), but they didn’t have any crops. My grandparents, my mom and my uncles also helped other farms in their community regularly. My grandpa helped process chickens for local farms — I’m not quite sure if I want to know what that means — while my mom said that she would help gather eggs or clean chickens.

She said she also thought my grandpa liked to garden as a way of therapy from this job at Northern Natural Gas where he would work in extremely hot and stressful environments. I think it’s interesting that even today growing food is still proven to be therapeutic.

Between my grandpa’s gardening and hunting and my grandma’s canning and baking, my mom said their family was pretty self-sufficient. Looking back she said she realizes how much cheaper and healthier that way of living was, but at the time, she said it’s just what they did.

“That’s just what we did,” — she says this a lot when she talks about her farming experiences. I think that because farming becomes such a tradition and a way of life for some families, no one really questions how healthy or sustainable it is to grow food for a family. It really just becomes second-nature for some families to decide to farm.

Since I can remember, my grandpa has always grown some sort of vegetable, usually tomatoes or potatoes. He still grows vegetables even though he and my grandma don’t live in a farming community anymore. My mom can no longer eat a store-bought tomato because she says it doesn’t taste right, and I’m beginning to be the same way. Veggies that Grandpa grows taste way better than anything I’ve ever bought.

My mom still has some farmland in Concordia, too. She has 360 acres of rotating crops of soybeans, milo or wheat. She told me that she is never going to sell it.

Like she always tells me, “Farmers never really retire.”

— Lauren Cunningham

Location, Location, Location by marybethw

Farming no longer has to be about fields and barns. Right in middle of an urban district, on a plot of land next to a storefront or parking lot, an urban garden can sprout and bring a new source of food and sense of community. The saying in real-estate is location, location, location, but urban agriculture ignores such advice and finds a way to flourish. 3458926655_210dc3dfcf1

Deep in the suburbs, urban farmers have an opportunity to grow vegetable inside and transfer them to their yards when the seedlings are ready. Suburban homes are typically bigger and easier to climate control. Any room in the house, even the basement, can be turned into a grow area with some inexpensive grow lamps and tables. That’s how Liz and Sky Kurlbaum — of Kurlbaum’s Heirloom Tomatoes — operate their business. In their basement, right next to their washer and dryer, the Kurlbaums have traded in a table to fold their clothes on, for a make-shift greenhouse that supports thousands of seedlings. If suburban farmers are worried about the electric bill, it’s possible to start seeds in small, starter containers available at any garden store.

Right outside the city is also an ideal location to start an urban farm. For starters, land tends to be less expensive and more acreage tends to be available, not to mention more manageable. On a small farm about 15 minutes from downtown Kansas City, Joe Jennings of J-14 Agricultural Enterprises grows a wide variety of veggies as well as some fruit using about 8 acres. Because of the space available, Joe is even able to occasionally raise select livestock to complement his produce such as pigs.

Urban agriculture has previously had to fight to overcome the image that farming is something that has to be done in the country and brought into the city. Even a vacant lot, entirely surrounded by concrete can make the perfect urban farm. The Troostwood Youth Garden, located on Paseo Boulevard, fits this description precisely: It’s situated on a traffic-jammed street between houses and the occasional gas station. A major advantage (but disadvantage to the neighborhood) is that the Troostwood Youth Garden has very few produce competitors. Urban neighborhoods lacking grocery stores or farmers market sincerely reap the benefits of such a community center that promotes healthy eating. Neighboring Rockhurts university realised this and has supported the garden since its germination in 1999.

~ Bryan Dykman, Group 4 blog post

Urban corn photo credit.

Making Eating Local a Lifestyle by brennad87
February 6, 2009, 3:06 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, Society + Media | Tags: , , , ,

I am remembering a warm, sunny day in the spring of 1993 when I was seven years old. I was walking with a row of my classmates and, as often happened that year, I had no idea where we were going.  Instead, I followed the orderly line of little pupils all dressed in light blue summer school uniforms. Ahead of me, I could see lots of bobbing heads; smooth black hair reflecting the light of the sun.  I was the only blonde child in the group because I was the only American. The year that my family lived in Japan was full of surprises and on that spring day, the surprise was a fieldtrip to a community garden. We watered the plants and played in the dirt. In our school yard, we had a mini version. We also had a chicken coop.

I bring this memory up and I think about other gardens that I have seen in other parts of the world. When I am at my grandparent’s home in England, the majority of the food we eat are prepared by them: jam made from logan berries in their garden, fresh beans and potatoes, bread made from the flour of a local mill. When I lived in France, my host mom had tended the same garden in an allotment for thirty years and she brought home the produce for our dinner table.

Here is my host mom, Annick, picking a kiwi from the tree in her garden.

