The new neighborhood trend — lawns made of food

One of the houses part of the "Hawley Hamlet" -- an effort to transform a neighborhood into a series of small farms

One of the houses part of the “Hawley Hamlet” — an effort to transform a Lincoln, Nebraska neighborhood into a group of small farms

In a neighborhood close to downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, homeowners are transforming their lawns into small farms. Turf grass is abandoned for tubers, berries and corn. Strawberries grow next to sidewalks; apples hang from trees; potatoes are dug close to porches. Residential agricultural has become a trend.

TEDxLincoln speaker Tim Rinne is the catalyst for this phenomenon. Concerned about climate change ever since he first heard the term “global warming,” Rinne’s worry about the environment didn’t really start to hit home until he read about the potential for climate-related food scarcity, he says in a talk at the event. He had to know why and what he could do about it.

Visitors check out the neighborhood corn (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

Visitors check out the Hawley Hamlet corn (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

“Up until [then], the perils of climate change had simply unnerved me,” he says. “Now, though, it was getting personal — we were talking about missing meals.”

Rinne set out to discover the source of the food on his plate and his supermarket’s shelves. He learned that much of the food he ate came to him via long journeys spanning thousand of miles, and that 90% of the money he and his fellow Nebraskans spend on food leaves the state. “We’re not buying food that’s from here,” he says. He wondered if he could change that.

Soon, he was the first in a group of Nebraskans to abandon the traditional American lawn in favor of rows of edible plants. “I learned that the largest irrigated crop in the United States is the lawn,” he says. “My head was spinning … Why do we always plant things that we can’t eat?

“I began tearing up my lawn with a vengeance, determined to grow food on every inch of my property,” he says. He installed rain barrels, planted crops and soon attracted the attention of his neighbors. Before he knew it, Rinne and his wife were inviting neighbors to start their own “edible landscapes,” and slowly but surely, food began popping up in lawns throughout the area.

A garden in the Hawley Hamlet (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

A garden in Rinne’s Lincoln, Nebraska neighborhood (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

Neighbors donated land for Rinne to cultivate; families tore up their own front and backyards; and chicken coops, a greenhouse and beehives were installed. The gardens grew to a count of 20 and Rinne started calling the area the Hawley Hamlet — named for the neighborhood close to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

A garden in the Hawley Hamlet (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

A garden in the Hawley Hamlet (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

“We’re growing more than food in our hamlet,” he says, “we’re growing community. We’re getting to know the people we live next door to while we put some homegrown food on their tables. And with the onset of climate change and the threat of food shortages, this is exactly what our neighborhoods need to be doing.”

To learn more, watch Rinne’s whole talk below:

19 Comments

  1. M/M Robert Osborn

    I was excited to read this story, it lifted my heart that my family is not the only one doing the city garden. Our front yard was registered and built this year as the Stadium Community Garden, this year. Adding 12 gardens for members of our community, has been an amazing journey, we have seen a slow down in traffic on our block, and have met many neighbors. Education about plants, the growth process and the food preservation process have been a daily occurrence. Mr. Osborn, attended the MG program at UW extension several years ago, and had been seeking an opportunity to make the most of his training. The city we live in has a 3-4 yr process to develop Community Gardens. We felt that length of time was unreasonable since our community has a 98% child poverty rate. Hence, we elected to share our land.
    Kudos to all those we inspire, or aspire to.

  2. Satyajit Gaekwad

    Great to hear. I love farming and grow organic pomogranade. Papaya. Mangoes. Sweet corn. I have a got good space in the back yard and have been contemplating to do like this since long but for want of time and labourers i couldnt do it. I had always thought that the home vegs should be from your backyard. Its heartning to know of this and in India also many farm houses or people with second home for weekends should adopt this methods to add to declining food production owing to climate change. My observation is even the plants are behaving differently due to this and the yeild is suffering.

