Monday, January 3, 2011

Clover is not a weed

"We must look deep into realism instead of accepting only the outward sense of things." -Mary Baker Eddy

One learns interesting things when one does a little research.

Fifty years ago the presence of clover in one's lawn was the sign of a good gardener. In those days, grass seed was actually sold with about 5% clover seed in the mix. Why? because grass needs nitrogen in the soil to grow thick, healthy, and green while clover has the magical property of taking nitrogen out of the air and putting it into the soil. Clover and grass are a perfect match for each other.

But the grass seed makers also made fertilizer. They figured that they could sell more fertilizer if they took the clover out of the grass seed mixes. So when people's lawns started looking bad the neighbors would repeat the new suburban mantra "You need to add nitrogen." So homeowners trotted off to the garden shop and bought bag after bag of nitrogen fertilizer.

Then a new weedkiller came out on the market, one that only killed broadleaf plants including clover, but not grass. The lawn seed/fertilizer/weed killer manufacturers then hit upon a brilliant idea: classify clover as a weed to sell more weedkiller! So homeowners spotting clover in their lawns dutifully obeyed and bought bottle after bottle of broadleaf weedkiller to kill the very thing that would make their lawns grow healthy.

Monocultures, places where only one thing grows, are not self-sustaining. A monoculture lawn requires tons of labor and expense, while a lawn with clover requires far less of either. But when people are made to believe that a good thing is bad, they will toil mightily against their own self-interest.

The clover lawn story I have presented here is not only a fascinating story in itself, it is also representative of how many things in our economic and political culture works. One must ask, in how many other ways are we being deceived by those who will be enriched by our ignorance?

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