Here is my host mom, Annick, picking a kiwi from the tree in her garden.



I bring up all of these gardens to illustrate how naturally local food fits into the lives of people living in other societies. My grandparents have always lived like that and to my knowledge, so has Annick. When living in Japan, I surmised that visiting the community garden was a ritual that had been performed by the students at my school for years.

Yet in America, we must have lost that tradition of local food early on. We lost it in time that our communities developed without easy, natural access to local food. There are not conveniently located markets and gardens for many people. Most homes are sold without the space for a back yard garden.

My host sister, Kitty, and I cook vegetables in Annick's kitchen.

My host sister, Kitty, and I cook vegetables in Annick's kitchen.


And now we have the movement to eat locally. But it is a performance. As Jennifer Maiser says in the first sentence of her article entitled “Ten Steps to being a locavore,” one must “commit.”  Maiser is also editor of the Web site “Eat Local Challenge”.  Once again, this word choice infers the inherent difficulty in choosing to eat local. It takes time and energy. In order to eat locally, or organically, a shopper must care enough to research options. Usually, a shopper will have to travel farther to get to a local store or coordinate a schedule around making it to a farmer’s market.

It is also a difficult choice because organic food is expensive. It is thus reserved for the relatively wealthy or for those who decide to cut back in other areas in order to support green or local food choices. It involves a recreation of the pervasive American lifestyle and spending habits—the easy options are not local.

There was also a bee keeper who kept his hives at Annick's allotment. I bought some real Anjou honey from him.

There was also a bee keeper who kept his hives at Annick's allotment. I bought some real Anjou honey from him.


Still, the movement to eat local is growing. In Joseph Erba’s article, he quoted Jerry Wohletz, of Allie Tomato Farm, as saying “This [local food] is the new organic.”

I am usually wary of trends, but if something gets popular enough among consumers than in the American system, change does and will occur. If the trends are positive, like I would say local shopping is, then good change can come from it. The more people who take up the challenge of eating locally, the more options for eating locally that will follow. With more options, the choice will be more possible for more people. With enough people, we can attempt to recreate the American lifestyle in order to make what should be the easiest option easy. Local food should be the natural choice in as many ways as possible. There are some communities where this has happened.


In her article about becoming a 'locavore', Jennifer Maiser recommends a 100 mile diet in which a shopper tries to eat food produced within 100 miles of his or her location. This shows the 100 mile radius with Lawrence at the center. -- http://www.100milediet.org

In the article The Rise of the ‘Locavore’, writer Pallavi Gogoi describes a successful market in a town in southwestern Virgina. Why is it successful? “For folks here, this is part of the Saturday morning ritual,” says Anthony Flaccavento, a farmer who is also executive director of Appalachian Sustainable Development, a nonprofit organization working in the Appalachian region of Virginia and Tennessee. Flaccavento continues to say: “This is not a fringe foodie culture. These are ordinary, middle-income folks who have become really engaged in food and really care about where their food comes from.”


That particular article gave me hope. It said that the movement is gradually “reshaping the business of growing and supplying food to Americans.” That is what needs to happen in order for eating local to become something Americans just do. 


Oh Where, Oh Where Have My Ladybugs Gone? by meganr21
February 5, 2009, 9:15 pm
Filed under: Nature + Travel | Tags: , , , ,


An experienced harvester may collect 3,750,000 ladybugs in a day.

An experienced harvester may collect 3,750,000 ladybugs in a day.

Growing up my parents did a lot of gardening and every time we went to the nursery, without fail, I found my way to the containers of ladybugs. These ladybugs in theory were great for the garden and ‘could fix just about any aphid problem’. Occasionally I would luck out and find myself the recipient of one of these pint-sized containers, eager to release them the moment I got home. I was always disappointed when I stepped into the garden the next day and only ever found one or two ladybugs of the hundreds released the day before. 

Ladybugs can be a great source of pest control when growing your own food, IF you can get them to stay in your garden. Unfortunately 12-Spotted Ladybugs from California are unique compared to their relatives throughout the rest of the United States – they migrate. During warmer months, usually around the time when people start gardening, the ladybugs get geared up and head towards the Sierra Mountains. It’s not until the first rains, usually around October or November, that the ladybugs make their way back towards the west coast. 

So how do you get ladybugs to stay in your garden if they’re continually migrating? The answer: larvae. If you can plant species attractive to the adults, they’ll lay eggs which shortly turn into ‘weird looking’ orange and black bugs. Ladybug larvae eat aphids, same as adults, but are more stationary and so offer a perfect alternative to pesticides and overly mobile adults.


Megan Richards


Thanks to http://media.lvrj.com/images/2603309.jpg for the photograph.