Commissioned by the Walker Art Center, an artist seeks a generic suburban lawn to transform into an edible landscape and then feature it in a book and exhibition.
Do you live in suburbia, with a front lawn surrounded by other front lawns?
You might have just the place artist Fritz Haeg is looking for.
Haeg, a Twin Cities native who now lives in Los Angeles, is returning to Minnesota to do something radical. He wants to tear up a suburban front lawn and replace it entirely with edible plants.
“There won’t be a blade of grass,” he said. “It will look like a fusion between a kitchen garden and a wild landscape.”
The lawn he chooses for this transformation will be prototype garden No. 16 in a continuing worldwide project that Haeg calls “Edible Estates.” The owner of this landscape will receive free plant materials and expenses for the first growing season, but must commit to maintaining the garden and keeping a journal.
Edible Estates is all about bringing “visible food production” to residential communities, said Haeg, a Benilde-St. Margaret’s graduate who is also a master gardener. He launched the project in 2005 in Salina, Kan., chosen because it was “the geographical center of the United States.” This year, in addition to the garden he’s installing in the Twin Cities, Haeg will be creating edible landscapes in Denmark, Sweden and Israel.
All of Haeg’s Edible Estate gardens are in neighborhoods where the neighbors have traditional lawns. “That’s the whole point — to take space that isn’t being used, that represents the American dream, and reconsider that,” he said.
If you’re intrigued, but fear that your neighbors might be concerned if you did away with all turf grass, well, that’s the point, too, according to Haeg. “It has to be in a neighborhood where neighbors will freak out.”
He’s trying to shake up people’s perceptions about what constitutes an attractive, acceptable front yard. “Healthy local food not being welcome is a crazy system,” he said. The traditional American lawn, in his view, “promotes a landscape dependent on pesticides and chemicals, that requires mowing, polluting and watering, all in service of a space that is quite unwelcoming — a divisive, wasteful space.”
An edible landscape, on the other hand, has many benefits. In addition to producing food for the family, it’s a social space that promotes human connection, he said.
Homeowners who’ve gotten the Edible Estate treatment in previous years support that view.
“I have noticed that traffic slows down in front of my house, like I have my own personal speed bump,” said Clarence Ridgley, owner of Edible Estate No. 6 in Baltimore, as quoted in Haeg’s book. “Neighbors I had only waved to from a distance as they passed me in their cars now stop or approach me on the street to talk.”
Haeg is picky about where he puts his produce. “The two most important things are the people and the site,” he said. The site must be highly visible from the street and conducive to growing food, with ample sun exposure, not much landscaping and relatively pesticide-free.
It doesn’t have to be a single-family home. In fact, Haeg is particularly interested in finding a duplex or multi-unit complex where several households share a surrounding open lawn.
Some work required
As for the people, the household must include at least one person who has some proficiency at gardening and is willing to put in the time to keep the garden thriving. Volunteers will help install the garden, but it must be maintained by the resident. “It will require a great deal of work the first season,” Haeg said.