“All around me are bee haters, spider killers, dirt phobics, and dandelion destroyers, which for some reason are detested on front lawns, but not in gourmet salads. ” (excerpted from my article, “Earth Mother,” 1999, Holistic Living magazine)
I am an inveterate New Yorker. But for 14 years I lived with my family in a historic village (founded in 1701) in New Jersey, on a large tract of designated green acres–an area flanked by beautiful old family farms. It was a utopian world right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. In the time that we were there, we watched as fuel got cheaper, cars got bigger, highways expanded, and rapid development began to overtake the farmland, planting more strip malls and McMansions than produce in the Garden State. It was a land of sprawling front and backyards, open fields and public parks. Each spring as the first of the flowers appeared, simultaneously alongside them, bright yellow herbicide/pesticide flags began to crop up on lawns. The lawn care companies doing the chemical spraying said it was safe, even though the flags had skulls and crossbones on them. The lawn care companies said it was safe, yet their own workers wore masks and gloves. The lawn care companies said it was safe, but homeowners were instructed to stay off the lawn for 24 hours (as if the poisons would dissipate in that short period of time). The smell of manure was replaced by the smell of toxins, the soft blades of grass appeared shiny as if they were shellacked. My husband often wondered why the people paying to have their grass sprayed didn’t just lay out AstroTurf because all they really wanted was a smooth, blemish-free green carpet of lawn. So you may be wondering what was standing in the way of their lawns achieving perfection? The dreaded dandelion of course. The people lived in fear of weeds, particularly the dandelion–king of all weeds. As with most environmental threats, children and other vulnerable populations, are the most at risk. So while they launched their attack against this most dangerous of enemies, I put up the good fight and tried to stop it by educating the community, helping other parents keep their kids and pets safe and battling/negotiating with the lawn care companies. It’s been seven years since we moved back to New York City and for me the dandelion wars have been out of sight, out of mind. But I was recently reminded that while I’m no longer witnessing it, the chemical spraying continues. This year, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, cartoonist Walt Kelly’s message seems as true as ever. “We’ve met the enemy and he is us.”
And because I like to end on a high note, pick up some dandelion greens and make yourself a savory salad!