Friday, March 27, 2009

Princeton--A Town of Idle Mini-Farms

Sometimes, returning home from travels can cause as much culture shock as going abroad. This time around, driving home after ten days in Spain, my neighborhood in Princeton looked suddenly very strange. Why, I wondered, are all the houses separated one from another? I had gotten used to seeing stand-alone houses in Spain only on farms we passed on the highway. In town, all dwellings were apartments or townhomes.

And what is all this vacant land around each house? What is it for? You mean we have to mow the lawns ourselves, with odd-looking, noisy machines? This perception--this "out of culture" experience--lasted only a few minutes before I again donned my cultural blinders and assumed the way we live our lives is normal.

In Spain (these photos are from the Extremadura region, where Pizarro came from), we only saw large expanses of "lawn" out in the country,

and the mowing was conveniently done by horses, sheep and cattle.

As is the case most anywhere, kids love to run out into a field of low cut grass, but in a pasture the grass is also serving to convert solar energy into something useful. Our lawns may look clean and subdued, but they grow nothing more than yardwaste.

So those were the few minutes of insight, gained through ten days of travel, that though Princeton is a town, it can also be seen as a particularly concentrated gathering of farmhouses, each surrounded by a miniature pasture that has long since forgotten its reason for being. With grazing animals long gone, we mow these pastures, not knowing quite why, other than that everyone else does, and it makes the idle land look tidy.

This is written at a time when two movements are pointing out how potentially useful these clusterings of idle mini-farms could be. The Eat Local movement sings the praises of vegetable gardens--in the backyard or right out front. Portions of schoolyards are being converted to vegetable gardens with great success. And environmentalists are encouraging us to convert parts of our lawns to native plant habitat.

Are these movements to be seen as radical change, or simply a means for the American landscape to find its way home after a very long and curious journey?

No comments:

Post a Comment