Gimme Green Our Obsession With the American Lawn

Photo © Catherine Zimmerman. Used with permission

Photo © Catherine Zimmerman. Used with permission

What is the largest irrigated crop in the US? Corn? Cotton? Soybeans?

No. It’s our obsession with the American Lawn, which requires 30% of our fresh water for irrigation on the east coast, and more than 50% of our fresh water supplies in the west. If you happen to live in the west where drought has been a persistent problem for the past few years, I’m sure you’ll agree that there are far better uses for this water than maintaining such an environmentally destructive practice!

And the sad thing is that no one but Scotts (and other chemical companies), turf farmers, and the water companies derive any profit from it.

There’s a fascinating documentary about our obsession with the ‘perfect’ American Lawn that everyone should watch. It’s called Gimme Green, produced by Isaac Brown and Eric Flagg:

Lawns are undeniably an American symbol. But what do they really symbolize? Pride and prosperity? Or waste and conformity? “Gimme Green” is a humorous look at the American obsession with the residential lawn and the effects it has on our environment, our wallets, and our outlook on life. It’s estimated that Americans use approximately 50 percent of their household water on their yards. By examining the social, commercial, and environmental pressures surrounding the green grass aesthetic, we begin to understand how a non-edible, resource-intensive plant could become our nation’s largest irrigated crop. Spanning a wide range of perspectives and locales, and employing an engaging blend of gravity and levity, this documentary short examines Americans’ true motives for maintaining a lush green lawn in their yards.

What you’ll learn from Gimme Green:

  • Every day, more than 5,000 acres of land are converted to lawn in America.
  • Americans spend more than 40 Billion dollars every year on their lawns
  • Lawns cover more than 41 million acres
  • Americans apply more than 30,000 tons of pesticides to their lawns every year
  • Of the 30 most used lawn pesticides, 17 are routinely detected in groundwater
  • The EPA finds that nearly half of these 30 pesticides are possible or probable carcinogens
  • The National Cancer Institute finds that children in homes using these pesticides have a 6.5 greater chance of developing leukemia
  • American lawns require 200 gallons of fresh water per person per day
  • In the southwest, lawn owners use over 75% of their water on their yards

Watch this trailer about the documentary Gimme Green:

And you can watch the full the Gimme Green documentary in its entirety here.

But with all of this land area covered with lawn, all of the fresh water required to maintain it, not to mention all of the chemicals necessary to have a ‘perfect’ lawn, the fact is that lawns are not good at all for wildlife habitat — unless you’re eager to raise lots of Japanese Beetles who will be perfectly happy while in their grub form to take up residence in your lawn.

Our team members have written many articles about how to reduce your lawn to create more wildlife habitat:

And check out these great resources (Click image for more information):

Wasowski Requiem for a Lawnmower sm

Haddon Beautiful No Mow Yards sm

Pennick Lawn Gone! sm

Borman Redesigning the American Lawn sm







Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.

© 2014, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Bob Vaiden says

    Lawns: Dead and sterile… Not just useless, but destructive and wasteful. What an embarrassment to our ‘culture’ (?) for so many of us to have that obsession\addiction!

  2. Liz Deluna Gordon says

    The modern day American dream is made up of old influences of the European aristocracy! The dream of having a vast green lawn on which to entertain and show one’s wealth. But I’d like to put forth that we missed the best part of that dream. The masters of those estates ALWAYS had forests surrounding them. They had the wild spaces in which to hunt and explore and escape for lovely picnics and pleasurable pursuits. Americans missed the boat on that aspect of the royal estate in the old modern American dreamscape.

    But we as Dreaming Americans are bringing it back. It is no longer fashionable to have only a flat grass lawn. The new American Dream is to have limited grass and plenty of habitat full of native plants in which to retreat, to explore and see birds and butterflies and wildlife in your own secret garden. All this alongside gardens to grow vegetables and fruits. Making our land more valuable as we manage it for more than simple showing of status, we manage it for living, and loving life. All life.

    Paradise is what you make it! Make your paradise a reality today. Dream America! Dream!

  3. says

    We just went over “lawns” in my Master Gardener class and it was very eye-opening! An $8 billion dollar industry in our state alone. Although I always cringe at the large lots neatly mowed, I didn’t even consider golf courses and sports fields – wow. Lawns go against nature. That sums it up. Another eye opener was that clover used to be included in many grass seed mixes as it is a natural fertilizer supplying nitrogen and somewhere along the way it became a weed. A ploy by the lawn industry? Hmmm. Do any of you remember when clover wasn’t considered a weed? I happen to like my clover and plant it wherever I have a bare spot instead of grass. It is softer underfoot and well, doesn’t need to be mowed and it flowers. Thank you for suggesting this documentary. I will have something to watch this weekend while stuck indoors.

  4. says

    Good comments, all! Obviously lawns make no sense out West here where we are in drought and can expect this to be the wave of the future. What a waste of precious water!

    Also, I recently saw a meadow planted of wildflowers, incl CLOVER, at a new luxury apartment complex. I was delighted! Except.. there were no pollinators. Why are there no butterflies? Dare I ask..
    kathy vilim recently posted..A Butterfly Kind of Day~

  5. Bob Vaiden says

    I remember a few years back when I interrupted a family catching butterflies for a school project; after explaining why we didn’t allow such activities in our local natural areas, I asked why they didn’t collect butterflies from their own back yard. They replied “but, there aren’t any in our yard”…

    No surprise there… I believe most teachers now have students take notes and draw pictures rather than actually collect butterflies, but there’s still a lot of folks who prefer a sterile swath of green rather than a living world : (

    I’ve posted this link before, but if anyone hasn’t seen it, here’s my own yard:

  6. says

    The “secondary sabotage” of the commercial lawn is the residue (of Chlopyralids & other chems) that end up in the “green-waste” recycling programs, which, as a concept, are a Wonderful elevation of awareness generally, to the meaning of Ecology. If half the lawns in America were converted to growing edible plants (even if they simply went to a local food bank), it would be a “back to the Future” moment of reinventing the VICTORY GARDEN. We NEED that awareness, and enterprise. ^..^


  1. […] She also is right about us and “The Great America Lawn” obsession. It is a PROBLEM in America, if we would just ALL decrease their size + MIX in more native plants, we might find we argue less about this subject. The lawn is a non-native plant but WHY can’t it share its space with some native plants. Possibly Rudbeckia hirta, commonly called black-eyed susan or Annise hyssop/Agastache foeniculum, would be a nice mix-up addition. These changes are not that hard to do and by just MIXING it up, we can live with nature. It does not mean we can’t have other non-natives, but we can’t make them the entire growing area. I found Kentucky Blue Grass on the invasive list!(check it out here) […]

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