Converting Grass to Garden

Why make a lawn into a garden?

If you have had to take care of a lawn you probably know the struggle to keep it well-manicured. From having to mow and water, to dealing with gophers. Although having the ideal lawn is a goal held by many, using this space for other means can also be a great option.

Every year the average American family uses around 320 gallons of water per day with 96 gallons of that being used outdoors. That equates to about 35,000 gallons of water per year per household with lawns accounting for a substantial portion of this. This irrigation along with mowing and addition of lawn chemicals accounts for about 1,048 pounds of CO2 released into the atmosphere each year for a lawn sized just over half an acre. It is estimated that lawns cover around 40 million acres of land in the US.

Converting a lawn into a garden can be more sustainable, reduce carbon emissions, and save water and money. In fact, in Albuquerque the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority (ABCWUA) offers rebates to convert lawns to xeriscaping. If all the ABCWUA requirements are met residents can receive $1.00 off each square foot of lawn converted. Gardens also offer an opportunity to have flowers, pollinators, and fresh produce right outside your doorstep. Of course, before taking on this project there are some factors one should consider. Firstly, an initial investment of money and time is needed, and it’s important to consider whether it’s feasible based on your housing restrictions or HOA requirements. Depending on these factors, different methods for creating your garden can be used to work around restrictions you may face.

Where to Start?

After deciding whether to take on this project to make your garden, you then need to decide on the size and best location for your garden.

A few factors to consider for this are the kind of plants you want, the amount of sunlight needed, if irrigation is easily accessible, the quality of the soil, and how much time and money you can put towards this project.

It may help to use a hose or rope to map out the area. If you’re not sure you can commit to transforming a large space, you can first experiment with a small section first. This will also be helpful to try different methods and experiment with what works best for you.

Helpful Guide:

What Materials are needed?

For this project, a variety of different tools can be used for the same purpose. The tools you will need will be highly dependent on the method you decide to adapt to convert your grass into soil. However, having a few basic tools such as a shovel, gloves, and a wheel barrel may be helpful. Compost and/or mulch will also be needed.

What methods should you use?

There are a variety of methods that can be used to remove grass. The best choice for you will be dependent on a case-by-case basis. There are video links in each title.

Raised beds– This option involves putting in raised garden beds over your lawn. Depending on how deep the beds are it may not be necessary to kill the grass first.
Materials: Soil and/or compost, wood, other materials to make beds or pre-made ones, shovel
Pros: Good in areas of poor soil quality, can plant immediately, easier plant maintenance
Cons: More expensive, may still have to remove grass or mulch under beds, typically more water needed

Sod removal– This method involves digging up and physically removing the grass.
Materials: Spade/shovel, compost
Pros: Can be quicker and able to plant sooner
Cons: Labor intensive, loss of organic material

Sheet mulching– This method involves putting mulch over the grass
Materials: Wood chips/mulch, compost, cardboard, lawn mower, shovel
Pros: Can help with soil improvement, keeps organic material in ground
Cons: Takes longer time (5-12 months)

Image Credit: Flickr, mwms1916

Lasagna gardening/ Smothering– This method involves putting newspaper or cardboard over the grass to smother it.
Materials: Newspaper and/or cardboard, scissors, compost/mulch, lawn mower
Pros: Less labor intensive
Cons: Takes longer (3-12 months)

Solarization– This, like the smothering method, involves covering the grass with a plastic tarp to heat and kill grass and weeds.
Materials: Plastic tarp, compost
Pros: Faster than smothering, less labor intensive, kills weeds and pathogens
Cons: Still takes longer (4-8 weeks), not aesthetically pleasing, less environmentally friendly

What should you do next? After removing the grass, the next things to consider are improving your gardening soil quality, setting up an efficient watering system, and designing a plan for planting.

-Posted by Gloria

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How Sustainable is UNM Dining?

The University of New Mexico offers a wide variety of food options across campus, a few of which include La Posada Dining Hall and the Mercado Union Club. These two facilities offer meals prepared by UNM’s very own culinary team. Many resident students rely on these facilities for their day to day meals. When running an operation, especially ones of this magnitude that service so many on the daily, it is important to assess its sustainability, not only in regards to food but to its operation as a whole as well. In doing so, we can look for more ways to grow.

