No Mow May

a community voice Environment Politicians

Pearl River      The story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal caught my eye because it mentioned “lawn care.”  Now, that’s actually an area where I have long and wide experience.  Seems there’s a campaign that began in the United Kingdom started by a nonprofit Plantlife called “No Mow May” that they claim has been picked up in other countries and has spread to “scores” of US cities.  A score being twenty would make plural scores mean a bunch of twenties, but it was still new to me.  Campaigns are also an area where I have long and wide experience, so I soldiered on with great interest.

The tactic of the campaign is perfectly described in the slogan.  They don’t want the grass cut during the month of May.  Couldn’t be more straightforward than that.  Their strategy is environmental.  They want to encourage the flourishing of bees, butterflies, birds, and other insect, wildlife, including reportedly raccoons, snakes, and woodchucks, and of course plant life along the old axis of “April showers bring May flowers.”

Like many issues at the local level, this has been controversial in some places that went with the program.  Appleton, Wisconsin seems to be a hot spot of contention.  People have also jumped on this bandwagon in Virginia, New York, Minnesota, and even Jacksonville, Arkansas, finding fans from many, but also some neighbor complaints and city citations, forcing lawyers to get involved from time to time.   Even the science seems unsettled.  One professor argues that lawns are an “ecological dead zone,” but not mowing for one month is just teasing.  Others argue it helps, but have had to retest their results.

The quarter acre ACORN Farm is part of the urban agriculture program in New Orleans, but that doesn’t stop one neighbor and some city inspectors from complaining when they want our grounds to look like a lawn, rather than a farm, so I feel for these folks.  The climate here is almost subtropical, and May is more summer than spring across much of the South and Gulf Coast, so if we don’t mow around the beds for a month, we absolutely need a tractor, and we count on Mr. Brock to come with his.  A big project of ACORN’s New Orleans affiliate, A Community Voice, is also bioswales which encourage all of this as well as more, but that doesn’t mean they are popular or have caught on.

No matter how this campaign works out, though, it’s hard to see it making much headway in the deep South.  Lawns for many of us are almost a family tradition.  My dad came from generations of farmers and ag workers from Germany down to my grandfather in Orange County, California.  His yard was a showpiece, with my mother sometimes winning Garden of the Month from her local garden clubs, where she was also a judge.  At twelve, I started borrowing my dad’s mower and edger and, working with my brother, we did the yards for some neighbors and people on vacation for two bucks to mow, three with edging, and four to five for weeding and working the beds as well.  It’s how I paid to go to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and the National Jamboree in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and bought my first boat, a cypress pi rogue with a one-inch keel, that we ferried to Bayou St. John regularly.  Our kids had a business called Lawn Masters which also did the office yard and some others when their turn came up.

In this part of the country, no matter how long and deep my experience is on both the mowing side and the campaigning side, I don’t see much chance of winning this campaign in the cities, and it’s already much the case in the country.  The short story for No More May might be a new slogan and campaign:  Mow or Let it Go, but I’m still skeptical that it would catch on.