020 Emily Green on the Mow and Blow Landscape Paradigm

Image: Emily Green, chanceofrain.com

Image: Emily Green, chanceofrain.com

In episode 20 of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and I discuss the mow and blow landscape paradigm with writer and avid gardener Emily Green. During the discussion Emily also talks about the politics of lawn culture and the unholy alliance of politicians, the real estate industry and landscape maintenance tool manufacturers.

Emily has written for many newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and the Independent. She blogs at Chance of Rain.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times in 2011 Emily says,

What would you do if a neighbor came to you and asked, “For 20 minutes every week, may I turn on your vacuum cleaner, smoke detector and garbage disposal and run them all at once?”

Holding that thought, consider if the neighbor added, “Ah, may I also blow noxious dust your way for those same 20 minutes?”

Imagine that not just one neighbor on the street asked it, but eight. Imagine that each one just wanted their 20 minutes to blare noise and blow dust. It would be sometime between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Add up the minutes and they would equal about six straight days of noise a year. The dust would stay suspended longer, an element of smog.

Given the choice, most people would say “no” in terms unrepeatable here, so most Angelenos don’t ask for permission. They just blast noise and blow dust at their neighbors. They call it gardening.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Behind the Scenes at Root Simple is a World of Big Pumpkins, Pomegranate Catapults and Man Crates

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In case you were wondering what the Root Simple offices look like, I included the image above. On the left is our blogging control panel. In the center you can see Kelly and I overseeing our team of Thoughtstyling™ testers. To the right is our garden.

Our main task each day is monitoring the incoming stream of press releases and spam comments. In the interest of giving you a behind the scenes glimpse into the thrilling life of a blogger, I thought I’d reproduce some of the better press releases verbatim, just like real journalists do.

HALF MOON BAY’S WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP OF MONSTER GOURDS COMING UP OCTOBER 13
$30,000 MEGA-PRIZE OFFERED FOR NEW WORLD RECORD PUMPKIN

HALF MOON BAY, CALIFORNIA (October 1, 2014) –– Will this be the year the world pumpkin heavyweight record is squashed in Half Moon Bay, California? The intrigue is building as Superstar Gourd Growing Greats and their astonishing, mind-boggling, Volkswagen-sized orange orbs gather on the morning of Monday, October 13 for the 41st Annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off –– in the World Pumpkin Capital of Half Moon Bay, California –– the kick-off to Half Moon Bay’s world-famous Art & Pumpkin Festival which takes place October 18-19. . . . Using forklifts and harnesses, the monster gourds will be carefully placed on a 5-ton capacity digital scale under the watchful eye of officials from the San Mateo County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office of Weights, Sealers, and Measures.

If only we were closer and could hang out in the green room with those Office of Weights, Sealers, and Measures officials. And does “intrigue” imply that these same officials can be persuaded with a cash donation? Can monster pumpkin enthusiasts have people killed?

Madera hosts 4th annual Madera Pomegranate Festival

Madera, CA. – In Madera, the Heart of Pomegranate Country, preparations are well underway for the fourth annual Madera Pomegranate Festival, which takes place Saturday, November 1, 2014, at Madera Municipal Airport. The event is organized by the Madera Tourism Alliance, a committee of the Madera Chamber of Commerce.

“On behalf of the Madera Chamber, I would like to invite everyone to come out and join us for this fun-filled event,” Eugene Bell, Chairman of the Board of Directors, stated. “The Tourism Alliance Committee and Chamber staff are working hard to bring another great event to our community this year.”

A favorite part of the lineup according to event producers is the Pomegranate Grenade Launch. Dreamed up by the committee and brothers Brian and Nick Davis of Twin Pomegranates Winery, the Pomegranate Grenade Launch is a massive slingshot that launches pomegranates at a target some distance away.

Organizers say Madera Municipal Airport provides ample space for vendors and displays. That, along with ample parking for attendees, make the airport an ideal location for this annual event. “The available space and the City’s help in making the event happen really creates the perfect environment for the Pomegranate Festival,” Debi Bray, president and CEO of the Madera Chamber of Commerce says.

Returning to this year’s lineup is a display for various aircraft as well as skydivers from Madera Parachute Center.

New to this year’s festival will be a children’s stage featuring local dance, karate and other talents from our young Maderans, a Jelly Belly attraction with samples and games and a Fossil Dig hosted by the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County.  Other attractions include a presentation from the Fresno Chaffee Zoomobile, art classes from the Madera County Arts Council, kids’ games from the Madera Parks Department, numerous cooking demos from local chefs, live music by the Marie Wilson Band, plus everything pomegranate.

“We’ll have vendors selling the fruit itself, plus pomegranate trees, pomegranate-scented candles, jellies and anything else you could think of involving pomegranate, and probably some things you didn’t know could incorporate the fruit,” Bray mentions.