Fortunately, UNM dining has many sustainability initiatives currently in place. UNM’s food provider, Chartwells, works to source locally and regionally grown produce and has formed many local partnerships to date. Some partnerships include La Montañita Co-op, Akin Farms, and UNM’s very own Lobo Gardens. Chartwells also sources proteins from suppliers like NestFresh that practice humane animal welfare, sources foods with little no antibiotics, sources sustainable seafood from a sustainable supply chain, and supports campaigns that reward farmer and laborer efforts. They aim to reduce the ecological footprint of their operations overall as well by reducing both energy and water use when possible. A more in depth look at their commitment now and in the future to their sustainability initiatives can be found here

Chartwells is also partnered with Soilutions to compost all food waste. In 2021, over the course of eight months, 51,408 pounds of food waste came out of La Posada and was sent to Soilutions to be composted.

Another way that UNM dining halls are working to cut down food waste is by eliminating the use of trays. Removing trays from the dining experience reduces the likelihood that students will over serve themselves. Food is cooked in small batches at a time as well.

In La Posada, students can serve themselves on ceramic plates and plastic cups, and use silver utensils that are rewashed after every use. Other throwaway dishes that are available are able to be recycled. In 2018, La Posada also began offering reusable to-go boxes along with reusable utensils. Once used, students are able to trade in their container for a clean one or purchase one of their own if they would like. These yellow to-go boxes are brightly colored and easy to spot.

Image credit: author

Once food is cooked and ready to serve, students can look to the various food stations at La Posada and pick and choose from a variety of food. One of the stations that they offer is a strictly vegan station called “Rooted.” Mercado Union Club offers a ‘build your own’ salad, fruit bowl, and breakfast sandwich, as well as different sub sandwiches and bowls to choose from. At Mercado there are two vegan friendly sub sandwich options available. Students can also look for Balanced U icons located next to menu items when searching for vegan or vegetarian options at both La Posada and the Mercado Union Club. There is one blue icon that indicates a vegan food and another green icon that indicates a vegetarian food. Going forward, it may be beneficial to incorporate an even wider variety of vegan and vegetarian options for students to choose from.

Many other university food service providers around the country are striving to take sustainable measures as well. Boston University, for example, shares many of the sustainable practices that UNM does. Beyond what UNM is doing, the university has implemented some other commendable practices of their own. For example, they reduce pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste by utilizing Leanpath technology. They also use Green Seal-certified cleaning supplies, dish detergents, and napkins. They offer student discounts on reusable mugs as well to encourage less waste. Boston University has set a great example and these ideas serve as further proof that there are often more ways to develop more sustainable dining halls in our own University.

-Posted by Marissa

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Local Farming: Sustainable Action

The world has gone through many recent changes and will forever need reevaluation and restructuring of the systems in place. The pandemic specifically has altered our healthcare system as we know it in drastic ways. The realization that inequalities across a lot of sectors in life has shifted peoples’ focus on what is important to them and why. This natural scene of change which we as a world have stepped into is a perfect segue into the conversation of what sustainability means to us.

There are many inputs which build up the larger idea of sustainability spanning across environmental health, economic vitality, and social equity. If we want to see real change move across the world, each pillar of sustainability needs to be addressed in varying ecosystems. The changes in large industry and shifts in local government are helpful but it is so important to have a good foundation to build upon. This starts at the individual level. Evaluating where money goes to, and education on sustainable practices will open the door to possibilities of change. We are stronger in numbers and multiple small personal changes will ultimately create a threshold for improving other systems. The local scale is truly where sustainability can begin taking control of these ecosystems specifically food and farming.

