It is an old practice which may get more important in the next few years regarding climate change, especially in cities: mowing with scythes. Text by Farina Lenker.
Nowadays, green spaces in cities get mostly mown with lawnmowers or other engines which are not sustainable and should not be used anymore because of their negative contribution to climate change and the need to improve our current systems.
One reason why lawnmowers should not be used anymore is that they need electricity or even oil or gas to function, on top of that comes the production and materials used for the machines. Another reason that shows that we have to move on from this unsustainable practice is, that the machines are exterminating insects and smaller animals because they are too fast for insects and smaller animals to “escape”. They and their eggs, get shredded along with the grass. How important insects are for the environment has become really clear in the last few years. Furthermore, ride-on-lawnmowers are really heavy and compress the ground under the machine while mowing, which is not good for the plants and neither for the earth. Moreover, lawnmowers or grass trimmers – latter are often used in parks or smaller green areas – easily cut trees while “trying” to mow around them, which leads to the death of these trees. Furthermore, grass trimmers are made out of plastic and while cutting the grass small plastic particles get dispersed. One last aspect we all personally relate to is the noise created by the engines. Everyone is annoyed when some neighbor decides to mow the grass on the weekend early in the morning because of the loud, disruptive noise.
Taking the above-mentioned points into account, it is clear that lawnmowers and grass trimmers are not a sustainable solution for the future. The solution I propose are scythes, which do not have the disadvantages mentioned above. Scythes are CO2 neutral, as only human energy is needed to work the tool. The use of human energy also means that the person mowing the grass is in full control over what is being mowed. This in turn can save important flora, fauna, and insects. For example, if a person only wants to cut the grass but wants to leave some flowers in their garden, it is easy to cut around them with a scythe, the same goes for trees in parks. Moreover, one does not have to cut all the grass at once, with different grass lengths different biodiversity areas can be created in one place. Adding to that, the grass gets cut not shredded, which is also better for nature and its plants – as mentioned earlier. With a scythe the range of the grass length can vary without causing trouble while cutting it. They can be used in large but also small areas. If people, have a roof garden or little gardens it is easy to cut these small-scale spaces with a scythe. Considering that the biodiversity in cities is bigger than on the countryside (Study from University in Bern), it is crucial to provide further protection for it than the current system is providing.
To gain further insight into this topic, I interviewed Klaus Kirchner, a scythe instructor from Vienna. He emphasized the social part “scythe-mowing-events” can have. When people cut the grass in a park near their home, they feel more responsible for the area and are less likely to litter because they know they themselves or their neighbors will cut it.
I will share some of his answers in the following.
Q: Would it be possible to mow all green spaces in cities with scythes? If so, how would you put it into practice?
A: I would organize “scythe-happenings”, where people come and do a workshop on how to learn to mow with scythes or if they know how to mow, they would have a place where they come together and practice. Apart from that there are competitions on how fast people can mow a given area – usually 100 square meters of grass within 3 min. So, if well trained scythe-mowers work for cities to mow the green areas instead of machines they would not need more time than they do now. Also, it is the decision of the employer if he pays for scythes and employees to mow with them or if he wants to pay for lawnmowers, the electricity/gas and employees.
Q: Do you think mowing with scythes will become more important in the next 5-10 years? If so, why?
A: Definitely, because I would say that climate change will result in higher temperatures in cities, and the only way to regulate this is by having more green areas and trees in cities. Many trees get killed by grass trimmers, but with a scythe you would not have this issue. On the other hand, climate change means that water scarcity will be a problem, so water will be more expensive and the access to it will be more difficult. This will be an issue for the farming industries which are already not able to produce enough nutrition and vegetables for the current population. But there are already solutions for gardens for smaller spaces where giant machines would not be able to be used, which is explained really good in the movie ´Tomorrow´. In smaller gardens, scythes are easier to use and therefore will support the farmers more than bigger machines.
Q: What do you like about mowing with scythes?
A: It is like a dance outside. Many people coming to my workshops have problems with their back due to sitting so much in front of a computer, but when you cut with a scythe you move around. It is also very satisfying because you see the result of your work directly, which today is very rare in many jobs. You can also enjoy the weather, and when you mow with people you already know it is even more fun. So, I would say it is the fun of moving, doing something with your body and knowing it is not inside a closed building like a gym, you are in a garden doing something positive for the whole world, all the animals and your environment. That´s what I love about it.