Will they aim the pomegranate trébuchet at the skydivers?  Or does the Geneva Convention prohibit that?

Hello Kelly and Erik!

My name is Alexandra, and I’m the community manager for Man Crates. We’re a new company that ships awesome gifts for men in custom wooden crates that he has to open with a crowbar! At Man Crates, it is our mission to end the difficulties that have long been associated with buying gifts for men. I’m emailing you because I think you would be a perfect fit for our “ManCave Makeover” campaign.

The man cave… a ritualistic spot where men retreat to in order to watch football with friends, spill beer, shout at the TV, and tell the same 8 stories over and over again. Man caves come in all sorts of interesting shapes and spaces, be it in a basement, a garage or the classic shed. However, as original as these spaces are, when it comes to decor they tend to all look the same. A cheap neon beer sign (or beer mirror), a dart board and of course a mini fridge. I don’t like to use the word dull but I suppose they are called caves for a reason!

We are looking for bloggers like yourself to help us end these man cave decorating woes by creating a post highlighting some items you would gift to a guy who is looking to decorate his new man cave. Replace that bar cart with a fancy new whiskey set, change the neon sign to hanging lamp, and for goodness sakes buy a new arm chair!

If this sounds like something you might be interested in, let me know and I can send over more details.

Just in time, I completed my own ManCave Makeover:

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I can hardly wait to crowbar open that crate and launch a few pomegranate grenades.

Mown and Blown: The Problem With Leaf Blowers

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I had just spent an hour sweeping our front porch, staircase and the sidewalk in front of our house. While I was sweeping I looked up to see the thick film of dirt covering the front of the house that I had spent months painting on scaffolding. Then I looked down the block and noticed a member of Los Angeles’ legion of mow and blow crews kicking up a huge cloud of dust. In an angry moment I later regretted, I glared at him and pointed at my broom. He smiled in return.

Why are leaf blowers bad? The reasons are almost too numerous to mention. Journalist Emily Green points out that during a drought,

It’s more important than ever to stop this practice and that leaves be left piled near trees, grass left where it falls after mowing and that leaf blowers not leave the truck. Any foliage that spills into streets should be raked. Leaf blowers in drought send dry earth airborne to lethal effects for asthma sufferers, particularly children and infants.

Tk by Tk Datetk.

Power Tools by Rubén Ortiz-Torres, 1999.

Los Angeles banned gas powered leaf blowers in 1998. The ban has never been enforced. Artist Rubén Ortiz-Torres captured, perfectly, the racial and class tension surrounding the ban in a series of customized power tools, including the tricked out leaf blower above. It’s hard to address the problems with leaf blowers without also getting into the thorny politics surrounding race, class and immigration.

Leaf blowers exist in a symbiotic relationship with “low maintenance” landscapes which consist of a lawn and brutally pruned hedges.  These water hungry landscapes provide neither food, beauty or habitat. (They are also not enjoyed by people: half of the suburban participants in a UCLA study of home life in SoCal never went into their backyard.  Another 25 percent went outside for a few minutes a week.) Yet this style of landscape is our dominant style of landscape because the homeowner doesn’t need to think about it, and the maintenance crews can move through the space with their machinery quickly. Volume allows these business to charge little for their services, which makes their services affordable to most homeowners, which encourages homeowners to keep their landscapes in a form easily serviced. In other words, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. And it’s a cycle we can’t afford anymore, for so many reasons. And for me, our reliance on leaf blowers is emblematic of all these problems.

I struggle with how to tackle the leaf blower problem. In a perfect world, the mow and blow crews would get horticultural education that they could then use to charge a living wage to maintain ecologically beneficial landscapes. Homeowners who couldn’t afford gardening services would discover the joy of gardening.

I’ve also thought of getting our neighbors together to discuss the issue and come up with alternatives, but I’m not sure this would work. So I’m going to toss the issue out to you, our dear readers.

Do you have a leaf blower problem where you live? Is this just an LA problem, or is it a national or international problem?

Has your city attempted a ban? If so, is the ban enforced?

Has your city provided education for gardeners?

Have you ever had a conversation with your neighbors about leaf blowers?

What are ways you’ve thought of dealing with the leaf blowers?

What solutions do you think could shift the mow and blow paradigm?

Picture Sundays: The Unintentionally Groovy Cover of the High Desert Corridor Envionmental Impact Report

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Damien Newton of Streetsblog Los Angeles has caused the cover of an obscure bureaucratic document to go viral in our local cycling community. And with good reason. Some genius at Caltrans designed a cover by tossing clip art and 80s graphics into a Vitamix. Speculation is that the designer might be named Brad (note Brad the turtle chasing a chipmunk in the upper right corner).

Every time I look at it I see something new: psychedelic condors riding bicycles, butterflies transformed by contact with solar panels and what might be a portal to another dimension just to the right of the project i.d. number.

Saturday Linkages: Big Chickens, Drought and More