THREE households in my neighbourhood stand out for separate reasons that are all admirable.
One has an electric vehicle plugged in outside its home. The family obviously has the courage of its conviction to make the switch while most of us agree in principle but remain hesitant.
A second household includes a mother who goes to great lengths to reduce the family’s environmental footprint. She brings her own cup to coffee shops, her family wears bulky sweaters indoors in winter to allow a lower thermostat, and she buys food from bulk bins when possible, bringing her own containers. She behaves boldly in supermarkets, where, shunning the plastic-and-foam packaging on meat, she barges through the swinging doors that say "No admittance" to sweetly ask the butchers to cut the portion she wants and put it in a container she brought from home.
A third commendable household has over the past few years gradually eliminated its lawn. The home is now fronted by an attractive presentation of river-rock paths, trees centred in beds of large wood chips and shrubs native to the Canadian Prairie.
I was reminded this week of this third family, the one that stopped trying to force a lush lawn in an unsuitable habitat. They must feel dismayed that the provincial government has announced it will repeal legislation that restricted the use of certain pesticides for cosmetic purposes. In essence, Manitoba will give homeowners the green light to resume using pesticides to maintain the emerald lawns that, truth be told, don’t belong in this region.
For the many Manitobans who feel we should spray fewer chemicals on our land and thus into our water system, it was a small victory in 2014 when this province prohibited many synthetic pesticides and herbicides. The legislation allowed exceptions such as using pesticides for agricultural purposes and golf courses.
Under the new rules, pesticides will be prohibited on land outside places such as schools, hospitals, playgrounds and parks. But it’s disheartening that it will again be legal for homeowners to repeatedly spray their patch of turf in an effort to kill weeds that might blemish their goal of a pristine carpet of grass. The lawn lovers — this is the constituency enabled by the provincial government — seem to pay little heed to the environmental and ecological consequences of inflicting synthetic chemicals on the Manitoba ecosystem.
It’s safe to presume Indigenous people who populated this land before settlers arrived were too smart to cultivate grass. The concept of a luxurious lawn arrived with the colonialists. It was a status symbol among rich Europeans, a display that their wealth didn’t require them to use all their land to grow food and graze livestock.
It’s easy to keep nice lawns in areas such as the British Isles that have lots of precipitation, but the custom doesn’t travel well to relatively dry areas such as Manitoba.
The folly of trying to keep lawns verdant in this region was particularly evident in Winnipeg last summer, when a drought gave homeowners two choices: let their lawns shrivel into brown brittleness, or waste an extravagant amount of water that must be piped 250 kilometres from Shoal Lake.
Perhaps we have to get used to weather that is increasingly hostile to lawns. As climate change makes weather patterns unpredictable, many places are recognizing lawns as a gratuitous waste of water.
California has limited the amount of grass around new homes and businesses to 25 per cent of landscaped area, and the rest must be drought-tolerant plants. It also imposed mandatory water restrictions that prohibit watering of lawns for 48 hours after rainstorms or letting water sprinkles run onto the sidewalk.
Nevada has gone further with a new law that permanently outlaws about 40 per cent of the grass in the Las Vegas area, including "non-functional turf" such as street medians and entrances to housing developments.
This is the larger context in which the provincial government is moving Manitoba in the wrong direction.
There is a better way. We can stop fretting about lawns. Worry less about what the neighbours will say if we opt out of the silly cycle of growing grass, harvesting it into bags and then paying city workers to take it away.
We can wean ourselves from our lawn habit gradually, removing a small section of our lawn every year and introducing shrubs, flowers and trees that look nice but support the biodiversity of our region.
It’s been an unusually harsh winter, but we’re finally into spring, a season of new beginnings. It’s the right time to consider replacing our lawn with choices that are a better fit for Manitoba.
Carl DeGurse is a member of the Free Press editorial board.
Senior copy editor
Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. A lot of opinions.