In a neighborhood of mostly well-manicured lawns and subtle landscaping, Linda Erlandson Frost’s yard stands out.
Since she moved to Northfield 11 years ago, she has transformed her property into an urban farm that helps feed her and her 77-year-old husband, Ed Frost, year-round.
“We’re really trying to reduce our carbon footprint,” she said. “We produce a lot of food here. I try to grow things that cost a lot to buy.”
Her harvest included 17 gallons of raspberries, 40 cantaloupes and 20 watermelons last year. And she had enough sweet potatoes to last from October through April.
This year, two egg-laying chickens call her backyard home and she has already gathered 20 gallons of strawberries and enough greens for a couple of salads per day.
Frost is part of an increasing number of Northfield homeowners who have gotten rid of some or all of the customary grass in their yard to make way for a garden, rain garden or extensive plantings.
“There’s a few more of them around, people who don’t mind spending more time landscaping,” said the city’s building official, Jim Kessler, who keeps track of complaints and safety issues related to homes and yards.
He said that gardens and raspberry bushes have become common place.
“It’s vegetable production, rather than just mowing,” he said. “Nobody likes to mow.”
Although taking over an entire yard with something different — similar to Frost’s property, which is completely covered in flowers, produce and herbs — remains the exception in residential areas.
Frost said she thinks it will catch on, especially with the recent trend toward local food and farms in Northfield and nationwide.
“You can’t get any more local than your own yard,” said the 69-year-old, who grew up around farming and spent more than 30 years on 150 acres in Tennessee. Her great-grandmother’s uncle founded St. Olaf College, where she now works.
Her garden started as an effort to get rid of dandelions, growing into a steady source of food, beauty and socialization. It often piques the interest of passersby, who stop to talk to her about her monumental garden, near the intersection of Lincoln Lane and Lincoln Street North.
“I believe this has become a destination for some people,” she said. “I don’t know that for a fact.”
But, not everyone likes the alternative residential ground cover.
According to Kessler, unconventional yards sometimes draw complaints. He often receives complaints about residents using straw, cardboard or newspaper to control weeds, a common practice around town, he said.
But, as long as the plants in the boulevard 15 feet back from a corner are below 30 inches, fire hydrants are visible and noxious weeds are nixed, property owners are free to plant what they wish, he said.
“They are using them for a purpose and that’s fine,” he said.
Another property that has received mixed reviews belongs to Therese Whitesong. Her yard is made up of prairie grasses, sunflowers, asters and other primarily native plants, some of which have grown a few feet tall and provide a climate welcoming to bees, birds and butterflies.
For Whitesong, her small prairie offers nourishment — through food, medicinal herbs and its beauty — and a connection with her creator, as gardening allows her time for prayer and meditation, she said.
“If you give me a plot of land, I’m not going to put grass on it,” said Whitesong, who moved to Northfield in the mid-1990s. “For me, it’s more like an artist’s canvas and a source of food.”
The colors in her yard — located at Wilcox Boulevard South, near a community garden area — change from season to season, as sunflowers bloom with bright yellows and asters with rich purples.
The untamed surroundings are typical where Whitesong grew up: Northwest Iowa on her parents’ farm, one of the first to be organic in the area in the 1970s. She said she remembers working in the garden with her grandmother and eating the food she grew.
“I’ve felt that need to return to that,” she said. Whitesong plans to build raised beds to grow herbs and produce in her backyard, she said.
She said she hopes her unique lot offers opportunities for her neighbors to experience an option that integrates native plants, rather than the now customary lawns that originated in Europe.
“It’s a reminder that we have choices,” she said. “It’s a reminder that we have other ways to establish our relationship with the environment.”