  3. Frank

    Love this! I roll my eyes every time I see some homeowner’s association or city bureaucrat get on someone’s case for planting an edible garden on their property. Traditional lawns are a huge waste of resources! I’m happy to see these gardens are becoming more common place.

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  5. Jocelyn Velasco

    I am from the Philippines and everybody there has been gardening at home for as long as I remember.. In the cities..they do countainer gardens. Fresh is always best

    They also grow. many plants with healing properties which I would love to see more of in the US.

  6. Coenie Brits

    The best news in a lifetime. Organig gardens in your own yard is the only way for survival. By planting fruitbearing trees and veggies all year round is the best for your health and fitness. No television programme or shopping mall and junkfood outlet can replace the joy a garden can give to your wellbeing and friendship. Farming Gods way is my passion and it is true education of love. Keep up with the trend and make a better life for you and your neighbours. God bless.

  7. Coenie Brits

    My gardener by one of many organic pawpaw trees with more than 100 fruits and still flowering.

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  9. Lori

    I am so excited to see this finally happening in Lincoln. My husband and I lived there for many, many years and had many a front yard garden in that time. We started over 20 years ago with a smallish plot alongside our front walk that got a lot of attention from the neighbors. But more attention was garnered by the chickens and rabbits we kept in the back yard. Of course there were neighbors who loved it and some who hated it. But we have not let this deter us from our plotting and growing! We live in a small town in Central Nebraska now. We still do the gardening in the back yard and we are slowly incorporating more and more of the front lawn into the edible garden space. Thank you for the reminder that what we are doing for ourselves is a worthy endeavor. I am inspired to put more effort in my little slice of heaven.

    This talk should be required watching for anyone who eats.

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  11. Hello! I started an organization called Food Not Lawns in 1999, and wrote a book by that title in 2006. Now we have grown into an international network of over 50 chapters. i am just wrapping up the first leg of my Edible Nation tour, with the goal of visiting every State in the US, helping people turn their yards into gardens and their neighborhoods into communities. Join us! http://www.foodnotlawns.com and http://www.facebook.com/foodnotlawns

  12. R. Robison

    love this guy. got rid of my lawn 11 yrs. ago. when outgrew the edible landscaping space, turned to urban farming with my daughter on land nearby. we’re loving it.

  13. This way of thinking will grow, hopefully, cause we really need it and it works wonders in so many ways. Inspirering and so true. Lets all grow! :)

  14. YUSS!! … Well done!! We are all one, working together :)

  15. Daniel Rollings

    This is right on the money, and the key is to make this accessible to people. The first thing to do is to get low-maintenance gardens into people’s hands, and then to teach an understanding of the ecosystems that we live in, locally and globally. A different attitude to agriculture will cover the bulk of what we need to do to combat climate change, and possibly even reverse it.

    http://foodisfreeproject.org/resources/
    http://www.underwoodgardens.com/soil-building/terra-preta-magic-soil-of-the-lost-amazon-part-ii/
    http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/permaculture/permaculture-design-principles/7-small-scale-intensive-systems/

  16. Gord

    This is a great idea. Just a few thoughts come to mind:

    1. Make sure the soil is safe to grow food – have the soil tested for heavy metals and other toxins. The history of many areas in older urban centers (and suburbs) includes industrial operations that contaminated the surrounding area (not only in the direct footprint of the business buildings, but also fallout from smoke stacks, truck and train traffic, etc.) (and don’t forget the potential contamination from the past use of lawn chemicals that even you may have contributed to).

    2. Have a plan to protect your vegetables from the squirrels, mice, chipmunks, birds, raccoons, rabbits, cats and other wildlife that will otherwise share your bounty with you (make sure the plan won’t endanger them or the neighbourhood children!).

    3. Grow organically…if you start using non-organic pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers to make your garden grow, you will be adding to the environmental problems of soil and water pollution, rather than making things better.

    …just some thoughts… :-)

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  19. Frank Edwards

    It’s not a trend. It’s political propaganda.

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