Posted: January 8, 2021

Wanda points to places they used to pasture pigs, plow potatoes, and pick apples. The former farm, tiny by today’s standards, fed five generations of her family before groceries eclipsed gardens. It’s where she’s lived all her life. Lately, she’s wrestling with how to stay put and care for a place so special to her.

After buying the former farm in the early 1980s, Wanda and her husband, Tom, shouldered the responsibility for fallow fields, brambles, and wet areas. They bought a new John Deere lawn tractor to carve out a new way of life.

Tom brought home a pallet and chained it to drag behind the tractor—Wanda sat on the pallet and picked stones while he drove. They planted grass and the expansive turf celebrated their pride and care for the property. Over the years, they'd rent lawn rollers, spread lime, fertilize, and over-seed to demonstrate they cared about their land.

“We're tired and this giant lawn isn't doing anything," Wanda laments, after 32 years of the lawncare routine. The same tractor clocks over 4,000 hours—Tom, a mechanic, has cared for it like a classic car. “We want to do more than babysit the yard."

Now, with the help of DCNR's new lawn conversion program, Tom and Wanda are leaning into a change that's uncomfortable for some: embracing native meadow and forest instead of mowed grass. They've come to understand these meadows and forested areas are different from the abandoned condition they worked hard to overcome.

This year, an independent contractor they've hired will kill acres of turf grass and Tom and Wanda will get a taste of no longer being attached to the tractor each week. In the fall, the contractor will seed native wildflowers and warm-season grasses, like brown-eyed susans and little bluestem, and incorporate patches for hardwoods. Over the next few years, their contractor will help them manage weeds and ensure that the native plants have opportunity to flourish. With patience and stewardship, Wanda and Tom will have a verdant meadow, blossoming with colorful wildflowers and waving grasses, plus get their weekends back.

Soon, the land that once fed generations of Wanda's family will nourish the wildlife they love; Tom's already built boxes for bluebirds and tree swallows to raise their own families. They look forward to giving themselves and the tractor a break, and for the land to be less beholden to expectations associated with turf.

In 2021, we have the tools, know-how, networks, and funding to rethink human spaces and their relationship with what's wild. Technically speaking, with care, we can shift turf-dominated landscapes to ones that work with nature: feeding wildlife, cleaning water, and contributing to ecosystem functioning. But we need people like Tom and Wanda who are willing to welcome a new vision for their land.

If you're also ready to let go of your lawn, reach out to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) by email at RA-NRWoodsAndMeadows@pa.gov. Visit https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/Conservation/Water/LawnConversion/Pages/default.aspx to learn more.

Written by: Kelsey Miller, Lawn Conversion Program Coordinator, DCNR Bureau of Forestry

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802