By Hailey Reissman on June 25, 2015 in SpotlightTalks

One of the houses part of the "Hawley Hamlet" -- an effort to transform a neighborhood into a series of small farms

One of the houses part of the “Hawley Hamlet” — an effort to transform a Lincoln, Nebraska neighborhood into a group of small farms

In a neighborhood close to downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, homeowners are transforming their lawns into small farms. Turf grass is abandoned for tubers, berries and corn. Strawberries grow next to sidewalks; apples hang from trees; potatoes are dug close to porches. Residential agricultural has become a trend.

TEDxLincoln speaker Tim Rinne is the catalyst for this phenomenon. Concerned about climate change ever since he first heard the term “global warming,” Rinne’s worry about the environment didn’t really start to hit home until he read about the potential for climate-related food scarcity, he says in a talk at the event. He had to know why and what he could do about it.

Visitors check out the neighborhood corn (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

Visitors check out the Hawley Hamlet corn (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

“Up until [then], the perils of climate change had simply unnerved me,” he says. “Now, though, it was getting personal — we were talking about missing meals.”

Rinne set out to discover the source of the food on his plate and his supermarket’s shelves. He learned that much of the food he ate came to him via long journeys spanning thousand of miles, and that 90% of the money he and his fellow Nebraskans spend on food leaves the state. “We’re not buying food that’s from here,” he says. He wondered if he could change that.

Soon, he was the first in a group of Nebraskans to abandon the traditional American lawn in favor of rows of edible plants. “I learned that the largest irrigated crop in the United States is the lawn,” he says. “My head was spinning … Why do we always plant things that we can’t eat?

“I began tearing up my lawn with a vengeance, determined to grow food on every inch of my property,” he says. He installed rain barrels, planted crops and soon attracted the attention of his neighbors. Before he knew it, Rinne and his wife were inviting neighbors to start their own “edible landscapes,” and slowly but surely, food began popping up in lawns throughout the area.

A garden in the Hawley Hamlet (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

A garden in Rinne’s Lincoln, Nebraska neighborhood (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

Neighbors donated land for Rinne to cultivate; families tore up their own front and backyards; and chicken coops, a greenhouse and beehives were installed. The gardens grew to a count of 20 and Rinne started calling the area the Hawley Hamlet — named for the neighborhood close to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

A garden in the Hawley Hamlet (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

A garden in the Hawley Hamlet (Photo: Hawley Hamlet Facebook)

“We’re growing more than food in our hamlet,” he says, “we’re growing community. We’re getting to know the people we live next door to while we put some homegrown food on their tables. And with the onset of climate change and the threat of food shortages, this is exactly what our neighborhoods need to be doing.”

To learn more, watch Rinne’s whole talk below:


Insight from the TEDx office — why we like this talk
The speaker delivers a clear and compelling talk on his idea — replacing turf lawns with edible plants to source food for neighborhoods. He frames his talk around a local experiment with this idea, supporting the story with data, personal experience and visuals.


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