Tripp, 22, lives in Savannah, Georgia, in a neighborhood where residents must adhere to very specific guidelines set by the Neighborhood Homeowners Association (HOA) on what is and is not allowed, such as many communities built after the 1940s.
The HOA has a lot of rules. But what really struck Tripp was the pitch. With Savannah’s wet springs and summers, the grass requires a weekly mowing to keep it short. Tripp’s dad started letting the lawn grow taller (which is actually better for the health of the herb), hoping for a closer view of a meadow. This caught the attention of their local HOA, who told the family that if they didn’t mow the lawn by a certain date, the association would start charging them a fee of $ 150 per day. Such fines are common in HOA nationwide.
Frustrated, Tripp started to tweet half-jokingly how much they hated lawns. Originally, it was a way to let off steam. As a political organizer and aspiring environmental advocate, Tripp’s daily life involved very heavy topics. They had volunteered to feed undocumented families affected by COVID-19 and studied how hazardous waste facilities are commonly put within communities of color. When they thought about the climate crisis (which it often was), they felt helpless. “As a black person living in the South,” says Tripp, “environmental and racial justice are two completely intertwined struggles.”
Online, Tripp has found a community of friends who hate lawns – and curious people who hate lawns. They changed their bio to be related to information about sustainable landscaping and started promoting an anti-weed lifestyle. “I want to learn how to handle these things from home,” says Tripp. “Tackling the cultivation of turf seems to be a very accessible way to do it. “
Social networks sort out lawn enemies
Tripp isn’t the only one complaining about the grass on social media. On platforms like Twitter, TikTok and Facebook, young people share anti-lawn memes, on the grounds that lawns lack native biodiversity, demand excessive amounts of water and toxic chemicals, and symbolize racial exclusion (many of the same neighborhood HOAs that set rules for lawns also have Rod selling houses to people of color).
These lawn reviews include a teenager from Las Vegas named Alex Silva. Earlier this year, Silva (who goes by the online pseudonym @ecofreako) saw more and more anti-lawn posts appears on her TikTok and Instagram feeds. Both apps are known for their ability to sort users into hyper-specific interest groups, based on what they liked in the past, and both determined Silva cared about lawns.
The apps weren’t wrong. Las Vegas had a record drought that summer, and Silva felt angry every time he saw a lawn. EPA figures indicated that between 30 and 60 percent of the fresh water in a given urban area is used to maintain landscaping, which it felt was a particularly unnecessary habit in one. more and more hot and arid region. So Silva started creating desert-specific TikTok posts, making fun of lawns and suggesting drought-tolerant garden projects. “I really hope people realize that lawns really aren’t that great,” he says.
Around the same time he started posting on the lawn, Silva joined a TikTok collective called EcoTok—A group of creators who have joined forces to post articles about the climate crisis on social media. The best-known member of the collective is Abbie Richards, a master’s student in climate studies in the Netherlands who went viral in May for denouncing golf courses. Richards’ videos brought her straight into the arms of the larger weed hate movement on TikTok. “It’s so unnecessary and really not helpful for the environment at all,” says Richards. “The lawns are so well kept and disgusting.”
From status symbol to status quo
The anti-lawn arguments advanced by Richards, Tripp and Silva are based on historical facts. Today, lawn grasses to occupy over 63,000 square miles of the continental United States. They blanket three times the area of maize, the country’s largest irrigated crop. But before urban sprawl made them common, lawn grass was relatively rare, mostly adopted by wealthy settlers imitating the idyllic English mansion. One of them was George Washington, who preserved “Pleasure Grounds” at Mount Vernon decorated with British grasses. Slaves, including children, were forced to carefully maintain the landscaping.
Landscape architects like Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed the lush meadows of Central Park, brought the status symbol to the masses by designing expansive pastoral parks for public use, says Paul Robbins, dean of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin. -Madison and author of Lawn People: How Grasses, Weeds, and Chemicals Make Us Who We Are.
In the 1950s, Robbins adds, developers quickly converted large tracts of farmland to suburbs, scraping up fertile topsoil. In order for the grass to stay perfectly green, it had to stay in its youngest phase, hence the constant mowing. Many lawns also depended on cocktails of chemicals like herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers to keep them acceptably green, which has polluted them. air and nearby the water sources.
These toxins aren’t just a byproduct of the lawn craze, but a contributor, says Kristoffer Whitney, an assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology who has research the environmental impacts of lawn care. World War II stimulated the production of nitrogen for weapons, and a fertilizer boom to followD, in part to cope with the food shortages of the time Even so, nitrogen producers still had a peacetime surplus and started marketing their excess fertilizer to booming suburbs. Soon companies began to create products specifically for the North American lawn, to the point where, according to Robbins, the lawns became a “dumping ground for capitalist surplus.”
The past and future of lawn backlash
The retreat of the Lawn Industrial Complex predates TikTok. Works like Silent spring shed light on the harms of the chemical industry and propelled stricter legislation, although the Clean Water Act made an exception for diffuse source pollution (pollution that spreads through a landscape, instead of coming out of a single pipe). This made agriculture and lawns largely exempt from federal drinking water regulations and left the development of stricter rules to states and regions, where protections vary widely.
Even when people are aware of the environmental damage of sod, Robbins says, peer pressure can still force them to maintain their lawns. In 2001, Robbins hired a polling center to conduct nearly 600 telephone interviews with people living across the United States and analyzed the results. He find that people who treat their lawns with pesticides tend to be more educated and have higher incomes and were in fact more likely than non-chemical users to recognize the environmental risks of their actions. They still applied pesticides and fertilizers to their gardens to keep the neighborhood together. In reality, Robbins found than those who sprayed were more likely to know their neighbors by name.
Revenge of the Bee
Despite the recent buzz, the makers of anti-lawn memes are part of a cultural shift that has steadily grown over the past decade. Native plants are already more frequent in home gardens, says Anahí Espíndola, assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland who works with the school’s Home & Garden Information Center, due to growing public concern about bees and native pollinators .
Mike Lizotte, managing partner of online gardening supplier American Meadows, agrees. He has seen an increase in sales of native plants over the past six years from people who say they want to do just that. At the federal level, last summer, Congress introduced a invoice which would expand pesticide bans to include additional chemicals like neonicotinoids, which to kill bees and lower reproduction rates.
Like Tripp, Espíndola also felt limited by her local landscaping restrictions. But last summer, his town of College Park rewrote its city code in a way that explicitly encourages “Naturalized and native landscapes” (although he has retained a language that sets a specific height for sod and requires it to remain trimmed so as not to appear “unsightly”).
We can look at the West as a potential indicator of the future of American turf, says Robbins. There the droughts have already pushed cities and homeowners toward native plants, in part because water prices are high, and California residents may to receive up to $ 2 for each square foot of grass removed.
Richards, Tripp, and Silva all hope for a future where it’s normal to turn lawns into sites of native biodiversity and even vibrant neighborhood food sources. Tripp and Richards both receive messages from people who say they have stopped golfing or mowing the lawn or even ripping grass in favor of native plants.
Faced with a precarious future, it looks like a small victory. According to Tripp, “it’s something very stimulating and it kind of alleviates that feeling of hopelessness in the face of climate change.”