Source: Chispas Farm Instagram

Large scale agriculture is shifting its focus because the system is collapsing. It was not built to last because current agriculture practices waste and degrade the resources. There is a transformation happening on farms across the United States creating room for diversity in foods, fuels used for farming, and regional marketing. The Union of Concerned Scientists has been listening to the latest data, and shown how agroecological practices can support profitable farms of different sizes while outperforming the conventional systems in profit and yield. This is certainly a step in the right direction towards shifting investments while working with nature rather than against it. The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture strives to outline a general idea of the multi-pronged goal which sustainable agriculture emulates.

The South Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico has been a focal point of agriculture in the state for generations. On four acres of occupied Tiwa land, there lies Chispas Farm. Established in 2001 and run by the head farmer Casey Holland since 2017 the farm has seen many changes. Casey is a dedicated professional who is striving to keep the farm on a regenerative and sustainable closed loop cycle. By implementing no-till agricultural practices, the farm makes soil health the number one priority. This soil mindset keeps temperatures down and retains water for the system. Keeping this ideal system of ‘ground-up farming’ is essential to sustainable development. Adequate crop rotation and planting lots of flowers for beneficial insects are ways that the farm can stay in the state level organic certification program. These practices are implemented to account for environmental health but let’s not forget about societal impacts or the economic vitality of the farm.

Source: Chispas Farm Instagram

It is a process to become recognized as an Organic Farmer, but even more of a challenge to be recognized by the community as a viable option for food. When speaking with Casey, there was much conversation about ways to create a sense of community on and around the farm. One way that the farm can gain the local touch is by participating as a registered CSA. Being able to have subscribers which redeem shares of the farm’s yield is a great community building tool. Joining a CSA offers great opportunities to attend community events, to get to know farmers and where the food comes from, as well as volunteer on the farm. Chispas also has a farm stand during the season which allows fresh produce to be purchased directly from the farmers. They accept all forms of payment and have found ways to discount produce through CSA programs including: EBT/SNAP. These tools help showcase social equality while creating manageable access to fresh and local food.

Source: Chispas Farm Instagram

Purchase food from local farms where you can see the produce leave the ground and enter your kitchen. These small-scale operations require income to sustain their position in the economy. Farms like Chispas are often seem like a hidden oasis where the knowledge of where they are, is as valuable as the bounties it provides. These resources are not out of reach and reasonably priced despite the dominant nature of industrial agriculture. Look into Chispas and other farmers value-added producers in the area to see how you can get involved. As consumers we all have a choice. A choice to place our money into systems that close the loop of sustainability. For recent news and upcoming events, please refer to the UNM Sustainability Studies Program. To learn more please check ABQ Stew blog page.

-Posted by Caleb

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Save the Date for the 12th Annual UNM Sustainability Expo

You’re invited to join us for the 12th Annual UNM Sustainability Expo, scheduled for Thursday, April 21 from 10:30am to 2:30pm on Cornell Mall.

After a long hiatus – and two years in to the covid pandemic – we are looking forward to celebrating the opportunity for a fresh start. We are aligning our event with theme of possibility and the need to drive systemic change by doing better. The Expo will feature a growers’ market, educational displays, interactive exhibits, as well as workshops and speakers. The event will showcase numerous alternative transportation, energy conservation, waste reduction, and sustainable lifestyle practices. Our intention is that attendees connect with campus and community partners, and leave the Expo inspired – and equipped – to take action in their personal lives. There is no better time to do so than now!

This Expo is organized by UNM students in the Sustainability Studies Program Local Food Systems Practicum class. Longtime coordinating partners include the UNM Office of Sustainability and UNM Parking and Transportation Services.

Stay tuned for more event details. Come celebrate Earth Day with us – and take action to build a more sustainable world – on April 21!

We are SO excited to be back!! Our last in-person Expo took place in April 2019…

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Local Food Snapshot: Loose Leaf Farm

Social: @looseleaffarm 

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Local Food Snapshot: Tiny Grocer ABQ

Social: @tinygrocerabq 

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Local Food Snapshot: La Cosecha CSA

Social: @lacosechacsa 

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Local Food Snapshot: Seed2Need

Social: @seed2need

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Local Food Snapshot: Polk’s Polly Farm

Social: @polksfolly

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Local Food Snapshot: Roadrunner Food Bank


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