Editor Note - Bumped by Roxy. Originally published 6/6/2008.
Acres and acres of the green stuff. Americans love turf ... front yards, back yards, golf courses, fairways, parks ... you name it, if it is more than 4 foot by 4 foot, we will cover it with grass. Scott Meyer, editor for Organic Gardening, writes in his April 2008 column (page 6):
$10 billion. That's how much homeowners in the United States spent last year on lawn care.
It boggles the mind. $10 billion! on lawns. But there is a dark side to our love of grass ... and not just grass, it has to be lush, bright green and weed free.
According to an Environmental Science and Technology report from 2005 there were about forty million acres of tended lawn in the United States. At the time of the study in 2005, turf was the largest crop in this country. It has since been outpaced by corn. US corn boom threatens sea life from the Boston Globe:
That enticed American farmers - mostly in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota - to plant more than 93 million acres of corn in 2007, the most since 1933. They substituted corn for other crops, or made use of land not previously in cultivation.
The Dead Sea
All of this cultivation means literally tons of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are being applied to more and more acres of land. Again from the Organic Gardening article cited above:
The nutrient leaching is no small environmental problem. Every summer in the Gulf of Mexico, an area roughly the size of Connecticut is choked with a vast algae and phytoplankton blooms, due in part to tons of synthetic nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer runoff from the Mississippi River. As the algae dies and decomposes, it uses up the available oxygen, making the area uninhabitable for sea life. The polluted run-off water that contributes to this "dead zone" comes from each of the 31 states between the Rocky and Appalachian mountain ranges that eventually drain into the gulf.
There are alternative ground covers that do not require the high degree of maintenance that turf does and are not as hazardous to Mother Earth. About.com has a nice list of links to lawn alternatives -- from "fake" grass to clover. The Sierra Club has the "anti-lawn movement". [/sierra/199609/hearth.asp] - Link no longer available online.