When I Googled ‘how many acres of lawn in Australia?’, I found what seemed like hundreds of websites dedicated to lawn love: what kind of grass makes the best lawn; how to make your lawn drought tolerant / weed-free / spectacular; how to lay turf; and even, disturbingly, the glorious wonders of fake lawn. Everything but how many acres of lawn there are in Australia.
In the end I made a rough calculation by taking the square kilometerage of each capital city, plus fifteen of the biggest regional towns and adding them all together: the total was 64,283 square kilometres – almost 16 million acres.
Obviously there are many parts of a city with no lawn, but as I did not include a vast number of smaller towns across the country I figure it’s probably fairly close. So let’s be conservative and say there are somewhere between 10 and 15 million acres of lawn in backyards, nature strips and parks across the country. That is a lot of lawn.
So why did I want to know this? Mainly because I had been thinking about the enormous potential for food production and native habitat that exists in our back (and front) yards and public areas. This valuable resource – land where most of our rain falls – could easily be used to grow healthy, unpolluted food for more people and mitigate some of the worst effects of climate change; increasing food security for us and food and habitat for the ever growing numbers of threatened and endangered species we share the world with.
With our land and farmers under enormous pressure, with precious forests being lost at an alarming rate, and with the current massive extinction crisis of birds, mammals and insects, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless to do anything. But we have the capacity to take matters into our own hands and regenerate the small patches of Earth that we are the custodians of.
Most of us do not have access to land or acreage where we can let our fantasies of self-sufficiency run wild, but many of us who live in cities, suburbia and regional towns would have access to small blocks of land that can grow a surprising variety of foods. Imagine living in a street where everyone grows fruit and vegetables, or keeps chickens or goats – the whole street would produce an abundance of food that could be swapped between neighbours. And imagine what an empowered, self sufficient community that could lead to.
In the era of COVID the whole world is going through a much needed shake-up, and now is the time to change the things that need changing. Backyard food foresting has the potential to transform the way we think about food production – and about what kind of places we want to live in.