M is for Mowing

I hate mowing the lawn.

This is not a matter of lack of energy, though it is a matter of time. Mostly, though, it’s a matter that I really like seeing the wildflowers growing in the back yard and really hate mowing them down. All things being equal, I’d rather hire a goat to keep the grass down.

Still I found some interesting narratives and statistics. I’ve discovered that the country’s great obsession with the lawn is fairly recent, though the lawn mower, has been around since the 1830s.

In the 1930s, U.S. lawn mower sales held at about 50,000 units annually. Following World War II and the American migration to suburbs, homeowners began to take a growing pride in tending their lawns, hedges, and gardens. During this same time, new grass seed varieties were also being developed, and the quest for the “perfect” lawn became a popular hobby and a point of pride.

I understand this abstractly, but basically the lawn obsession is totally foreign to me. The neighbors might care, however.

Reel mowers were the standard home lawn grooming device until the 1950s, when gas-powered rotary motors developed into more than a rough cutting tool. By the end of that decade, power mowers outsold reel mowers by a margin of 9 to 1. The rise in the popularity of power garden equipment was accompanied by a corresponding surge in lawn mower accidents—wounds from flying debris and toe and finger amputations. In the mid-1990s, design changes combined with news stories about equipment safety have raised public awareness.

I have a reel mower now. It uses no gas, no electricity, makes a minimal amount of noise. I will admit, however, that the overly rainy June and July made mowing difficult, not only because mowing wet grass is more difficult, but also because the rain made the grass grow faster.

One of my neighbors was considering buying a reel mower, but after this last summer is far less inclined.

In 1972, the federal Consumer Product Safety Act created a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); one of the initial concerns of that agency was power lawn mower accidents. At the time an estimated 77,000 people each year were injured by the whirling blades of this equipment. Following 10 years of CPSC data gathering and testimony from experts and consumers, the first safety requirements for power lawnmowers—the deadman control and blade housing and shield designs to prevent foot injuries—were adopted.

Something that operators of reel mowers have never had to concern them,selves with.

The Environmental Protection Agency continues to be a strong motivator when it comes to improving lawn and garden equipment. It has been the EPA’s position for some time that lawn mowers are significant polluters. A recent EPA-funded study compared gasoline mowers typically used across the country with cordless electric mowers. Gasoline-powered equipment emitted eight times more nitrogen oxides, 3,300 times more hydrocarbons, 5,000 times more carbon monoxide, and more than twice the carbon dioxide per hour of operation compared to the electric models.

The EPA study concluded that if just 20 percent of U.S. homeowners with gasoline mowers switched to cordless electric mowers, there would be annual emissions reductions of 10,800 tons of hydrocarbons, 340 tons of nitrogen oxides, 84,000 tons of carbon monoxide, and 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

And if they stuck with reel mowers, it’d be even better.


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