convert to food production
80% of Lane County’s agricultural production (by acreage) grows grass seed for export. This is probably the most ludicrous use of farmland possible, with severe health impacts (allergies, smoke), the waste of soil, and the waste of water as desertification becomes more obvious. A few cities have started banning the watering of golf courses due to drought (Denver did this for a short while), which puts the grass seed farmers in long term jeopardy.
The most popular substitute crop I have heard suggested is hemp. While legalizing hemp production would be a good thing, it would not be a substitute for grass seed, since grass seed is a winter and spring crop that does not need artificial irrigation and hemp is a summer crop that does need watering in our climate. Grass farmers who water their grass in the summer in the Willamette valley grow cows and sheep, not grass seed. But there are numerous crops that would make good substitutes.
- Overwintering vegetables.
- Fava beans.
- Meadowfoam (a native wet prairie plant that makes a seed oil useful for biodiesel).
- Willamette valley adapted strains of winter wheat.
With careful planning, it should be possible to have this region much more able to feed itself by the time the cheap oil becomes expensive oil and long distance shipment of food becomes less practical. Grass seed conversion is an issue that transcends political ideologies, since allergens and smoke effect everyone regardless of political affiliation. If we are going to cope with the transition from cheap, abundant oil to expensive, scarce oil, the region will need to become much more food self-sufficient.
It is good that the State finally forced a reduction in the amount of grass seed burning that can be done. But the grass pollen is probably as big of a health problem as the smoke, and future trends in energy, money and long distance transport suggest the region will need conversion of these vanity crops into food production. The farmers are unlikely to be able to accomplish this shift without substantial assistance from the rest of the community (ie. those who eat).
For more information about grass seed to food conversion, please visit the Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project at www.mudcitypress.com