Want to get to know your neighbors better? Consider turning your front lawn into a vegetable garden! That's what Oakland-based photographer Luke Keegan did, and now he's reaping the benefits, which include not only delicious produce, but also an invaluable, thriving connection to his community.
In typical photographer fashion, he documented every step of the process, so continue below to read more about his lawn-to-garden journey.
Keegan's inspiration for turning his drab grass lawn into a thriving edible paradise was the story of a Canadian couple whose amazing front yard garden came under fire for violating a city mandate that says front yards must be at least 70 percent lawn. After a long battle, the couple eventually prevailed: They were allowed to keep the garden, and the case prompted many cities to update codes regarding how a front yard can be used.
The happy ending resonated with Keegan, an Oakland transplant who had grown up helping tend his family's garden. Before he and his partner moved to their current house, he hadn't had the space to experiment with gardening, but that changed once they suddenly had a large front lawn at their disposal.
"I wanted something I could share with my community, and that might start conversations to help me get to know my knew neighbors and city, from the roots up," Keegan says.
Keegan began the project with only a little practical experience, but he made sure to do lots of research. After consulting with his local nursery and receiving some sage advice from friends well-versed in sustainable farming, it wasn't long before the garden was off (in?) the ground.
Reclaimed redwood barn siding was used to construct the raised beds, which were later filled with free compost given away by the city of Oakland. Almost all of the plants were grown from seed. An irrigation system was also installed, which you can see in the photo above.
There have been many stories about unconventional front yard gardens receiving backlash from city code enforcement or HOA associations, but the response to Keegan's garden has been nothing but encouraging.
"I can't tell you how many people from my neighborhood that I have met and talked to while working in the yard," Keegan explains. "Sometimes people stop their cars and hop out to chat with, or offer me seeds. I love getting to send them off with a nice handful of fresh produce ... it's an excellent ice breaker."
Not only does Keegan not have to worry about violating city codes or ticking off his neighbors — he's getting rewarded for his efforts! The entity that manages water and sewage treatment for Oakland offers a rebate to homeowners who convert their lawn into a garden.
The garden has been going strong for about two years now, with no signs of slowing down. Sometimes the crops are so prolific that Keegan has more veggies than he can possibly hope to eat, which is why he set up a "Free Veggies" box to share the wealth with his neighbors.
"I've seen people drive up and get out of there car just to check what's in the box," he says. "It is amazing how many zucchinis my neighbors will eat."
Continue below to see just a few of the vegetables that the garden has yielded since groundbreaking. And for even more photos, follow Luke on Instagram (@locolukes) or Facebook (Luke Keegan Photography).
Painted mountain corn
Bucket of roots
Peas, beets, flowers, green onions
Russian red kale, butternut squash