Welcome to Duped by a Weed - Part I.
You can tell a lot about a person by their point of view on weeds. It’s a safe topic to be honest about, binary options - are you pro weeds or anti weeds?
But the truth is when we talk about weeds we’re really talking about class, social norms, social identities, the last century of wars, presidential campaigns, the vertical integration of the agri-industry, the Green Revolution, soil quality, and the future well being of human civilization.
Wait, are we still talking about weeds here?
Indeed we are.
Long live the dandelion?
You know it, I know it, the kid down the street knows it - humans are social creatures. We yawn contagiously and wince at witnessed pain, the studies are vast and verified. One of the ways social creatures stick to and abide by unspoken rules and cultural standards is through social norms. Today’s example of a rather recent and widely accepted social norm by the U.S populace is the Green Grass Yard.
The Green Grass Yard has become so socially expected that some neighborhood associations *require* new homeowners to sign a legally binding lawn upkeep contract, guaranteeing that the grass is maintained at a certain height and the weeds are thoroughly expunged.
And you know what that means : Constant mowing, fertilizing, herbicides, sprinklers, thatching, aerating, it all gets pretty expensive, and honestly, it feels like more work than necessary. If you didn’t feel that social pressure, if the Green Grass Yard wasn’t your social norm, would you really go to so much effort?
This isn’t a wishy washy question, friends. The answer to this has weight. Grass is the largest monocrop in the U.S. It rivals the amount of land used to grow corn, soybean, and wheat. The nature of a monocrop is that of dependency, because nature doesn’t grow just one plant at a time for thousands of acres, so you must constantly fight the will of nature to grow just a single crop. Think of all the herbicides it takes to keep the dandelions out, all the fertilizers necessary to keep the grass growing, all the water it takes to keep the grass green - all this work just so you can mow it down week after week.
Now that is good business...for the chemical companies who sell you herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides, nematicides, fungicides, I could go on.
This dependency is by design - the same companies who bring you Round-Up are also the ones who bring you Round-Up resistant seeds. There’s money to be made at each tier in the plant growing process, and each tier is kept tended to by the same company going by different names, because of something called vertical integration. And vertical integration within the agri-industry was all the rage around the time of the Green Revolution.
The Green Revolution goes hand in hand with the wars of the 1900s, which put enormous strain on U.S resources. Half the population was fighting overseas while the other half was left to tend to happenings on the homefront. This was the time of Victory Gardens, Rosie the Riveter, and very importantly, “Go Big or Go Home” government agricultural policies. These policies encouraged farmers to monocrop hundreds and thousands of acres - meaning for as far as the eye could see there was only one plant, which rotated between a couple of cash crops : corn, soybean, wheat. Small, biodiverse farms were out, large, single cash crop farms were in.
Of course farmers knew how important nutrients are for plants, such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), and they knew that by growing only a few cash crops at such high rates they'd need to artificially replace those nutrients. Such nutrients beneficial for plant growth also made up the ingredients of explosives. Mining and processing facilities made a lot of money during war times. Those mined nutrients were left in high supply after each war, successively becoming more lethal as the wars advanced, and those nutrients were often sold to fertilizer companies as filler ingredients. Google "The Post War Fertilizer Industry", it was a thing.
The vertical integration of the agri-industry has combined the producers of farm land fertilizers with the producers of lawn fertilizers. Meaning you don’t need to be a farmer with farmland to inherit the legacy of fertilizers, legacies often laced with arsenic and lead.
So what? "They wouldn’t put those kind of chemicals in fertilizers, and if they did they'd put it on the label, otherwise it's illegal”, but the truth is the active ingredients - the NPK label you see on fertilizers - the “20-20-20” labels and variations thereof, are all fertilizer companies are *legally obligated* to share with consumers - regardless of whatever else they put in their fertilizers ; Whatever's in the filler is fair game. [Pro-Tip, look for the OMRI label (the Organic Materials Review Institute) which certifies the fertilizer and herbicides for organic food production.]
In a very round about way, the Green Grass social norm has created an arbitrary problem that has allowed for a vertically integrated monopoly within the agri-industry, which frequently causes more real world harm than good.
What is your return on investment for all the strategies you use to keep a green lawn free of weeds?
Whatever your answer is, you’re most likely wrong because you forgot to count the external costs of “maintaining a lawn”. These include the production of the fertilizers and herbicides, which are based on mined minerals, as well as the cost of polluting waterways with chemical runoff which then cost money to clean up, the cost of the loss of biodiversity and all the hidden costs that come from the loss of those ecological services, the cost of CO2 pollution from riding lawn mowers and the like, the cost of having somebody else come in and maintain the lawn, and the list goes on and on and on.
All this because somebody told you that dandelions are bad and green grass is good.
So when we ask somebody about weeds, what we’re really asking is, “Are you aware that you've been duped?"
This is Duped by a Weed Part I. Stick around for Part II where we'll talk about all the ways weeds can help us save the world!
And if you have any landscaping projects you're working on, reach out! We're here to help : EZBFGLandscapes@gmail.com | 360 - 390 - 8346
The Crew at EZ BioFriendly Gardens and Landscapes help home owners decide for themselves what home looks like by helping them make informed choices with the environment in mind. We believe that a happy yard is a healthy yard, and that we can make the world happier, one yard at a time.