Over the years, a perfectly cut, lush-green, grassy lawn has become synonymous with the American Dream and sprawling suburbia. Many lawns in New England can be seen sporting this rather sought-after look. Hving a perfectly-cut yard has grown to become a symbol of socio-economic character, so much so that having a yard that does not stick to the status quo is often looked down upon. The American infatuation with the well-kempt lawn even translates itself into the Concord Academy culture, with the much rattled-off phrase don’t cut the quad; according to the “Welcome to Concord Academy FAQ,” posted to magazine website issuu.com on April 3rd of 2020, this line “most[ly] exists as a joke, [but is still in place] to keep the grass in good condition.”
However, though this fresh appearance may look appealing, the environmental damage caused by American lawns is massive, with the most apparent offense being the enormous amounts of water needed to sustain a property. According to Realtor Magazine, the average Massachusetts lawn size is 14,809 square feet. Taking into account the estimated gallons of water necessary to sustain a square foot of yard for one week, currently pegged at 0.623 gallons by GreenAce Lawn Care, a lawn care company based in Foxborough, the average amount of water needed to sustain a single yard for one week in Massachusetts is around 9220 gallons. If a home were to water its lawn from late April through the summer and end around the end of September or early October, that would mean that that single residence would use around 230,000 gallons of water per year.
Grass, however, is not only present in the yards of houses but also in different forms, notably golf courses. Considering that 20 percent of Massachusetts, according to the Washington Post, is covered in turf grass, or lawn grass, this would mean that per year, the state uses roughly 37,000,000,000 gallons of water every year just to upkeep lawns and golf courses.
To upkeep a lawn, the destruction of biodiversity must occur. Using heavy pesticides and removing native plant species via mowing can destroy the ecosystem of that area. Bees have suffered a significant population decrease due to typical household insecticides and pesticides containing neonicotinoids—a neuro-active ingredient similar to nicotine. Exposure to neonicotinoids led to bees having impaired abilities to navigate, reduced taste sensitivity, and slower learning of new tasks, according to a report published by the Xerces Society. Not only do these effects impact the bees’ foraging abilities, but they also reduce hive activity, which can lead to colony collapse disorder, in which most worker bees abandon their colony leaving only a queen, crippling the production of many crops that are reliant on pollination to thrive.
One can slowly wean off the symbolic allure of a clean-cut lawn while still helping to reduce the damaging effects these lawns cause. Namely, mowing the lawn once every three weeks instead of once a week has been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to result in as many as 2½ times more lawn flowers than the base frequency—this was concluded from a study carried out in sixteen suburbs in western Massachusetts. The study recommends a “lazy lawn-mower” approach to taking care of one’s property, which could help sustain bee habitats.
So how should CA operate, taking all this into consideration? The combined area of CA’s upper field, lower field, and quad is already approximately 153,000 square feet—not to mention the increase in lawn space created by the planned campus expansion and renovation in the upcoming years. Planting native ground cover such as Canadian wild ginger or Canadian wildflower is an excellent way to sustain native species while still retaining usable lawn space. Additionally, CA could use rain gardens to help disperse stormwater collected on streets and roofs, which could make a huge difference in the amount of runoff produced from cultivated areas while still being cost-effective.
There are many ways to reduce the harmful effects of lawns, but only time will tell whether CA makes the choice to use them now or to continue down this environmentally unsound method of outdoor outkeep.