Friday, May 16, 2008

Neighborhood associations should think green

Beauty in a bug

Evil is all around us - in the friendly disguise of the “Neighborhood Homeowners’ Association”. I’m not kidding. I’m a biology teacher, and work in a school where the majority of the students are affluent, heavy consumers. I try my best each year to get the kids to recognize the impact of heavy consumption. And, to my joy, I got through to one last week. She was so pumped up she went home and pressured her dad into putting solar panels on their roof. But a problem came up. “Too shabby!” said their homeowners' association. “Not the look we like in this neighborhood." I guess a McMansion with solar panels would look awfully strange.

Then it happened again. I went on and on one day in class about buying local food, and even better, growing your own food in a backyard garden. To make my point, I used my harvest records from a previous year. I totaled all of the food I raised in my 6 foot by 20 foot garden one spring. The list was impressive – enough lettuce for 74 salads, plus 41 cucumbers, 27 tomatoes, 13 ears of corn, 57 green onions, 17 bell peppers, 12 servings of Swiss chard, 5 servings of mustard greens, and 3 quarts of raspberries. What a great way to make meat-eating look silly! I certainly couldn’t have grown a cow in my 6 X 20 foot space, now could I? A good point to make with these kids and a good lesson, but could I get my students to follow my lead? Nope. Backyard vegetable gardens aren’t ALLOWED BY HOMEOWNERS’ ASSOCIATIONS!!! Vegetable gardens are “Too shabby!” What they want instead is a NICE MANICURED GARDEN OF INVASIVE SPECIES!!!!!

It happened again. I told the class that at home we hadn’t run our clothes drier for a full cycle in over a year. We air-dry our laundry outside, and save a lot of energy doing so. What a simple, easy thing to do! The clothes smell so fresh…I also enjoy watching the gentle flapping of clothes in a breeze. It’s a peaceful sight. But in the eyes of the typical homeowners’ association this, of course, is also “Too shabby!” NO HANGING LAUNDRY OUTSIDE IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD!!! ONLY STRANGE LOOKING DESIGNER FLAGS ARE ALLOWED FLAPPING IN OUR YARDS!!!

And again! (This really started to make me sick). As Sally has written in other posts on this blog, we have somewhere around 27 chipmunk holes in our front yard. And lots of violets, clover, and everything else but grass it seems. One of my hobbies is identifying butterflies. We’ve seen over 50 species on our property. I like to just sit on our front stoop sometimes and watch. When a good butterfly comes by I dash out into the yard. I wonder what the neighbors think. I could see I was reaching the kids with this example. They thought it was cool. It was an eye-opener for them to learn about the benefit of weeds as food for wildlife. But, alas, the wind was taken out of my sails when we realized that in the eyes of the typical homeowners’ association, this is shabby too. To them, having butterflies, bees, beetles, bugs, violets, dandelions, and clover in your yard is a message to the world that you don’t care about your property. A nice monoculture of grass blades shows love of one’s land.

I’m reminded of the old joke where the guy takes a two by four and whacks his donkey between the eyes before he asks it to get going. When asked why he did such a thing, he responded by saying “Well first I have to get his attention!” I’d love to take a nice arsenic-laden treated two by four and whack the president of every neighborhood association president right between the eyes! After I get their attention, what would I say? I’d say this. “I DO CARE ABOUT MY PROPERTY AND THE WORLD I LIVE IN!!! Just look! Can’t you see my garden, my laundry, my chipmunks, my butterflies, my bees, my beetles, my bugs, my violets, my dandelions, my clover….

By Ken Kneidel

Keywords: neighborhood homeowner's associations vegetable gardens solar panels backyard wildlife habitat

1 comment:

Mollyh said...

Sounds like a neighborhood my parents used to live in. It had rules about keeping your grass mowed to a certain height, and if the grass grew higher than that, the association would have it mowed, bill you for it, and tack on a fine.