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

Be a Prouder Lawrencian by sachikom

“Poor Sachiko. You have to eat McDonald and pizza everyday.”

I’m a student from Japan. Before I left Japan, many of my friends mentioned fast food and felt sorry about an unhealthy and tasteless diet I’d go through.

Now, I can say they’re not right, at least in Lawrence. I like to go to downtown restaurants that serve a variety of food around the world. I love to cook using fresh ingredients from the downtown farmers’ market. After coming to Lawrence, I’m converted to a supporter of local food, too.


Photo Credit: Farmers’ Market in Downtown Lawrence Lawrence farmers’ market is open on Saturday morning and Tuesday and Thursday evening.


The farmers’ market, a community garden and restaurants that specialize in regional ingredients, Lawrence offers great venues for local food. The benefits of local food vary from taste to health, to the environment and local economy.

To be a prouder Lawrencian, how can we support local food and build a more sustainable food network in Lawrence?

Search Lawrence Sustainability Network and Local HarvestThey tell us farms and restaurants that specialize in regional ingredients.

Support local farmers through a subscription service: Small-scale local firms are vulnerable to risks such as bad weather and pests. Daniel Dermitzel, farmer and associate director of Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, said we can help local formers by sharing those risks and subscribing to Community Supported Agriculture. Under the subscription service, organized farmers collect a fixed fee from customers and provide products periodically. The amount of share depends on the performance of those farmers. Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance is available for the Lawrence area. 

Volunteer for the Lawrence farmers’ market: It’s a great way to share your passion with customers and vendors. 

In the long run, we should create more opportunities for farmers to sell their products.

Open the farmers’ market in winter: Although not many products are available during the winter season, opening the markets would help stabilize farmers’ income and satisfy customers’ demands. The Christian Science Monitor reports winter indoor markets that have become popular in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. 

Create a local food kiosk on the KU campus: The kiosk could sell fruits, snacks and meals made of locally grown ingredients. It can be promotional, too.

Start a Farm-to-School program in Lawrence public schools: Farm to School is a program which schools provide meals using locally produced foods. Schools also provide learning opportunities, such as farming, gardening and studying about nutrition. This program would enable local farmers to sell their products and raise students’ awareness of food and health. 

Your participation wanted! And don’t miss Lawrence farmers’ market! It opens on Saturday morning and Tuesday and Thursday evening from mid April to November.

By Sachiko Miyakawa


Protecting Our Food: Dianna Henry’s Adventures on the Gastronomical Battlefield by jkongs

“Pawnee Blue Flour Corn: white cob with long slender ears, dark purplish to blue grey to blue speckled color. Grows six to ten feet tall in about 110 days from planting, crushes well into blue flour.” I read this description on the back of a seed packet at the latest meeting of the Lawrence Sustainability Network (LSN) gardener’s club. It had been brought by Dianna Henry, along with half a dining room table full of other seeds, neatly stored in envelopes taped closed with masking tape and covered with handwritten notes.

“From USDA who lists their source as ‘Gilmore in late 1800s’” – this note was more puzzling, and definitely not a typical descriptor on a seed packet. It meant that the seeds I was holding in my hand had lineage back to the 19th century; that the corn had been planted, harvested, and saved for over 100 years by indigenous peoples, a man named Gilmore, my friend Dianna Henry, and now this summer, my roommate Berrigan.

Dianna is a seed saver; a self-appointed protectorate of our food. That’s not to say she stands guard over the produce department at Dillon’s, armed and ready for battle; but Henry does collect, propagate, and save seeds from plants that have grown in this area for centuries -she even wears a necklace of corn seeds she has preserved. In this age of a globalized food economy, where everything we eat has traveled an average of 1500 miles from field to table, the packet of Pawnee Flour Blue Corn seeds is a rare and precious gift.

With the spread of genetically identical monocultures to all corners of the world, having the knowledge and the resources to grow food acclimated specifically to this region is all we have to prevent a second Irish potato famine. The good news is Dianna’s work with the LSN extends beyond the gardener’s club, and her knowledge about ancestral food systems is available to anyone interested in learning. She also has seeds, lots of them –you can find her and her seeds here – if you want to take a stand to ensure the safety of our food’s future… and play in the dirt.

from picturethepromise; flickr.com

Corn and Sunflower seed varieties

from picturethepromise; flikr.com

-Jennifer Kongs