a peek inside the fishbowl

26 Mar, 2008

Thoughts of green

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Yaktivism

Emma in the grass

Last week I had a lovely lovely interview with Andrea Gordon, a reporter at the Toronto Star. She was talking to folks about green parenting. I think she may have squeezed in two or three whole questions during our conversation, and I have the feeling that her ears fell off after she hung up the phone with me. Green parenting is an issue that’s close to my heart.

We talked (er, I talked, a lot) about how being a parent gives us the opportunity to create new citizens of the world, and how having kids puts things into new perspective.

Sometimes kids force us to question our own habits, don’t you think? They constantly want to know WHY, and you, as the parent, have to explain things to them on their level. And if you explain something often enough you end up getting down to the very kernel of the issue in very simple terms, and sometimes it’s at that point that you realize that what you’re trying to explain is totally banal.

Take for example, lawn care. Lawn care, if explained at a level that a three or four year old can understand, sounds totally ridiculous.

Mark and I used to use pesticides and chemical lawn fertilizers when before Emma and Sarah were born. We stopped after they came around, and taught them to stay away from any lawn that had a little white sign. (Ddid you know they’re required by law? Look up Regulation 914 of the Pesticide Act.)

Unfortunately, when the girls were small they’d just point at our neighbours houses and yell things like “POISON!” And “STAY AWAY FROM THERE BIRDIES BECAUSE YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!” Mortified, I’d hustle them away hoping no one happened to be looking out the window. But you know what, it’s true. Our neighbours were poisoning their lawn, and our environment, and for what?

This, from the Sierra Club:

“Pesticides have been linked to many different types of cancer in humans from breast cancer (DDT) to non-Hodgkins lymphomas and soft-tissue sarcomas (phenoxy herbicides). Chronic low-level exposure to pesticides has been linked to low-grade symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, and mental confusion.

Linkages have also been identified between home and garden pesticide use and leukemia and brain cancer in children. A National Cancer Institute study in the U.S. indicates that children are as much as six times more likely to get childhood leukemia when pesticides are used in the home and garden.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health (February, 1995) found elevated levels of cancer in children where pesticides were used in their homes and yards.”

While we’re walking by a lawn with one of those little white signs the questions come fast and furious. Our conversations always went something like this:

“Why do those people put that stuff on their lawn?”
“Because they want to have a nice looking lawn.”
“Why?”
“Because they like it. And they think it’s pretty.”
“Why?”
“Because they do, that’s all.”
“But they’re putting poison on it to make it green.”
“I know.”
“And kids can’t play on it.”
“I know.”
“And it might make them sick if they do.”
“I know.”
“So why do they want to have a nice green lawn?”

And thus it begins again.

People want to have a nice lawn because it’s a sign of prosperity. It’s kinda crazy, isn’t it? But it didn’t spring from just anywhere.

“When most of the necessary tools and types of grass seeds became readily available, the average homeowner was now able to grow a lawn of their own if they wanted. As of yet, there wasn’t a real big demand for green lawns in the front yard. It wasn’t until The American Garden Club stepped in. Through contests and other forms of publicity, they convinced home owners that it was their civic duty to maintain a beautiful and healthy lawn. So effective was the club’s campaign that lawns were soon the accepted form of landscaping. The garden club further stipulated that the appropriate type of lawn was “a plot with a single type of grass with no intruding weeds, kept mown at a height of an inch and a half, uniformly green, and neatly edged.” America thus entered the age of lawn care.”(via

We no longer weed n’feed our lawn. We don’t use any chemical lawn control. But if I did, I’d have to ask myself WHY I spend so much time and money on dangerous chemicals in my very own backyard. A perfect lawn is purely cosmetic, a fashion statement, if you will. So what’s the point?

At the recent Home & Garden show I picked up a pamphlet about White Dutch Clover, and how to use it as a replacement for grass. So I’m ready to seed a large section of our lawn and see how it works out. I’m pretty excited about it.

Now if only all this snow would melt…


7 Responses to "Thoughts of green"

1 | mel

March 26th, 2008 at 3:08 pm

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Andrea. I think one of the most incongruous things I’ve seen was a church lawn with a big ol’ pesticide warning sign. As a believer who considers caring for the earth a moral and spiritual issue, I was so embarassed.

You will let us know when the article runs, right?

3 | ChristinaTE

March 26th, 2008 at 3:48 pm

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We do a decent job of lawncare – as long as it doesn’t require any chemicals or watering. We’re totally willing to pull out the lawnmower and weed whacker to keep things under control but beyond that, it’s up to mother nature. Our lawn is still a hazard to children… but that has a lot more to do with our occasional doggy land mines and less to do with pesticides. ;)

4 | Ginger

March 26th, 2008 at 7:02 pm

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We don’t have those little white signs in Texas (or any where in the US that I know of). My parents are really into organic lawn care with no chemicals. It works just as well. And I really would like to get into that. We live in a neighborhood that has a Home Owners Association and we are required to keep our lawns according to their guidelines. But since I before I was pregnant, when we were struggling with infertility, these things started worrying me. We are making changes a little at a time, but the chemical and pesticide issue is going to have to be dealt with this summer BEFORE the babies get here!

5 | andrea

March 27th, 2008 at 8:56 am

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Ginger: the idea of the HOA sounds totally bizarro. So are you forced to have a lawn? i.e. Can you replace your front lawn with the garden? What happens if you don’t follow the guidelines of the HOA? And what are those guidelines?

6 | a peek inside the fish bowl

March 30th, 2008 at 8:23 am

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[…] interesting info in there. » Filed under Misc. life, Yaktivism by andrea at 8:14. » Share This back totop […]

7 | Landscaping with clover >> a peek inside the fishbowl

June 15th, 2011 at 10:09 am

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[…] written about the issue of lawn care before (sans alliteration, thankgod), but I feel compelled to write about it again because those little […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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